The Leibniz Centre for Tropical Marine Research (ZMT) in Bremen is the only scientific institute in Germany that exclusively investigates tropical and subtropical coastal ecosystems and their significance for nature and humans. Together with its partners in tropical countries, the ZMT creates a scientific basis for the protection and sustainable use of these tropical coastal ecosystems.
In addition to research, the focus is on capacity development and consulting – always in close cooperation with international and national partners. As a member of the Leibniz Association (since 2009), the institute is funded by the Federal Republic of Germany and its federal states, in particular Bremen.
ZMT was founded in 1991 and employs more than 200 members of staff. It belongs to the German Alliance for Marine Research, which was started in 2019.
In teaching and research, ZMT is dedicated to a better understanding of tropical coastal ecosystems. These include mangroves, coral reefs, seagrass meadows, but also rivers, estuaries, coastal waters and upwelling areas. The scientists of the Institute study the natural processes of these habitats. They investigate the interconnectedness of ecosystems with the interior and the open ocean. ZMT runs a marine experimental facility (MAREE) to cultivate and rear tropical organisms throughout the year. Ecophysiological experiments can be conducted in a simulated tropical marine environment.
ZMT’s studies focus on the structure and functioning of tropical coastal ecosystems, resource use and their resistance to human intervention and natural changes. The institute combines natural and social sciences in an interdisciplinary manner. All research projects are carried out in close cooperation with local partners.
Interdisciplinarity at ZMT
Tropical coasts and their ecosystems, shaped by increasing pressures ranging from overpopulation to increasing pollution levels and coastal erosion, are among the most challenged social-ecological systems on our planet. Addressing these highly complex challenges requires the disciplinarily differentiated strengths and interdisciplinarily socialised capacities.
For effectively undertaking highly interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research activities in large collaborative projects, as well as disciplinary-oriented research where needed, ZMT thus fosters a balanced combination of a wide variety of disciplines, ranging from biology and ecology to biogeochemistry, chemistry, geology, mathematical modelling, geography, economics, sociology and anthropology.
Depending on the required thematic, methodological, and theoretical expertise, regional and language capacities, and on partnership networks and group capacities available, collaborative research teams (within programme areas and for projects) are formed and research questions are jointly defined. Paying conscious attention to regular interdisciplinary interaction in the projects, including joint visits to the field, exchange of method and theory trainings, back-from-the-field presentations (and more) has proven useful in overcoming disciplinary boundaries.
Within the constantly evolving scientific staff body of the institute, this attitude also contributes to building awareness about the multiplicity of approaches that can be considered to tackle research scientific challenges as well as with regard to how each research problem itself can determine which type of disciplinarity, interdisciplinarity, or transdisciplinarity is most appropriate for the problem at hand. Regular reflections of the potentials and limitations of the different degrees of inter-/trans-/disciplinarity, here also drawing on respective literature (e.g. Barry et al. 2008, Mollinga 2010), allows for a constant engagement with and refinement of ZMT’s identity and mission, especially in relation to how we approach and contribute in particular to the strategic development of the jointly defined programme areas.
ZMT's important tasks include exchanging knowledge and skills in the form of capacity development. The Bremen institute trains students and doctoral candidates from Germany and all over the world. Its scientists teach at the universities in Bremen and the region and contribute significantly to the range of courses. In cooperation with the University of Bremen, ZMT also offers an international MSc programme called ISATEC (International Studies in Aquatic Tropical Ecology).
The ZMT supports the development and strengthening of expertise and structures in the tropics that enable sustainable coastal zone management. In its partner countries, the institute organises international summer schools and offers courses as well as practical training. The certified Scientific Diving Centre at ZMT trains scientists to become research divers according to the standards of the German Employer's Liability Insurance Association.
Cooperation and consultation
In order to anchor sustainable development and the protection of tropical coastal ecosystems more firmly in society, the ZMT cooperates closely in its research with stakeholders and key actors from science, politics, business, NGOs and civil society - at national and international level. ZMT's Office for Knowledge Exchange (OKE) serves as a hub for networking research with these different areas. At the same time, the OKE is the national and international contact point for research, training and government institutions for the exchange of subject-specific information.