The Marine Biological Association

Promoting marine scientific excellence and representing the marine biological community since 1884

Facebook Logo Twitter Logo RSS Logo Marine Science Events Calendar LinkedIn


125 Years Talks

Marine Biological Association research presentations available online

Throughout 2009 and 2010, The Marine Biological Association celebrated 125 years of excellence in research and education.

The MBA’s history and achievements were marked at an event at the Fishmongers’ Hall in London, with keynote presentations and other talks that highlight the importance of marine science for modern society.

Speakers included Noble Prize winner Professor Sir Tim Hunt and Sir Crispin Tickell. A selection of the presentations and talks (PowerPoint and MP3 files) talks are available to download for free (see below).

Access to the full program of talks is one of the benefits available to MBA members.
Joining the MBA
is quick and easy.

The Full Programme


Sir Geoffrey Holland, KCB (President, Marine Biological Association)
Available to download [MP3 file 5.5 Mb]

Session 1 – Biogeochemistry and Environmental Change

‘The changing ocean uptake of atmospheric carbon dioxide’
Professor Andrew Watson, FRS (University of East Anglia)
Available to download
[MP3 file 43.5 Mb]

The oceans have historically taken up nearly 50% of the fossil fuel carbon dioxide humans have emitted. This ‘sink’ is important, both because it has considerably slowed the rate of climate change and because it is responsible for the acidification of the ocean. Until recently it has been assumed that the ocean sink for atmospheric CO2 would change little from year to year or decade to decade. However, with increasing availability of observations it has now become clear that, regionally at least, it varies on decadal time scales in response to climatic change.

How can we better observe the changing uptake of carbon dioxide by the oceans, and the progress of ocean acidification? Recently, the EU-funded ‘CarboOcean’ project has shown that it is possible to observe the seasonal and annual uptake of CO2 by the North Atlantic ocean accurately, using a network of commercial ships equipped with autonomous instruments. This is applicable to other ocean regions that are well-travelled by commercial vessels, and could form the backbone of an observing system for large parts of the world’s oceans.

‘Biological signals from the pelagic realm: a macroecological perspective’
Professor Peter Burkill (Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science)
Available to download
[MP3 file 19.7 Mb]

The marine pelagic realm is the largest ecological system on the planet occupying 71% of the planetary surface and a major part of the Earth’s overall biosphere.  As a consequence of this pelagic ecosystems play a fundamental role in modulating the global environment via its regulatory effects on the Earth’s climate and its role in biogeochemical cycling.  Changes caused by increased warming on marine pelagic communities are likely to have important consequences on ecological structure and function thereby leading to significant feedbacks on the Earth’s climate system.

Using empirical data at the ocean-basin scale and over a multidecadal period, we explore some of the changes observed in the pelagic environment caused by recent climate warming.  The ecological changes observed range from spatial shifts in populations to temporal shifts in life-cycle events eventually leading to step-wise changes and to the reorganisation of whole ecosystem networks.  While both biogeographical and phenological responses to climate warming can be predicted based on sound knowledge of a species ecological niche, step-wise changes also known as regime shifts in ecosystems, however, appear to be a non-linear response to climate warming and as a consequence until recently have been notoriously difficult to forecast.  The recent discovery of a critical thermal boundary or ‘tipping point’ in the North Atlantic, however, has led to a degree of illumination on what causes whole regime shifts in marine ecosystems.

Finally, we investigate biodiversity at the ocean-basin scale and conclude that despite the various anthropogenic influences on the marine environment, planktonic biodiversity is actually increasing.  The consequences of such ecological changes are discussed in relation to biogeochemical cycles and climate feedbacks and leave us with a difficult conundrum on whether increasing biodiversity with in a system is always a good thing?

‘Climate change and responses of marine biodiversity and ecosystems’
Professor Stephen Hawkins (Bangor University)
Available to download [MP3 file 23.8 Mb]

Long-term data sets are required to disentangle broadscale and long-term climate-driven changes from shorter-term regional and local scale impacts.  The far-sightedness of key staff (Allen, Russell, Southward) and the longevity of the MBA have produced unique data sets on responses of marine ecosystems and biodiversity to fluctuations in climate and more recently rapid climate change.  Russell and Southward were the first to appreciate that cyclical changes in the English Channel were broadly linked to climate fluctuations  – such changes were subsequently dubbed the ‘Russell Cycle’ by Cushing. Unfortunately many of the MBA time series were stopped in the mid 1980s just as warming became apparent. Their restart from 2000 onwards has contributed valuable insights into the responses of fish and intertidal organisms to climate change which are briefly outlined.

Session 2 – Environment and Society

Keynote Lecture
‘Environment: Science and Politics in the Mainstream’
Sir Crispin Tickell, MA GCMG KCVO

Science and politics do not easily mix.  But with increasing threats to the world environment, they are being forced together.  This requires changes of mind, changes in lifestyle, and changes of timescale.  In no area is this more important than in coping with the effects on the world’s oceans, their levels, their chemistry, and their biology, with all the consequences for human society.

‘The world is blue: why reconnecting to Planet Ocean matters to me and you’
Professor Dan Laffoley (Natural England)

There has probably been no other period of time in the presence of humans on Earth where there hasn’t been greater urgency to better understand, to better value, and to better protect the ocean.

This presentation will examine the critical need to reconnect ourselves, decision makers, policy advisors and the general population to the ocean. It will explore why the health of the oceans matters to us all.  It will examine the challenges our ocean face and celebrate some of the ways in which we can introduce and reconnect the wider world to the undersea world. This is to gain their support for significant scale-up in global actions, to ensure that future generations live with an ocean every bit as diverse, productive, healthy and inspiring as the one we have today.

The presentation will celebrate the MBA’s fundamental role in communicating science, through to more global innovations and approaches. As a special 125th birthday present it will include surprises from National Geographic, Google and IUCN.

‘What was, is and should be: 125 years of supplying evidence for marine policy and management’
Dr Matthew Frost (Marine Biological Association)

The Marine Biological Association has a long history of supplying evidence for policy and management: the need for information on managing our seas was a main driver for the establishment of the Society in 1884. Today the MBA hosts numerous projects concerned specifically with this provision of information and also runs outreach programmes relevant to scientists and the wider public.

Three key questions that can be addressed using MBA science are; what did our seas look like (using historical data and long term time-series)?; what do our seas look like (and how do they work i.e. questions relating to function and process)?; and what will our seas look like (and how will they work i.e. models and future forecasts)?  The answer to these questions provides an evidence base that allows policy makers (and wider society) to be able to answer the question: what should our seas look like?

Session 3 – Sustainable Resources

Keynote Lecture
Dr David Agnew

‘125 years of change in the fortunes of UK fisheries’
Professor Callum M Roberts (University of York)

The Marine Biological Association was founded 125 years ago, in part to help settle controversy about the effects of exploitation on stocks of fish like cod, herring and turbot.  At the time there was an emerging anxiety that some fisheries were in decline after centuries of near unhindered exploitation.  125 years is a long time in which to settle an argument, but controversy still rages over the state of fish stocks and what to do about it.  In this talk we will show that fears over falling returns from fishing in the late 19th century were well founded.  But in comparison to today, the state of fish stocks in the 1880s was one of almost unimaginable abundance.  Since then, there has been a spectacular decline in populations of most of the major fishery species, much of which occurred before the advent of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).  The CFP has done little to improve the state of fisheries in the last 26 years.  Rather, weakness in decision making has made matters worse for many fisheries, and over the long-term condemns the fishing industry to a decline into economic irrelevance.  The 2012 round of reform to the CFP provides perhaps the last serious opportunity to turn around the state of European fisheries.  To achieve a real change in fortune, risk-prone decision making will have to be replaced with science-based decision making, and protection of the environment and recovery of fish populations must become the foundation of the new policy.

‘Moving on: Modelling marine fish movements in relation to environmental variability’
Professor David Sims (Marine Biological Association)

The sustainable management of marine fish populations ideally requires a detailed knowledge of their spatial ecology since movements of individuals within a species affect a population’s distribution pattern and temporal dynamics, with consequences for spatial abundance changes across a wide range of scales.  The spatial distribution of a species will be influenced by how activity and behaviour (linked to motivational and energy requirements) affect rates of key movements, such as search strategies and encounter rates with prey, the location of mates and timing of courtship, occupation times in preferred habitats, as well as migrations.  Therefore, day-to-day changes in movement and behaviour will influence broader scale patterns in distribution and population structure and can also signal a fish’s response to environmental fluctuations.  However, the behavioural processes structuring the patterns of fish population distribution are generally poorly known, principally because movement patterns and behaviour data are missing or have not been examined over a wide range of scales. At present, only very coarse and simplistic data on fish movements underpinning distributions are available for parameterising spatially-structured fish population models; most use random motion.

Over the last 10 years, the MBA Behavioural Ecology Group has collected detailed tracking data on the movements of large fish of commercial and conservation importance to help bridge such knowledge gaps.  Novel statistical analyses indicate general scaling laws in movement pattern across diverse species consistent with specialised random walks, with simulations indicating such movements have adaptive significance by increasing encounter probability.  Mapping these phases in relation to ocean habitat type shows particular patterns such as searching are linked to specific habitats, which allows some predictive ability about how fish move and behave in relation to the ocean environment.  Special random walk models incorporating stochastic noise account well for real fish behaviour providing a means for realistic parameterisation of their re-distributions.  Fish tracking data is also being mapped in relation to time-referenced movements of fishing vessels to provide field estimates of capture risk and survivability.

Our approach should help to identify the extent and dynamics of population spatial distributions and essential habitats, ultimately providing spatial and temporal foci for management in relation to fishing activity and distribution.  It may also serve to identify predator hotspots in the ocean requiring special conservation initiatives.

Session 4 – Whole Organism and Cell Biology

Keynote Lecture
‘Models, Molecules and Man: from Clams to Cancer’
Sir Tim Hunt, FRS

‘Genomics-enables approaches for revealing the molecular secrets of marine diatoms’
Dr Chris Bowler (École Normale Supérieure, Paris)

Diatoms are eukaryotic photosynthetic microorganisms found throughout marine and freshwater ecosystems that are responsible for around 20% of global primary productivity.  A defining feature of diatoms is their ornately patterned silicified cell wall, which display species-specific nanoscale structures.  These organisms therefore play major roles in global carbon and silicon biogeochemical cycles.  The marine pennate diatom Phaeodactylum tricornutum is the second diatom for which a whole genome sequence has been generated.  It was chosen primarily because of the superior genetic resources available for this diatom (eg, genetic transformation, RNAi, 130,000 ESTs), and because it has been used in laboratory-based studies of diatom physiology for several decades.  The sequence is 27 mega base pairs and, together with the sequence from the centric diatom Thalassiosira pseudonana (34 Mbp; the first diatom whole genome sequence), it provides the basis for comparative and functional genomics studies of diatoms with other eukaryotes and provides a foundation for interpreting the ecological success of these organisms.  In spite of the fact that the pennate and centric lineages have only been diverging for 90 million years, their genome structures are dramatically different and a substantial fraction of genes (~40%) are species specific.  Analysis of molecular divergence compared with yeasts and metazoans reveals rapid rates of gene diversification in diatoms.  Unlike in other eukaryotes, segmental genome duplications do not appear to have contributed to diatom evolution.  On the contrary, evidence has been found for selective gene family expansions, differential losses and gains of genes and introns, and differential mobilization of transposable elements. Even more significant is the unprecedented presence of hundreds of genes from bacteria.  The ancient origins of these gene transfers are testified by the finding that more than 300 are found in both diatoms, and many are likely to provide novel possibilities for metabolite management and for perception of environmental signals.  These findings go a long way toward explaining the incredible diversity and success of the diatoms in contemporary oceans.  As a case in point I will show how genome-enabled resources can reveal how genes from different origins have been recruited to ensure diatom survival in chronically iron-limited regions of the ocean.

‘The diversity of animals: genomes from the sea’
Professor Peter Holland, FRS (University of Oxford)

For centuries, philosophers and scientists have struggled to make sense of the bewildering diversity of life on earth.  The publication of Darwin’s ‘Origin of Species’ in 1859, precisely 25 years before the founding of the MBA, provided the turning point in understanding, as it proposed a coherent mechanism for the generation of animal diversity.  But this work did not resolve the actual tree of life, nor elucidate the origins of the variation on which natural selection acts.  I will review how recent analyses of DNA sequences, particularly based on complete genome sequences, have revolutionised these two subjects.  Furthermore, with the majority of animal diversity occurring in the seas, marine animals have been pivotal in this exploration.

Closing remarks and discussion
Professor Colin Brownlee (Marine Biological Association).
Available to download MP3 file 16.4 Mb and .ppsx file 22.7 Mb