Lead PI: Helmut Hillebrand, Michael Schulz (Marum)

Involved from PEL: Helmut Hillebrand, Aleksandra Lewandowska, Mareike Volkenandt, Ruth Krause

Further PIs: Ulrike Feudel, Jan Freund, Wilhelm Hagen (U Bremen), Michal Kucera (Marum), Holger Auel (U Bremen)

Funded by: Lower Saxony Ministry of Science and Culture(MWK)

Duration: 2016-2017

Marine Biodiversity across Scales [MarBAS]

MarBAS focuses thematically on aspects of the functional role of biodiversity in marine ecosystems, a future core research field of the Northwest Alliance covering questions on the establishment (evolution) of biodiversity, the ecological mechanisms maintaining coexistence and dominance, and on the conservation of biodiversity in rapidly changing environments. The UN-Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the establishment of the Intergovernmental Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES, head office in Bonn) emphasize the high societal relevance of this topic. In six work packages, MarBAS will perform analyses across temporal and spatial scales as well as scales of ecological organization from molecules to ecosystems. The topic of each WP derives from an internal screening of existing successful collaboration potential.

WP1 (PI: Hillebrand, Freund, Feudel [UOL], Hagen, Kucera, Auel [UB]): The rate of biodiversity change and its consequences for the functional stability of marine ecosystems are the core questions of WP1. For the first time, WP1 will combine recent ecological data sets with paleo-ecological data covering a 30,000-year time period of the geological past (in one case even million years), and thereby quantitatively challenge the space-for-time substitution frequently invoked in biodiversity change research. In ecological time series, changes in biodiversity are often not observed for the number of locally coexisting species, but by changing dominance and species composition over time [2,3]. Changes in the rate of species turnover thus are a more likely consequence of, e.g., warming temperatures, than rates of species loss or gain at the local assemblage level [4]. At present, however, we lack baseline information on the rate of species turnover in marine ecosystems across temporal scales. Using paleo-ecological and recent data on plankton communities, we will be able to test, whether turnover rates show a natural or anthropogenic temporal signal (Objective O1). 

Compositional turnover on the other hand is a prerequisite for functional stability. Theoretical and empirical studies converge on the conclusion that stabilizing effects of biodiversity on ecosystem processes (such as primary production) derive from temporal complementarity of species, allowing different species to maintain functioning over time [5,6]. A large subset of our data also comprises biomass/productivity data, allowing us to test this idea for the first time for a large array of marine ecosystems (O2). In addition to different time scales, we will furthermore compare temporal and spatial compositional turnover and functional stability. Thereby, we will shed light on an underlying assumption of biodiversity research, which uses spatial gradients in environmental factors (e.g., latitude) to predict future changes under changing conditions (e.g., warming) [7]. Therefore, we will test whether changing temperatures alter compositional turnover in a cross-scale analysis over time and space (O3).  The data sets necessary for these tasks are all at hand for the WP through the PIs and their collaborators. The synergy of WP1 lies in the combination of mathematical expertise in time series analyses (Feudel, Freund) and meta-analyses (Hillebrand) with ecological expertise in analysis of paleo-ecological data on Foraminifera (Kucera) and recent data on zooplankton (Hagen, Auel) and phytoplankton (Hillebrand).

WP6 (PIs: Hillebrand [UOL], Schulz [UB]): WP6 focuses on research-oriented learning (ROL) and capacity building and will develop training concepts across both universities, also invol-ving non-university institutions in the region. Based on an evaluation of the existing study programs and graduate training, we identified three aspects which should be elaborated to achieve a highly integrated early career concept within the Northwest Alliance. While stu-dents already now, in principle, have mutual access to courses at the respective other uni-versity, logistic constraints (scheduling, travelling between sites) limit the acceptance of this opportunity. Here, WP 6 will develop blended learning concepts using novel approaches to the integration of presence-based and e-learning aspects (Objective O1) in order to allow mutual usage of learning environments at both sites. Second, WP6 will address the shift from teaching to learning as requested for ROL. Both UB and UOL have programs sustaining this shift within their institutions, but in order to present the northwestern region of Germany as a common region for marine education and training, WP6 will develop courses on methodologi-cal aspects of ROL (O2). WP6 will support and extend the existing strategies for capacity building beyond the developed countries at both universities by developing a specific course program in “Marine Sciences” between the Bachelor and the Master levels. The envisioned program will create a novel opportunity for participants from developing and emerging countries, who, so far, often lack the sufficient training to complete a regular Master program. However, the program will go beyond a preparatory course by offering a certificate after completion. Hence, it is stand-alone and at the same time can act as a bridge into a more competitive Master program. 

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