Centre for Ocean Life.

Centre for Ocean Life extended until 2022

Friday 29 Sep 17


Thomas Kiørboe
DTU Aqua
+45 35 88 34 01


Ken Haste Andersen
Professor, Head of Section
DTU Aqua
+45 35 88 33 99

The Centre for Ocean Life at DTU Aqua has received DKK 15 million from VILLUM FONDEN to continue its work for another five years

Since 2012, Centre for Ocean Life has brought together Danish marine research across disciplines and universities to explore fundamental biological-physical marine processes and develop models to describe marine life.

During the first six years of the centre’s existence, it has been financed by a DKK 30 million grant from VILLUM FONDEN, and the foundation has now granted the centre an additional sum of DKK 15 million. Thanks to the new grant—together with a grant of DKK 5.8 million from Independent Research Fund Denmark and a grant of DKK 12 million from the US Moore Foundation—the centre now has the necessary funds for another five years of operation and for funding some 15 PhD students and postdocs.

The Centre for Ocean Life has already or is in the process of educating 18 PhD students, and approx. 25 postdocs are or have been employed as researchers at the centre. In addition, a large number of visiting researchers and students have stayed for a shorter or longer period of time, and the centre’s work has resulted in more than 250 scientific articles.

Traits replace species

The Centre for Ocean Life is the first in Denmark to work with a so-called trait-based approach to describe marine life. The basic idea of the trait-based approach is to consider individuals characterized by a few essential traits rather than describing the many thousands of species that live in the ocean and interact with each another and the environment. This allows one to capture a lot of the complexity of marine systems in a relatively simple way.

Key traits are those species-transcending properties of organisms that best account for their ability to acquire resources, to survive, and to reproduce; i.e., the properties that best define their Darwinian fitness. These traits may materialize differently for different life forms, and may combine in many different ways to capture the diversity of marine life. 

Professor Thomas Kiørboe, Head of Centre for Ocean Life, explains:

“In many ways, the species concept is a trap. For marine creatures do not live where and in the way they do because of the name they have been given by man, but because of how their traits fit into and make the most of their surrounding environment. Therefore, we are looking directly at the traits—for example how an organism feeds—which tells us something about its adaption to the environment across species. It also simplifies our description of marine ecosystems, because instead of describing the distribution of all the hundreds of thousands of species in the sea, we describe the distribution of the most important functional properties of the organisms, which are actually very few. Also, the distribution of traits—rather than species—in a particular ecosystem immediately tells us about the function of the ecosystem”.

Simplifying the complicated

The Centre for Ocean Life has, for example, used the trait-based models to make maps that show the global distribution of zooplanktons’ properties—size, wintering strategy, and vertical migrations. The centre now uses these maps to estimate the role of zooplankton in the ‘biological pump’, i.e. the living organisms’ contribution to the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, a key process in regulating the global climate.

“We’re specifically investigating how the efficiency of the biological pump in the North Atlantic has changed over the past 60 years in the hope that we can use the insight into historical changes to predict future changes as a consequence of climate change. And we do find significant changes in the North Atlantic. The purpose of the study is both to describe the changes and to understand the mechanisms that give rise to the observed changes,” says Thomas Kiørboe.

The trait-based models are also used on fish, and Professor Ken Haste Andersen, who is co-leader os the Centre for Ocean Life with Thomas Kiørboe, defended his doctoral dissertation on precisely that topic earlier this month.

Instead of describing fish communities by species, Ken Haste Andersen is working with models that are based on the size of the fish, because it is the size that ultimately defines what the fish eats, and who it is eaten by. 

“It means throwing away some information. But is allows me to say something about a less complex part of the ecosystem—e.g. size—with greater certainty. It’s enough for me to know that I’m dealing with a fish that weighs two pounds, for example. Based on this, I can say a lot about the other parameters, and then make an assessment of the impact of different types of fishing activity and their effect on the other fish stocks”, Ken Haste Andersen explains.

More focus on predictions

The next stage in the Centre for Ocean Life’s work will be to further develop the trait-based approach and construct trait-based models of marine ecosystems, but now with a stronger focus on applying the models to assess the effects of environmental change. Key topics are, for example, to assess the effects of global warming, invasive species, and fishing. 

Another key goal for the Centre for Ocean Life is to educate future generations of researchers in quantitative marine ecology. The centre will therefore also in the future train PhD students and post docs, organize international summer schools and workshops, invite visiting researchers and students, etc.

Facts about Centre for Ocean Life

Centre for Ocean Life was established on 1 January 2012 at DTU Aqua. The centre has researchers from DTU Aqua, DTU Physics, DTU Mathematics, University of Copenhagen, and Roskilde University.

The centre is co-headed by biologist and Professor Thomas Kiørboe, DTU Aqua, and physicist and Professor Ken Haste Andersen, DTU Aqua, and is funded by VILLUM FONDEN, Independent Research Fund Denmark, and the Moore Foundation.

Find out more at www.oceanlifecentre.dk

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