The Marine Biological Association

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

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Long-term Science

The Marine Biological Association maintains some of the longest biological time-series in the world. Long-term observations of physical and biological parameters in the ocean provide a foundation of data supporting studies aimed at understanding biological responses to marine environmental changes. The MBA long-term monitoring programme was first started in the late 1880s and continues to the present time through research surveys in the Western English Channel and around the British Isles. Monitoring activities are focused on plankton, fish eggs and larvae, adult demersal fish, soft sediment and rocky shore benthos. MBA long-term observations contribute to numerous programmes including the Western Channel Observatory and the Marine Environmental Change Network (MECN). Research topics using MBA long-term data include how invertebrates and fish are affected by changing sea temperature and fishing activities. Click here for a list of the MBA long-term monitoring datasets.

Plankton, fish and benthos

Plankton, benthos and fish are sampled by our research vessel, MBA Sepia, together with RV Plymouth Quest. The methods, gears and vessel speeds (during towing) have remained very similar during the past century of data collection which makes the time-series of great use in understanding how plankton and fish have changed over a century time-scale, for example, in relation to climate-driven fluctuations in seawater temperature. Part funding is provided by NERC National Capability. The MBA long-term measurements have resulted in seminal discoveries, including the work of Sir Frederick Russell FRS and Professor Alan Southward, who were the first to appreciate and document the biological responses to climate change in the early 1950s, studies that laid the foundations for many subsequent studies worldwide.

Recent work focuses on understanding how the timing of migration and spawning of fish and squid is altered by climatic fluctuations, and on using statistical methods to detect trends in complex data  to disentangle the responses of fish populations and communities to both fishing and climate change. Funding for these studies have been provided by the NERC Oceans 2025 Strategic Research Programme (2007-14) and Defra. In addition to long-term observations in the Western English Channel, MBA long-term research also focuses on analysis of data collated from partner institutions. For example, MBA was a leading partner in a project within the NERC-Defra Sustainable Marine Bioresources theme, contributing to the largest analysis of fish abundance data in the world, comprising >27,000 research trawls, >100 million fish sampled over an area of 1.2 million km2 on the northern European Shelf.  Collaborators include the University of Bristol, Cefas Lowestoft, AFBI Northern Ireland and the University of Galway.

Rocky Intertidal

The MBA has maintained time series on rocky intertidal invertebrates for many decades. The Marine Biodiversity and Climate Change Project, MarClim, was a consortium funded from 2001-2005 that restarted and maintained several UK rocky intertidal time-series dating back to the 1950s beta.mba.ac.uk/marclim This project has demonstrated some of the fastest biogeographic changes globally, far exceeding most documented in terrestrial systems. The UK time-series continues at around 150 shores, and is supported by funding from the conservation agencies CCW, Natural England and by NERC Oceans 2025 under Theme 10. The geographic coverage has been expanded to include large sections of the European coastline. Resurveys of 1950s historical sites have been carried out in France and Portugal, along with additional sites in Norway. The time-series data is supporting ongoing collaborative modelling work with colleagues at University of South Carolina,  The Scottish Association for Marine Science, and CSIRO Australia.