Integrating Macroecology and Modelling to Elucidate Regulation of Services from Ecosystems

Lead Research Organisation: University of Glasgow
Department Name: College of Medical, Veterinary &Life Sci

Abstract

Our knowledge of marine ecosystems is fragmented, and our ability to predict the consequences of various natural and human changes in those ecosystems is limited. To manage the marine environment we need to understand change and consequences of change over large areas and long time periods. In this project we will develop a whole-ecosystem approach to understand changes in marine ecosystems around the UK, and the services they provide.
Ecosystem services are the benefits that human society derives from the environment. These include food, recycling of materials and well-being. Coastal and shelf marine ecosystems are biodiverse and complex. They are highly productive, bringing huge benefits to humans. They are also under enormous pressure from human drivers such as fishing and climate change. The role of ecological structure in supporting key ecosystem services is not fully understood. Ecosystem services cannot be measured simply, and they vary in importance and magnitude according to how they are defined and observed. Understanding the ecosystem processes governing the way that services vary naturally, and in response to human pressures, requires a computer-modelling approach. NERC has good models, but these have limited ability to predict change in all but the lowest levels of marine food webs. Several well-respected modelling approaches focusing on food webs and larger organisms such as fish and mammals are commonly used, but gaps in knowledge hamper the inclusion of whole food webs into models that consider environmental and food web changes together. This is due to the way marine food webs have generally been studied in their separate components, at different scales or for specific applications such as biogeochemistry or fisheries.
We propose a highly integrated project to make best use of existing data spread among different data holders across the UK and beyond. The integrated data will be used for analyses based on the latest ecological theories to inform and improve a range of models. These models will be used collectively to examine changes in ecosystems and potential future consequences for the services they deliver. The geographical focus of the programme will be the western seas, from the western English Channel, through the Celtic and Irish Seas, to western Scotland, although relevant data from other parts of UK waters will be included where appropriate.
The novelty of this project is in using recent technologies to combine existing datasets into an integrated system with new experiments and field work for a genuine whole ecosystem analysis from phytoplankton to fisheries at whole shelf scales. We will include this new knowledge in models to examine how energy and materials move within food webs and how these are influenced by pressures. Model outputs will be translated to the services across the range of scales needed to inform management decisions.
The consortium brings together 28 key researchers from 10 UK organisations to integrate existing knowledge, data, models and new information, to allow us to understand how marine ecosystems will change in the future, and how those changes will alter the benefits humans derive from the marine environment. The project is part of a larger programme, and results and outputs will be crucial for supporting development of NERC's biogeochemical models, and application of model development to test the impact and efficiency of potential management interventions. The legacies of this project will include tools and combined datasets that will place the UK far ahead of the rest of the world in terms of our ability to conduct meaningful ecological and food web studies, and a world-leading capability to analyse and model whole ecosystems and understand the consequences of change in terms of ecosystems services.

Planned Impact

The IMMERSE programme will have far reaching impact upon a diverse range of beneficiaries, including policy makers, environmental managers, marine monitoring initiatives and wider society. The programme outputs will place the UK as an international leader in macroecology and ecosystem modelling by improving understanding of the regulation of key ecosystem services, scale-dependence in the underlying processes, functional diversity at different trophic levels and the impact of stressors on the marine environment. It will also provide vital data for, and improvements to, UK marine modelling to explore the impact of environmental change on the structure, function and services associated with marine food webs across scales.
The research and outputs generated by the programme will primarily be of direct relevance and benefit to UK and European policymakers and environmental managers working towards the sustainable exploitation of the UK and Europe's marine environment. These include those working within the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Marine Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage, Natural Resources Wales, Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), United Nations Environmental Programme, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) and others. By using already well-established links with these organizations and developing these further, targeted outputs will be disseminated to policy beneficiaries to help refine current indicators of state and drivers, ensuring a common currency and, therefore, a smooth transition of robust science between the scientific and policy communities.

The novel, whole system approach employed in IMMERSE will also be of benefit to a wide range of organisations and networks with an interest or involvement in marine monitoring, resource management, marine planning, fisheries, aquaculture, energy provision, licencing, predicting ecosystem change, conservation and food security. The programme will consolidate a range of data sources to provide these organisations and networks with clean, rationalised datasets that are of meaningful and add value to their activities. These include: AFBI, British Ecological Society (BES), Celtic Seas Partnership (CPS), Cefas, Sea Watch Foundation, fisheries Regional Advisory Councils, RSPB, Valuing Nature Network, Marine Climate Change Impacts Partnership, and data networking and integrating groups such as Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS), World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS), National Biodiversity Network, Marine Environmental Data and Information Network (MEDIN), UK Integrated Marine Observing Network (UKIMON), European Marine Ecosystem Observatory (EMECO), UK Marine Monitoring and Assessment Strategy Evidence Groups, NERC Knowledge Exchange Programme on Sustainable Food Production, National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, British Marine Aggregate Producers Association, Ifremer and IUCN. Existing collaborations combined with new links will facilitate the dissemination and publicity of IMMERSE outputs to the benefit of these organisations and networks.

There is a wider public interest in the research of IMMERSE in that shelf seas are a source of food and energy that is susceptible to environmental change with subsequent socio-economic implications. This includes interest from educational institutes that often require societally-relevant, novel issues to provide context to the science curriculum. This programme will also demonstrate to wider interest groups the shift from individual, narrowly focused studies to "big picture" research endeavours, designed to feed into addressing large social challenges and illustrate how marine science can provide wide-ranging benefits to society.
Methods for engaging with stakeholders are described in the IMMERSE Pathways to Impact.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description The main aim of my contribution was to provide a data base of seabird diets to ecosystem modelers. The modelers will then use this information to predict the impact of environmental change and fishery policies on the marine ecosystem. The data base which will be made available to the public via the BODC has interesting information on changes in seabird diets over time and space. Manuscripts in prep will look at spatial gradients in diets and how fish stock and competition with other seabirds might affect the actually consumed diet
Exploitation Route Provides an opportunity to analyse data that are being made publically accessible by others and feeding into specific ecosystem models to better understand how UK's marine environment responds to environmental change
Sectors Environment,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism

URL http://www.marine-ecosystems.org.uk/getattachment/87c2bd1f-91b0-4319-99c8-10bd6bf9dd82/MERP_Annual_Science_Meeting_10-12_October_2018
 
Description First BOU IBIS Twitter conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A range of researchers tweeted about their ornithology research for 2 days with a global audience. I contributed results from the analyses of this NERC-funded project
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.bou.org.uk/conference/bou17tc-bou-twitter-conference-2017/
 
Description Public talk to the Paisley Natural History Society 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Invited talk to the Paisley Natural History Society to talk about recent findings on the foraging ecology of seabirds
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Scottish Ornithologist's Club 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Invited talk at the Annual Meeting of the Scottish Ornithologists' Club that was dedicated to seabirds as they are recognised as a group of birds in need of conservation. I reported on the need to have a good idea of what food the birds consumed and could present the data base that we set-up for the consortium and extracted some preliminary findings from it on quite dramatic changes in diet in some species over the last 50 years. It also highlighted the gaps in our current knowledge. From ensuing discussion it becomes clear there is a wish to have better ongoing monitoring of seabird diet, something that currently is missing, and that the data base of past seabird diets might be a good starting point for a monitoring project.

A summary of the talk has been written up and published in the Club's journal Scottish Birds, but currently not available online
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Seabird Twiiter conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Contributer to the third Seabird Twitter Conference that tweeted over 3 days research results about seabird research, in my case specifically about the results from the ongoing NERC-funded project
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.seabirds.net/wstc3.html
 
Description Twitter Conference, 20-21 March 2015 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Twitter Conference where I presented first outcomes of variation in seabirds resource use. All material of the twitter conference archived in a Storify. Raised awareness with fellow seabird researchers and the interested general public worldwide on the ongoing work.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL https://storify.com/Seabirders/wstc1