Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structures (ARMS) programme: long-term monitoring of invasive marine species

The Internal Joint Initiative was conceived by LifeWatch ERIC in 2019 to provide scientific communities working in biodiversity and ecosystem research with more innovative and comprehensive dedicated digital analysis and storage facilities.  Construction of the next generation Virtual Research Environments (VRE), has been guided by the data requirements of five validation cases on Non-indigenous and Invasive Species (NIS), the results of which were delivered at the LifeWatch ERIC NIS Workshop in May 2021.

This page summarises the ARMS validation case, called after the European Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structures programme. Analysis of the species present on submersible settlement plates sampled in over 20 near-coastal marine environments across three years, was made possible through the ARMS workflow developed by the ICT staff of LifeWatch ERIC. On-going refinement of these online tools and services will enable researchers to tackle large-scale investigations with greater speed and security.




Monitoring hard-bottom marine biodiversity can be challenging as it often involves non-standardised sampling methods that limit scalability and inter-comparison across different monitoring approaches. Therefore, it is essential to implement standardised techniques when assessing the status of and changes in marine communities, in order to give the correct information to support management policy and decisions, and to ensure the most appropriate level of protection for the biodiversity in each ecosystem. Biomonitoring methods need to comply with a number of criteria including the implementation of broadly accepted standards and protocols and the collection of FAIR data (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable).

Artificial substrates represent a promising tool for monitoring community assemblages of hard-bottom habitats with a standardised methodology. The European ARMS project is a long-term observatory network in which about 20 institutions distributed across 14 European countries, including Greenland and Antarctica, collaborate. The network consists of Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structures (ARMS) which are deployed in the proximity of marine stations and Long-term Ecological Research sites. ARMS units are passive monitoring systems made of stacked settlement plates that are placed on the sea floor. The three-dimensional structure of the settlement units mimics the complexity of marine substrates and attracts sessile and motile benthic organisms. After a certain period of time these structures are brought up, and visual, photographic, and genetic (DNA metabarcoding) assessments are made of the lifeforms that have colonised them. These data are used to systematically assess the status of, and changes in, the hard-bottom communities of near-coast ecosystems.

ARMS data are quality controlled and open access, and they are permanently stored (Marine Data Archive) along with their metadata (IMIS, catalogue of VLIZ) ensuring data fairness. Data from ARMS observatories provide a promising early-warning system for marine biological invasions by: i) identifying newly arrived Non-Indigenous Species (NIS) at each ARMS site; ii) tracking the migration of already known NIS in European continental waters; iii) monitoring the composition of hard-bottom communities over longer periods; and iv) identifying the Essential Biodiversity Variables (EBVs) for hard-bottom fauna, including NIS.

The ARMS validation case was conceived to achieve these objectives: a data-analysis workflow was developed to process raw genetic data from ARMS; end-users can select ARMS samples from the ever-growing number available in collection; and raw DNA sequences are analysed using a bioinformatic pipeline (P.E.M.A.) embedded in the workflow for taxonomic identification. In the data-analysis workflow, the correct identification of taxa in each specific location is made with reference to WoRMS and WRiMS, webservices that are used to check respectively the identity of the organisms and whether they are introduced. 

The ARMS workflow will soon be available on this page.