Conference, Centre for Ocean Life. Photo: Line Reeh

The Copenhagen School of trait-based approaches to marine ecology

Wednesday 04 Sep 13
by Line Reeh


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

Centre for Ocean Life

The Centre opened on 1 January 2012 at DTU Aqua with a grant of DKK 30 million from the Villum Foundation. 

The Centre pools together Danish marine research across disciplines and universities in order to explore fundamental biological -physical processes in the ocean and to develop models to understand and predict how marine life is affected by environmental changes and fishing.

The Centre for Ocean Life at DTU Aqua is enjoying considerable international success through applying the trait-based approach to marine research

The Centre for Ocean Life’s recently held International Conference: Trait -based Approaches to Ocean Life, which took place in Copenhagen at the end of August, has been hailed a success by the organising committee.

"The conference has established the Centre for Ocean Life and DTU Aqua as international standard-bearer for the development of ‘trait -based methods’ in marine ecology. There was even talk of ‘the Copenhagen school’, which shows how original our approach is and how much respect it has inspired," says Professor Ken Haste Andersen, Deputy Director at the Centre for Ocean Life, before continuing:

"One example is the opening lecture, which was given by Coleen Webb, an American who we didn’t actually know before the conference. But it turned out that she had adopted the fish models that we have developed at the Centre and had continued to work on them by applying them to U.S. ecosystems. I take that as a sure sign that we’re really onto something," says Ken Haste Andersen, DTU Aqua.

"There was even talk of 'the Copenhagen School ', which shows how original our approach is and how much respect it has inspired."
Professor Ken Haste Andersen, DTU Aqua

Even before the workshop started, there was so much interest that many people wanting to attend were refused admission. As it was, the 82 participants from around the world were almost more than there was room for. Both the international and Danish scientists came in order to discuss a hot new approach to understanding and predicting the biological complexity of the ocean. This is the so-called trait-based approach, where traits are to be understood as properties or characteristics. It is a method which Danish scientists are currently promoting in the international arena.

The trait-based approach was originally developed by biologists working on describing life on dry land. But the Centre for Ocean Life at DTU Aqua has taken the lead in developing and applying the approach to look at marine life, explains Centre Director Thomas Kiørboe:

"There is huge biological complexity in the ocean, but by focusing on individual traits rather than species, we can crystallize and model the basic dynamics of the system. The basic idea is that it is not which species an organism belongs to that determines its ability to survive, eat and reproduce, but rather some key traits across species. A key feature could for example be the ability to perform photosynthesis - whether it is animal or plant."

The Centre for Ocean Life was founded in early 2012 with a grant of 30 million Danish kroner from the Villum Foundation. The centre gathers together biologists, physicists and mathematicians, as for example at the centre’s recently-held conference. And it is just this inter-disciplinary work which is fundamental to the Centre for Ocean Life's success in understanding complex systems like ocean life. The Centre for Ocean Life consists of researchers from DTU Aqua, Department of Physics, DTU Compute, the University of Copenhagen and Roskilde University and is led by the biologist Professor Thomas Kiørboe, DTU Aqua, and the physicist Professor Ken Haste Andersen, DTU Aqua. In addition, the Centre is affiliated with a number of international guest researchers.

"We are working on new types of ecological models and looking at how nature works, from each individual organism to the ecosystem level to how nature interacts together with prevailing physical conditions. I think the fact that DTU Aqua is already a mix of disciplines has given us a head start, because marine life is so complex that you cannot understand and describe it on the basis of just one discipline," explains Professor Thomas Kiørboe, DTU Aqua.

The conference ‘Trait -based Approaches to Ocean Life’ was organized by the Centre for Ocean Life at DTU Aqua and was held at the Academy of Sciences, Copenhagen from 26 to 28 August 2013. The Centre for Ocean Life is a VKR Centre of Excellence.

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