ARMS-MBON | Assemble+

Marine Biodiversity Observation Network for genetic monitoring of hard-bottom communities



News Flashes

  1. Now that ASSEMBLE Plus is coming to an end, the ARMS-MBON project will join with EMBRC's EMO BON. More information will be provided in due course. 
  2. ARMS-MBON GitHub repository: all the ARMS documentation, templates, and data, will be organised and made accessible from the new ARMS GitHub repo. This is still in development, but you can already use it to browse among the sampling event (meta)data for all the stations. 
  3. A tutorial for analysis of ARMS data is now available online on youtube 
  4. A new partner has joined the network: welcome, the group from the Universidad de Cadiz! Two new ARMS stations will be created on the rocky seafloor in this location situated between the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean, and we look forward to lots of lovely new data :-D
  5. A Window on Science: ARMS hard-bottom communities feature on the LifeWatch ERIC 'A Window on Science' podcast season 2 episode 2.
  6. ARMS-MBON is now part of the European Marine Omics Biodiversity Observation Network. Go to the EMO BON website for more details on this fantastic initiative.


The European ARMS programme (ARMS-MBON) is a network of Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structures (ARMS) placed in the vicinity of marine stations, ports, marinas, and Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) sites distributed over Europe and polar regions. The aim of ARMS-MBON is to assess the status of, and changes in, hard-bottom communities of near-coast environments, using genetic methods supplemented with image analysis and visual inspection methods. ARMS-MBON is part of GEO BONs Marine Biodiversity Observation Network (MBON). For more detail on the project and what we can do with our samples and our data, you can read A Marine Biodiversity Observation Network for genetic monitoring of hard-bottom communities (ARMS-MBON) in Frontiers in Marine Science.

ARMS units are passive monitoring systems originally developed during the Census of Marine Life project for the collection of marine fauna on and near the sea floor. Similarly to settlement plates, the ARMS units are stacks of plates that mimic the complex structure of the sea bottom. They are deployed on marine substrates and colonised by marine species, and after a period of time they are recovered by a team and taken apart to see who moved in.  

One of our scientific goals is to identify newly arrived Non-Indigenous Species (NIS), facilitating an early warning system, and to track the migration of already known NIS in European continental waters. The data collected by the ARMS-MBON programme has the potential to be used for calculating Essential Biodiversity Variables (EBVs) on the distribution and abundance of benthic and non-indigenous species, as well as for continental-scale research on the community ecology and biogeography of benthic invertebrates. 

The project is primarily funded through the Joint Research Activity (JRA1) of ASSEMBLE Plus, with financial contributions from the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management, the Interreg project GEANS and with considerable in-kind contributions by the participating institutes. The project is an activity of the Genomic observatories network with relations to the European Marine Biological Resource Center (EMBRC).

What do we do?

Starting with a test phase in 2018, ARMS-MBON has been working with annual cycles of deployment-retrieval, with each cycle having a design, deployment, and analysis phase. ARMS units are deployed for periods of a few to many months, depending on the local conditions. The network has a current coverage of close to 20 observatories along the European coastline and including a number of arctic stations. The number of deployments and deployment locations is gradually increasing year after year.

ARMS-MBON partners buy, assemble, deploy, retrieve the ARMS units, process them for motile and sessile fractions, and send the samples to HCMR for sequencing. Photos of the plates are also taken. All data and metadata are collected in the data management platform, PlutoF, to be processed, coordinated, quality controlled, and then analysed and published. 


Department of Marine Sciences, University of Gothenburg, Sweden
Institute of Marine Biology, Biotechnology and Aquaculture, Hellenic Centre for Marine Research, Greece
Marine Biological Association of the UK, UK
British Antarctic Survey, UK
Department of Ecology and Animal Biology, Universidade de Vigo, Spain
UVIGO Marine Research Centre (CIM-UVIGO), ECIMAT Marine Station, Spain
Plentzia Marine Station, University of the Basque Country, Basque Country, Spain
Sorbonne Université, CNRS, Station Biologique de Roscoff, France
EMBRC-ERIC headquarters, Sorbonne Université, France
Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ), Belgium
Institute Landesbetrieb für Küstenschutz, Nationalpark und Meeresschutz Schleswig-Holstein, Nationalparkverwaltung, Germany
Institute of Oceanology of the Polish Academy of Sciences (IOPAN), Poland
University of Gdansk, Faculty of Oceanography and Geography, Department of Marine Ecosystems Functioning, Poland
The Interuniversity Institute of Marine Sciences in Eilat, Israel
National Institute of Biology, Marine Biology Station Piran, Slovenia
Tvärminne Zoological Station, University of Helsinki, Finland
Department of Bioscience, Aarhus University, Denmark
Faculty of Biosciences and Aquaculture, Nord University, Norway
School of Natural Sciences, Ryan Institute, National University of Ireland Galway, Ireland
UC Berkeley Gump Research Station, University of California Berkeley, USA
Department of Invertebrate Zoology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, USA
CASEM, Universidad de Cadiz, Puerto Real, Cadiz 11510, Spain
Università di Bologna, Dipartimento di Scienze Biologiche, Geologiche e Ambientali, Italy

Supporting Infrastructures and Networks

Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management
Genetic tools for Ecosystem health Assessment in the North Sea region (GEANS)
European Marine Biological Resource Centre (EMBRC-ERIC)
Associated of European Marine Biolocail Laboratories Expanded (ASSEMBLE Plus)
LifeWatch ERIC 
Genomics Observatories Network
Global ARMS program


  What   Who   Contact details
  Network coordinator     Matthias Obst   University Gothenburg,
  Data management   Katrina Exter   VLIZ,
  Molecular lab   Christina Pavloudi   HCMR,
  Analysis Infrastructure     Klaas Deneudt   VLIZ,


How do we do it?


The methodology, guidelines and standard operating procedures are compiled in our ARMS-MBON Handbook. This includes useful guidelines on how to deal with Access and Benefit-Sharing (ABS) and Material Transfer Agreements (MTA). These, and our guidlines for working with the genetic material, sequences, images, and visual observations, are listed in the documentation table below. 


  Document type  Document link 
  Handbook (including SOPs for working with the ARMS units and the sampling)   Github Handbook folder
  Data Management Plan GitHub DMP folder
  ABS HowTo GitHub ABS folder
  Molecular genetic analysis protocols (MSOPs) GitHub SOPs folder


Forms for use by consortium members

  Form type  Form link 
  ARMS registration form (for newcomers) Fill in here
  MTA template form available from
  Plate label printout sheet example available from (update to IDs Aug. 2022)
  Sample label printout sheet example available from (update to IDs Aug. 2022)
  Species observation template spreadsheet  available from (update to IDs Aug. 2022)
  Image description template spreadsheet available from (update to IDs Aug. 2022)
  Spreadsheet for making your data IDs available from (update to IDs Aug. 2022)


Data and data analysis

The ARMS-MBON data flow is described in the Data Management Plan. All data collected by the consortium are subjected to a moratorium period, normally of a year, to allow time to ensure the data are quality controlled and for the partners to have a chance to analyse the data and publish results. After this period has elapsed, the data are open access.

The data collected from the partners are intially managed via the consortium's account in the PlutoF platform (contact Matthias Obst for access to the ARMS account in PlutoF), and each year be copied to the Marine Data Archive for long-term preservation. The metadata record for all ARMS data will be hosted by IMIS (the datasets catalogue of VLIZ), in the ASSEMBLE Plus data collection: go directly here to get to the ARMS-MBON master record. After standardisation into DwC formats and after the moratorium period, the data will be published on EurOBIS and GBIF. ARMS-MBON data are also accessible via its GitHub site

In close collaboration with LifeWatch ERIC and its Internal Joint Initiative on Non-Indigenous species, a data-analysis workflow for pipeline-processing the raw sequences and the images for ARMS is being developed. This workflow will combine of a number of essential reference tools and will allows for a standardised processing of the collected data. An important element in this data analysis workflow is P.E.M.A, a Pipeline for Environmental DNA Metabarcoding Analysis.

A tutorial for analysis of ARMS data is now available online on youtube. 

How to join

We welcome all newcomers to the ARMS-MBON network! If you want to learn more about how to join our network, please contact Matthias Obst (see Contacts). The registration form link is provided in the table in Documentation and forms





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