Future marine biodiversity and ecosystem functioning research issues

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The European Network of Excellence on Marine Biodiversity and Ecosystem Functioning (MarBEF) has, over the past five years of its existence, moulded a scientific community that has never been so conceptually and operationally united and productive. However, marine science is still developing and we still understand the ocean less than the terrestrial environment. For us, the oceans are foreign habitats which we may enter but not yet inhabit.

MarBEF scientists have focused on and identified many critical marine biodiversity issues, which are now much clearer than before, but MARBEF has also revealed areas of weakness that require concentrated effort. These are as follows:

  • The impacts of global climate change
  • Comprehensive datasets
  • Synergy of Anthropogenic impacts to global warming

Impacts of global climate change

Although there is now strong evidence for changes in the global climate, the medium term and long-term effects on the marine environment are still open to debate. Marine systems, from polar ice to coral reefs are charismatic systems which are highly vulnerable to temperature, sea-level and storm frequency changes.

Evidence of migrational responses to climate are accumulating and act as an early warning of the nature of community alteration in the face of global change scenarios. Studies of modifications to ecosystem variation and functionality resulting from climate change must remain of the highest priority over the coming ten years. Some of these studies require long-term databases that are now recognised as being highly valuable and important to maintain.

Global questions require comprehensive datasets Many current topics in marine biodiversity research are taking place on very large spatial scales and over long-term periods. These topics include baseline assessments in the marine realm, for assessing impacts of climate change on marine biodiversity, and studying the mechanisms by which alien species are introduced. Therefore, MarBEF recognised that its scientists would require analyses on an allencompassing scale and it funded the LargeNET project. LargeNET collected and integrated a large amount of data, comprising pelagic, rockyshore and soft-bottom benthos data from across Europe. This data established a baseline for current biodiversity analyses and future investigations within a changing world. This scale of data collection is essential to provide the necessary understanding for anticipating the consequences of environmental variations on biodiversity, such as the changing distribution patterns of macroalagal species. For example, the database has been employed to assess the current biodiversity status and future changes in marine communities through the evaluation of techniques for the measurement of species richness.