MarBEF data management

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Fishing for data

Scientific data on marine biodiversity is very much fragmented and scattered over many laboratories all over the world. They are often only available on paper or in old electronic formats, stored away and at risk of getting lost. In the past, many research expeditions have gathered biodiversity data which has been funded by government bodies, i.e. taxpayers’ money. The results of these surveys produced enormous quantities of data which could potentially be of huge importance to the scientific community and yet they sit gathering dust on a shelf – a crime to society!

MarBEF scientists recognised this problem and consequently built a framework and infrastructure to increase the availability and sharing of data which was previously at risk of being lost. Now all this data has been quality controlled and brought together in a single, properly archived system where it will remain available for future generations.

The key for obtaining data was the creation of the "Declaration of Mutual Understanding for Data-sharing". This document provided a solid basis of trust between MarBEF and non-MarBEF data providers. It resulted in the collection of 251 datasets provided by more than 100 scientists from 94 institutions in 17 countries[1].


MarBEF has data records ranging from the deep-sea to the coastal zone and from the Arctic to the Antarctic; it has built the world’s largest databases on macrobenthos, meiobenthos and pelagic marine species. Three scientific projects within MarBEF alone have created thematic databases and integrated 190 different datasets, containing about 1,000,000 distribution records from European seas [1].

MacroBen and LargeNet

Large temporal and spacial biological datasets are essential for the study and understanding of long-term distribution and abundance patterns of marine life and how they have changed over time. The analysis of this data allows comparisons to be made between different regions and habitats, to examine broad-scale spatial and temporal patterns in biodiversity and to explore implications from changes. The data needed for this approach could never be sampled by scientists or research groups due to limitations in infrastructure, time and money. These considerations have let to de development of MacroBen and LargeNet[1].


As a consequence of the ever-growing anthropogenic pressures on the sea floor, there is an increased need for sustainable management. Good management decisions need to be based on sound scientific information on the ecosystem function and the diversity of the organisms present. Assessing the biodiversity of large areas based on field sampling is a long and expensive process. Therefore, tools predicting and mapping biodiversity are an important tool for managers to underpin their decisions.

The distribution of roundworms and meiobenthos such as copepods has been modelled by the MANUELA project to develop techniques that allow for the mapping of biodiversity[1].

MarBEF data is available through EurOBIS, the largest online queryable public source of European marine biological data. EurOBIS contains 5.2 million species distribution records from 210,832 locations and 32,225 taxa in all the European seas and many of the world’s oceans.

Meetings and publications

MarBEF has sponsored over 150 meetings, which has resulted in new joint research and strong partnerships between scientists across Europe, which has led to the publication of 415 papers of which 220 are in peer-reviewed journals.

The MarBEF Open Archive (MOA) contains the digital version of published works that are held within the MarBEF Publication Series (i.e. any class of publication where at least one author is a network member and in which MarBEF is acknowledged). In addition, those papers, where MarBEF has bought unrestricted ‘Open Access’, are automatically part of this archive. MOA can only archive those publications for which the publishers agree on the concept and principles of open digital archives. The result is that 82% of the the MarBEF publications (389 papers) can be downloaded for free[1].

Permanent host

The Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ) and its oceanographic data centre led the data integration activities in MarBEF. All the original MarBEF data files have been described and archived in the Marine Data Archive. Data generated by MarBEF, with EU funding, are available without restrictions. However, following the MarBEF data policy, other datasets that are owned by the participating institutes and/or other agencies will not leave the repository without the consent of the data owners[1].