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MAR-ECO mini-course

What could be more exciting than enjoying the lovely summer weather in Espeland, a tiny coastal station located just south of Bergen on the Norwegian western coast? Learning how to identify the fabulously diverse creatures that form the marine macrozooplankton and (micro) nekton community in the waters of the mid-Atlantic!!

 Identification crash-course: zooplankton, mesopelagic fish and cephalopods

Twelve students from seven different countries joined six world-class specialists at the University of Bergen’s Marine Research Station at Espeland for an intense two-week course. The course involved lectures and hands-on training sessions led by the different experts.

“It is the first time we have really seen these organisms in their natural form!” reported Marian and Claire from the Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science (SAHFOS) in Plymouth, England. SAHFOS operates the continuous plankton recorder which collects plankton (continuously) onto a roll of silk. While mostly protecting these often fragile organisms, the process also tends to flatten them. “I had no idea that it resembled a sausage so much!”, admitted Marianne. Both work as plankton analysts at SAHFOS and are taking the course to further develop their identification skills.

Today’s lecture was about Euphausiids, given by Professor Alistair Lindley, a world expert and also from SAHFOS. In addition to using the extensive material from the MAR-ECO collection, each specialist was asked to bring a reference collection as a resource for the hands-on work. These reference collections will then serve as reference material in future identification and course-work.

Professor Annelies Pierrot-Bults from the Zoological Museum in Amsterdam and the University of Amsterdam was one of the leaders of the course and brought the collection for today’s Chaethognath work. It included four different sample collections from four different latitudes making comparisons of differences due to latitude possible and in the case of the more closely situation two northerly locations, that of differences due to season as well.


In additional to conventional textbooks and the personal expertise of the course leaders, the students also made use of CDRom material. These latter, the “electronic books” of the future, are becoming increasingly valuable resources; assembling the latest images, videos and data about taxonomic groups from experts around the world.
Dr. Pierrot-Bults works with a project that is building this unique digital library resource, the World Biodiversity Database. The CDRoms about many taxonomic groups provide easily accessible, high-quality taxonomic and ecological information. A quick survey around the lab at Espegrend showed a number of these in active use!

From a MAR-ECO perspective, the Euphausiids' work is particularly relevant, explained Dr. Tone Falkenhaug from the Institute of Marine Research in Norway. While most of the MAR-ECO material has been sorted and identified, there is still sorting work remaining to do on some of the zooplankton collection. Falkenhaug reported that the initial sorting effort undertaken by the students during the workshop has tremendously advanced the MAR-ECO identification work.

Representing different countries and diverse backgrounds, a common theme among the students was a desire to know more about being better able to identify the broad cross-section of organisms collected during research cruises.




Nina Dehnhard from IFM-GEOMAR, in Kiel Germany studies birds, but some of the marine birds have a zooplankton diet and Nina wanted to know more. Kyle Barstow from Florida was frantically preparing for an ichthyology exam that was going to be sent to him later that day via internet, but he explained that being better able to identify zooplankton would help him in stomach contents analyses of the fish he studies. Young-Nam Kim from Southampton is participating in an extensive research cruise this summer in the waters off Iceland. While primarily responsible for phytoplankton during the cruise, Kim attended the course to learn more about zooplankton and thus the bigger plankton picture.

Whatever their reasons, the students seem enthusiastic about the course. It was organized and partly funded by the EU Network of Excellence on Marine Biodiversity called MARBEF. The course organizers, Tone Falkenhaug and Annelies Pierrot-Bults from MAR-ECO work together with a number of institutions as partners in a MARBEF Responsive Mode Project on Pelagic Biodiversity. This project is a MAR-ECO initiative.

The feeling was that the course was definitely a worthwhile venture and maybe should become a MAR-ECO tradition. The facilities at the UiB Marine Research Station are good and the chance to bring together students and experts is unique for everyone and at the same time, they are advancing the work of MAR-ECO!

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