HIFMB mission and strategy

The main processes ensuring the habitability of our planet are provided by the Earth’s marine and terrestrial biota, including oxygen production, carbon fixation, and the transfer of energy and recycling of matter in food webs. Understanding the response of biodiversity to the pressures of global change and its role for ecosystem functions requires integrative research merging fundamental disciplines (ecology and evolutionary biology, biogeochemistry) as well as transdisciplinary approaches to biodiversity, conservation concepts, and management. Our current understanding of functional marine biodiversity, however, only partially meets the societal demand for predictive scenarios on how and why biodiversity will change over the short- and long-term, how these changes will affect marine ecosystems and their services and how society can adapt to or mitigate the changes.
This urgent need for integrative research on marine biodiversity motivated the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) and the Carl-von-Ossietzky University Oldenburg (UOL) to establish the Helmholtz Institute for Functional Marine Biodiversity (HIFMB).

HIFMB develops the scientific basis for marine conservation and marine ecosystem management by analysing the functional role of biodiversity in marine ecosystem and understanding the general principles constraining this role. The Institute thereby establishes the necessary knowledge and tools to predict future changes in biodiversity and ecosystem function and to analyse their consequences for human well-being.

HIFMB profits from the existing expertise in the partner organizations, AWI and UOL, on molecular biodiversity, biodiversity assessment, species interactions, spatial ecology, and population dynamics. Moreover, HIFMB is designed as an open consortium and thus will benefit from the existing expertise in the marine institutions of NW-Germany (especially the Senckenberg Institute regarding biodiversity assessment and the Leibniz Centre for Marine tropical Research for their transdisciplinary expertise). However, achieving the goals of HIFMB requires strategic recruitment that fills important gaps in the international research landscape on marine biodiversity. Foremost, this requires building up a natural science basis for conservation strategies (Marine Conservation) as well as social expertise in the analysis of societal and policy processes leading to the development of management concepts (Marine Governance). HIFMB is expected to develop novel concepts for Marine Conservation, with particular emphasis on a theoretical framework of conservation that addresses the specific features of marine ecosystems such as three-dimensionality and spatio-temporal dynamics of the marine habitat. Regarding the practical planning process, models for the trade-off between conservation objectives and ecosystem services need to be developed that consider stakeholder views. The latter directly links to the Marine Governance professorship that will explore the socio-economic dynamics generated by and feeding back on the use of particular ecosystem services. A new group on Ecosystem Informatics will pursue the integration of “Big Data”, the amount of available data relevant for biodiversity studies, into Marine Conservation. Enabling data integration from numerous distributed and heterogeneous sources is the major challenge facing biodiversity informatics. Finally, the models describing the processes constraining biodiversity and its consequences for processes are vastly different from ecosystem models analysing the pools and flows of matter and energy. A professorship on Biodiversity Theory will bridge these approaches, integrating classical models from theoretical ecology with spatial, evolutionary and biogeochemical approaches.