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Marine Ecosystem Research

Marine Ecosystem Research in FB2

The area of Marine Sciences constitutes by far the most major research focus on the Bremen research landscape. It is also the strongest in research and international visibility. Most prominent in this area is the University of Bremen’s Center for Marine Environmental Sciences (MARUM), together with the three non-university research institutions, Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Center for Polar and Marine Research (AWI), Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology (MPI), and the Leibniz Center for Marine Tropical Ecology (ZMT). In respect of practical applications, Bremen is also renowned internationally in the private sector as a competence center for high-tech marine and maritime solutions. Altogether, the broad area of marine research provides employment to more than 1,500 people in the Federal State of Bremen.

Marine Sciences in FB2 – BreMarE

Research groups in the area of Marine Sciences in FB2 are integrated in BreMarE – Bremen Marine Ecology Center for Research & Education. BreMarE brings together the three marine biology research groups in FB2 with their classical division in Marine Botany (Prof. Kai Bischof), Marine Zoology (Prof. Wilhelm Hagen), and Marine Microbiology (Prof. Michael Friedrich), complemented by Marine Chemistry (Prof. Tilmann Harder), which due to its instrumental analytical orientation to chemically mediated intra and interspecific interactions of marine organisms allows access to biological processes and related research questions. BreMarE is strengthened by the establishment of a Helmholtz University Junior Research Group which is shared with AWI and led by Prof. Scarlett Trimborn. The scope of BreMarE is further widened by the research group led by Dr. Marlis Reich in the research field “Molecular Ecology with Focus on Marine Fungi”.

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BreMarE partnerships with non-university institutes located in Bremen

The Bremen high-profile research area of Marine Sciences is characterized by intense collaboration between differently oriented marine research institutes, with the University of Bremen as the integrating element. This is manifested in FB2 by the close cooperation AWI, MPI and ZMT. The FB’s three professorships in marine biology are strategically oriented to the associated marine research institutions as so-called “anchor professorships” that sustainably ensure direct contact to the AWI, the ZMT, and the MPI. Marine Chemistry was set up within the frame of the 2015 Excellence Initiative of the German Government and Federal States to promote science and research at German universities as a Bridge Professorship to AWI. The Bridge Professorship connects the two institutions, with members of respective research groups being hosted at both institutions.

The concurrent possibilities for cooperation with the AWI polar research institute and the ZMT institute for tropical research open up unique possibilities for FB2’s marine researchers to conduct comparative research across all the world’s climate zones. This is particularly the case in respect of research on the impact of climate change on marine eco systems.

Many of the institute’s researchers are also engaged in teaching activities. This constitutes a direct link between up-to-date research and academic learning, thus in the frame of research-based learning, students have immediate access to pressing research issues and state-of-the-art methods of marine research.

All in all, a uniquely successful set of advantages that is unparalleled in Germany – and indeed the world – lending sustainable benefits to both research as well as academic learning.

Examples of joint research projects involving FB2 and partner research institutes

AWIPEV: Prof. Kai Bischof is coordinator of biological activities at the Franco-German AWIPEV research station on Spitsbergen. Together with his colleagues from AWI he is doing research on the biology of macro-algae ecosystems in Arctic Kongsfjord.

DFG-SPP Antarctic research: Is the hyperiid amphipod Themisto gaudichaudii poised to displace krill in the warming region of the Southern Ocean? 2015-­2018, Havermans, Auel, Hagen with AWI

DFG: SEA–EELS: Sargasso Sea Ecosystem Assessment – European Eel Larval Studies, 2015, Hagen, Auel, Bischof, Friedrich with AWI and the Thünen Institute, Hamburg

BMBF – collaborative project: BIOACID I and II: The influence of ocean acidification on marine primary producers and fungi, 2009‐2015, Bischof, Reich with AWI, MPI and ZMT

BMBF– collaborative project: GENUS I and GENUS II: Geochemistry and Ecology of the Namibian Upwelling System, 2009-­2015, Hagen, Auel with AWI, ZMT and the University of Hamburg, including capacity building program (coordination, Hagen)

EU—MARES: International Graduate School on the topic “Marine Ecosystem Health and Conservation”: joint research projects with AWI, MPI and numerous international partners.

EU—EMBC: EUROPA—European Universities & Research On board Polarstern in the Atlantic (ANT-XXIX/1, “Floating University”), 2012, Auel with AWI, MPI and EMBC—partner universities.

The relevance of research on marine ecosystems

The marine sciences play a key role in research on the interaction between ecological and socio-economic systems, especially with regard to the causes and consequences of anthropogenic influences on biodiversity and ecosystem services. Marine algae contribute to half of all global primary production. Fish and marine organisms deliver essential proteins for a third of mankind. The oceans also act as the Earth‘s climate machines. Over the past 150 years they have absorbed almost half the carbon dioxide produced by the world’s population. The current warming and acidification of our oceans will have unforeseeable ecological and socio-economic consequences. We therefore have to develop strategies and courses of action that are capable of curbing or reversing the harmful effects on biological diversity and  ecosystem services caused by over fishing, climate change, and invasive species. Prerequisite for this is a more thorough understanding of the interactions between the systems as well as the processes and dynamics that lead to tipping points and changes in the state of marine ecosystems.

Marine biodiversity – Analysis across spatial and time scales

Within the frame of the MARUM mainstay “Marine Ecosystems and Biodiversity”, the Institute for Marine Chemistry and Biology (ICBM) and FB2 at the University of Bremen set up a collaborative project titled MarBAS. MarBAS (Marine Biodiversity – Analyses across spatial and time scales) researches the functional role of biodiversity in marine ecosystems, the evolution of biological diversity, ecological mechanisms of coexistence and dominance, as well as the conservation of diversity in rapidly changing marine ecosystems.

At the center of this marine research project in FB2 are key research questions surrounding the functional mechanisms and processes of speciation, habitat connectivity, and the development and preservation of marine diversity.

These processes are still not well-enough understood to enable sufficiently reliable forecasts on the impact of anthropogenic interventions. Due to the competence it possesses in applying scientific methods, FB2 is ideally placed to research the physiological tolerance windows, adaptation strategies, ecophysiological and molecular-genetic control mechanisms, potential tipping points, and their ecological implications. The broad methodology spectrum ranges from empirical field studies, through laboratory experiments on model organisms, up to applying modern in situ measuring techniques embedded in natural systems. In order to explore commonalities and differences in the causes and control mechanisms of such high biodiversity, the research concentrates on selected hot spots of marine diversity (e.g. plankton, coastal ecosystems like kelp forests and coral reefs, deep-sea habitats like cold water corals and extreme habitats).

Linkages to other research groups in FB2

The great variety of research interests, cutting‐edge expertise and methodology competences in FB2 provide excellent opportunities for interdisciplinary research on marine life and for conducting comparative studies with the innovative methods and fresh perspectives won from other disciplines. There are subsequently many linkages to other research groups in FB2, for example:

  • the biochemical and molecular-biological research groups led by Prof. Kelm and Prof. Dringen on mechanisms of host/symbiont recognition in coral/zooxanthell system or oxidative stress and antioxidative strategies in marine organisms.
  • the molecular-biological and chemical research groups on selected model organisms (e.g. seaweed, Prof. Nehls), comparative research approaches on interactions mediated by signaling substances and the structure formation of marine macro-algae or  higher plant life (e.g. rice) and on micro-organisms (bacteria, fungi) that call for a broad spectrum of molecular-biological methods (e.g. Prof. Reinhold-Hurek, Prof. Gross‐Hardt), organic-chemical analytical (e.g. Prof. Spiteller, Prof. Kelm), inorganic-chemical analytical (e.g. Prof. Gesing, Prof.Beckmann), and chemical-synthetic methods (z.B. Prof. Staubitz, Prof. Nachtsheim).

The area of Ecology in FB2 is integrated in MarBAS (Marine Biodiversity – Analysis across spatial and time scales) as a formal cooperation partner.

Together with the area of Biology Didactics (Prof. Elster), the marine research groups support student field research on the North Sea island of Helgoland.

The marine biology research groups are integrated in the Graduate School “RACOON-Redox‐active copper oxide nanoparticles in changing environments” initiated by Prof. Filser (Ecology), which beside the FB2 chemical and biochemical research groups also includes research groups from Materials Sciences and Physics.

International master’s programs

FB2 plays a leading role in academic teaching in the high-profile area of Marine Sciences. It offers four thematically specific international master’s programs covering different aspects of Marine Biology. These programs are run in cooperation with the non-university marine research institutes AWI, MPI and ZMT and partly financed with third-party funding provided by DAAD [German Academic Exchange Service], the EU or the Max Planck Society. They include the master’s programs Marine Biology (jointly with AWI, ZMT, MPI), International Studies in Aquatic Tropical Ecology (ISATEC together with ZMT, AWI), Marine Microbiology (MarMic together with MPI, AWI) and the International M.Sc. in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation (EMBC+, Joint Degree offered together with five other European universities, www.embcplus.org).

Altogether, FB2 offers 60 places for master students in the area of Marine Biology every year. The very high demand for these places underscores how exceptionally attractive FB2 has become nationally and internationally as a place of higher learning in the area of Marine Biology. International students regularly account for 30 to >60% of student enrolments. Both in breadth as well as in the scope for specialization, such a course offering is unique worldwide. It makes a major contribution towards the University of Bremen’s international visibility and renown in the Marine Sciences.

Forerunner in internationalization

When it comes to internationalizing studies at the University of Bremen, the area of Marine Biology in FB2 is forerunner. Set up in 1999, the international master’s program ISATEC was the first of only two such programs offered all over Germany – and that was even before the Bologna Process started.

Example of Best Practice

EMBC was the first international program established at the University of Bremen to be accredited by the renowned Erasmus Mundus Program and funded by the EU.  Both then and now, on the national level it counts as example of best practice for international programs awarding joint degrees. For instance, the experiences made with EMBC are now taken into account by DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) as well as accreditation agencies in their recommendations for the development of internationalization strategies. In 2013, EMBC was selected by the EU-funded JOQAR project as one of the first two master’s programs in Europe to be granted international accreditation. Beside EMBC+, the M.Sc. Marine Biology program encompasses several other international programs, enabling students to complete part of their studies at partner universities in other countries. Among others, cooperation and exchange agreements are in place with the Ocean University of China (OUC) in Qingdao, as well as with the state University of St. Petersburg in Russia in the frame of the POMOR study program in applied polar and marine research.

Ph.D. studies and postgraduate programs

Accordingly broadly conceived and diversified is the teaching and research in FB2 in the area of Ph.D. studies, with several doctoral programs.

These include participations in GLOMAR and Intercoast at MARUM, POLMAR at AWI, SUTAS at ZMT and MarMic at MPI.

Similar to EMBC/+, on the level of master’s programs, the marine biologists in FB2 are also forerunners in the areas of Ph.D. studies and internationalization, with the EU-funded Erasmus Mundus Joint Doctoral Program in Marine Ecosystems, Health, and Conservation (MARES,www.mares‐eu.org). Set up in 2010/2011, this program has developed into an international network for doctoral research in marine biology: it currently encompasses 25 partner institutions in 15 countries, among which are 11 universities, 5 non-university research institutions, and 9 private-sector enterprises, government agencies, and conservation organizations.

FB2 occupies an important position in postgraduate education and the advancement of junior researchers. Among the Faculties at the University of Bremen, FB2 awards the highest number of doctorates (125 over the past two years). The area of marine sciences accounts for by far the largest share (Marine Sciences 49%, other Biology 23%, Chemistry 28% in the period 2012 till Sept.2015, n=193).

Since September 2015, the comprehensive offer of degree programs in the high-profile research area of Marine Sciences on master and Ph.D. levels at the universities of Bremen and Oldenburg and the strategic partnerships with the non-university marine research institutes constitutes a central feature of the internet presence of Nordwestverbund Meeresforschung  [Organization for collaborative marine research in North West Germany].

Marine Biology in Bachelor Biology

Besides participating in undergraduate education within the frame of Bachelor Biology, the marine biology research groups in FB2 are responsible for the profile track in Marine Biology which starts in the third year of the Bachelor Biology program.

The profile track serves especially as the foundation for building a future research career in Marine Sciences.

The Bremen Model entails profile building in the form of strong orientation to one of the University’s high-profile research areas during the third year of bachelor studies. This feature, which remains unparalleled in Germany – and indeed the world – translates into sustainable benefits for FB2 students. Such a unique possibility to become engaged with research questions of marine biology already during undergraduate studies constitutes a strong incentive for prospective students to choose the University of Bremen.