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A register of marine species in Europe to facilitate marine biodiversity research and management


Over two years, the ERMS project compiled a list of marine species in Europe, a bibliography of marine species identification guides, surveyed species identification and taxonomic expertise, and surveyed the state of marine species collections in Europe. The project involved a consortium of 23 organisations, in 10 EU states, over 170 scientists from 18 countries, and had a budget of 385,000 euro. Gaps in species knowledge, coverage of identification guides, availability of taxonomists, and problems with marine species collections, were identified.

The initial predictions of there being 20,000 to 25,000 marine species in Europe were a significant underestimate. In fact, the register now contains 29,713 species, and predictions of species not listed plus species yet to be discovered indicates there are probably 38,000 marine species in European seas. The register is being published as a book, on the website, and an information pack on the project is also being published as a colour brochure.

The review of the bibliography of 842 identification guides found that there were fewer identification guides for southern European seas despite this region having more species compared to northern Europe. There were only adequate identification guides available for fish for all of Europe's seas. New guides were especially needed for the species rich but smaller sized taxa, such as polychaete, oligochaete, and turbellarian worms, and harpacticoid copepods.

The project was very successful in developing a network of expertise on marine species in Europe. This is already being built upon as part of recently funded and submitted research proposals to the EU. The published species lists will also stimulate revisions of species groups, and provide a starting point for revising and expanding future lists. The project established a database with over 600 experts in the identification of marine species (as stated by the individuals themselves). A subset of these experts was recognised by their peers as being taxonomic experts. A survey of this database of expertise found the average age of respondents was 47, and on average taxonomists tended to be older than ecologists, perhaps because of modern emphases in research funding. There was no direct correlation between the number of experts of a particular taxon and the number of species in that taxon. It was evident that some taxa with thousands of species have relatively few taxonomists.

A questionnaire survey to people with knowledge on, or hosting, collections of marine species had 80 responses. While considered representative, this does not cover every marine species collection in Europe, and a full register of all marine species collections must be the subject for future initiatives. The survey was sufficient to identify the characteristics of these collections, including the range of sizes and geographic scope. It also found that all collections, whether large or small, had a common problem of insufficient resources to maintain the collections as they wished. Most (64 %) of the collections were incompletely catalogued, and only 10 % had their catalogue in electronic form. New funding was therefore essential if knowledge and on, and availability of, collections was to be made known on the Internet.

A novel approach to address both the issues of Intellectual Property Rights and long-term management of the results was implemented. The contributors to the project founded a new scientific society of which they are all automatically members for life. It is called the 'Society for the management of European biodiversity data'. The members elect a council that will oversee and stimulate revisions and expansions of the species register, and may manage other electronic datasets if necessary. The society may provide solutions where problems are created for the management of species databases due to the changing availability of experts (e.g. due to job changes, illness, death) and/or the priorities of their employer organisations.

The ERMS project has produced the first ever checklist of marine species in Europe, yet more species remain to be discovered. With the establishment of the first database of expertise in marine species in Europe, it is apparent that there is insufficient expertise in several species-rich taxa, indeed the same taxa where most new species are predicted to be discovered. Future funding should prioritise research on the species rich, under-studied taxa so as to produce a more comprehensive set of marine species identification guides for European marine research and management. The ERMS checklist should also be updated and expanded to cover gaps in coverage of some taxa, and provide more information, especially on species names and distribution.
The foundation of biodiversity research and management is correctly identifying and naming species. This Concerted Action proposal will produce a directory of marine species in Europe, linked with a bibliography of identification guides, register of taxonomic experts, locations of collections of reference specimens, and an Information Pack on European marine biodiversity. The Species Directory is novel in its geographic extent, range of taxa covered, and that it will use state-of-the-art Internet software for publication and networking. It will be drafted by experts from published literature and existing species lists, circulated to a wider range of experts for comments, revised and finally verified before publication as a book. The quality of the finished product, and its wide availability to end-users, are key elements of the project. The draft and final versions will be in the public domain and accessible across the Internet. It is anticipated that it will become a standard reference (and technological tool) for marine biodiversity training, research and management in Europe.

A special Working Group will liaise with external organisations active in biodiversity research and management, including Species 2000 (IUBS), DIVERSITAS, UNESCO-IOC (Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission), and the European marine research stations (MARS) network. The Species Directory will thus contribute to both European and global initiatives, avoid duplicating other activities, and aid national and European contributions to these organisations, to the Convention on Biological Diversity, to OSPARCOM, and to general marine environmental management. Indeed, this project would provide the first model of how the Species 2000 can link with a regional project. The linking (and future expansion) of this Species Directory with other databases, acknowledgement of individuals contributing to the Directory, and long term availability and revise-ability of the Directory will be key issues addressed by the Concerted Action.

A 1996 MAST workshop found considerable national activity in inventorying and systematics but little European co-ordination. This proposal will provide this coordination by bringing together 29 scientists from 22 organisations and 9 countries. These participants will combine their data and knowledge to produce a Species Directory of wider geographic and taxonomic scope, and greater accuracy and authority, than possible by individual efforts within the same time period. It's value will be thus greater than the sum of its components. The participants have experience in designing, constructing and managing species and marine databases, marine taxonomy (fauna and flora) and biogeography, co-ordination of large projects, publishing on electronic media (including disks and the World Wide Web), and conducting marine biodiversity research. Working Groups will also (a) analyse the data collected to identify gaps in taxonomic expertise, knowledge of certain taxa, and weaknesses of certain identification guides (including languages, quality), and (b) produce an Information Pack from the project results to aid university and public education in European marine biodiversity. This Concerted Action would thus provide a foundation for further research in marine biodiversity in Europe by both networking and producing a standard, widely available, maintained, species database.

Call for proposal

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Participants (18)