Integrating Macroecology and Modelling to Elucidate Regulation of Services from Ecosystems

Lead Research Organisation: Queen's University of Belfast
Department Name: Sch of Biological Sciences

Abstract

Coastal and shelf marine ecosystems are highly productive, bringing great benefits to humans. These benefits, called "ecosystem services" include food supply, recycling and recreation. Coastal and shelf seas are rich, productive and close to large human populations, so they are under great pressure from factors such as fishing and climate change.

Despite years of intensive study, our knowledge of how shelf ecosystems work is still patchy. Therefore we cannot yet predict how they will respond to changes. IMMERSE combines researchers with complementary track records from across 11 UK institutes. We will develop an integrated, whole-ecosystem approach to understand how changes occur in marine ecosystems and how these affect the services they provide. We will a) synthesise and analyse the vast array of existing, but scattered, data, b) target key data gaps and choke-points in our understanding with focussed fieldwork and experimentation and c) combine these into a suite of computer models that explore future consequences of changes and perturbations for ecosystem services. Our geographical focus will be the western seas, from the western English Channel, through the Celtic and Irish Seas, to western Scotland, although relevant data will be included from a wider area.

The novelty of this project is fourfold:

First, we will use novel web-based approaches to combine existing datasets and rate process measurements, from microbes to whales, and at whole shelf scales. By combining these datasets and published data, we can deduce the underlying "ecological rules" that operate at the level of the individual but lead to patterns at the ecosystem scale - for example how an organism's mortality or feeding rate depends on its body size and the ambient temperature.

Second we will target key knowledge gaps by applying the latest method developments in understanding food webs. We will use isotopic methods to trace the relative input of seaweed and planktonic algae into the base of the food web; we will follow these isotopic tracers in the lab and in the wild to understand exactly how these plants are incorporated into the rest of food web; we will use new image analysis technology to quantify the full size range of organisms in the sea; and we will use the latest molecular techniques to trace who eats whom.

The third novelty is that we will use not just one model to understand these ecosystem linkages but six models, all based on different assumptions. This "ensemble" approach is similar to climate forecasting, but is in its infancy in the sea. We will inform these models with the data synthesised and collected above, and then compare the output across the whole ensemble. This approach limits the shortcomings of any single model for a more robust picture of how the ecosystem works. These models will then be challenged with different scenarios of change, for example changing fishing effort or establishing conservation zones, with and without warming.

The fourth novelty of our approach is that we include a small but important socioeconomic part to our proposal. This will enable policy makers to convert the output from models into economic valuations and indicators, so that judgements can be made on management decisions for a suite of marine ecosystem services.

IMMERSE is part of a larger NERC funding scheme, and its outputs spanning the whole of the food web will be tailored to support the next two rounds of funding: first in developing NERC's model of the lower reaches of the food web, and second in testing efficiency of potential management interventions. The legacies of this project will include tools and combined datasets that will place the UK in a leading position to understand whole ecosystems and the consequences of change in terms of ecosystem 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.
 
Description Our whole-ecosystem models currently make very general assumptions about how animals feed that are largely based on temperature and size. Whilst this broadly *works* at large (>10 km) scales, context matters a great deal in terms of, for example, protected areas at finer scales. We have sought to understand how context changes the scaling of interactions at local scales (that is, within a community of directly interacting species). We have found that the presence of habitat structure in particular systemically dampens the scaling of consumer search rates (their ability to find and capture prey), and that this promotes stability and coexistence in the community.

We have now published our work on Context-Dependent Scaling in Ecology Letters:

Barrios-O'Neill, D., Kelly, R., Dick, J.T.A., Ricciardi, A., MacIsaac, H.J. and Emmerson, M.C. On the context-dependent scaling of consumer feeding rates. (2016) Ecology Letters 19, 668-678.

It has proven logistically difficult to reliably measure the feeding rates of larger elasmobranchs in a laboratory setting. However, we have been able to quantify their effects on lower trophic levels, and been able to show how habitat structure modulates interactions in accordance with some of the concepts outlined by Context-Dependent Scaling. A manuscript on this work is now in submission with Biological Conservation:

Barrios-O'Neill, D., Bertolini, C. and Collins, P.C. Trophic cascades and the transient keystone concept (in review) Biological Conservation. Work on a data base of consumer-resource feeding relationships has continued, and we have now collected a total of 122 consumer resource relationships supplemented by a further 67 consumer resource pairs that represent novel experiments undertaken in the context of the project. This data base continues to be analysed using the traits of consumers and resources to explain variation in the form of the relationships.
Exploitation Route Our findings aren't just relevant to our specific study-system. They have implications for our understanding of coexistence and stability more widely, certainly in other aquatic systems, and perhaps also in terrestrial ones.
Sectors Environment

URL http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ele.12605/full
 
Description Mark Emmerson has met with representatives from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) in Northern Ireland with a view to establishing a platform for Marine related research. He has actively engaged with representatives from the Marine and Fisheries Division within DAERA regarding the ongoing work within MERP and has met with the head of branch for the Fisheries and Ecosystems branch within the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) regarding the marine platform and ongoing work in MERP.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Education,Environment
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services

 
Description Marine Management Organisation stakeholder guidance
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
 
Description NERC Summer of Science
Amount £4,750 (GBP)
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 05/2015 
End 11/2015
 
Description PhD ) focussed on multistability and functioning of marine food webs
Amount £60,000 (GBP)
Organisation Government of Northern Ireland 
Department Department for Employment and Learning Northern Ireland (DELNI)
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2016 
End 04/2019
 
Title Field-based heating apparatus for rocky intertidal shores 
Description This new research method enables whole intertidal benthic communities to be experimentally heated in situ. Thus, being able to simulate future global warming in the field under more natural environmental conditions than similar laboratory studies. 
Type Of Material Physiological assessment or outcome measure 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact None yet 
 
Title Global Functional Response Database 
Description Collecting all known published and unpublished data on consumer-resource interactions in order to make generalisations around temperature, body size and other key drivers. The Data base currently holds information on the feeding relationships between 122 consumer-resource pairs, and includes data from 67 supplementary experiments undertaken in the context of the project. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Refined parameterisation of consumer-resource interactions in ecosystem models. 
 
Description AFBI Macroalgal subsidy crusie 
Organisation Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Nate Geraldi and Abby Gilson participated in an AFBI cruise aimed at determining to what spatial extent kelp beds subsidise the food web. This was part of a coordinated UK wide effort with the likes of CEFAs.
Collaborator Contribution Sampling benthic inverts and demersal fish: isotopic analysis.
Impact 1. Spatial extent of kelp subsidy. 2. Subsidy estimates at UK scale 3. Parametrised ecosystem models
Start Year 2015
 
Description Assessing the generality of marine intertidal food webs along the East Atlantic Sea Board 
Organisation Reykjavík University
Country Iceland 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution PhD student Justin Judge (funded by the Department for the Economy in Northern Ireland) is an aligned PhD student working on the topics addressed in MERP. Justin has engaged with Jorundar Svavarsson (Iceland) and Francisco Arenas (Portugal), deploying sampling devices on the Northwest Coast of Iceland and the Portugese coastline to quantify the intertidal communities on a large part of the North East Atlantic seaboard. The overall aim was to assess the generality in food web structure across a large latitudinal gradient to extend the generality of work being undertaken in MERP. Justin has been hosted by collaborators in Iceland and Portugal as part of this work. Experiments were undertaken using communities collected from Iceland and returned to the laboratory in Belfast. This work is being written up for publication as part of Justin Judge's PhD thesis
Collaborator Contribution The partners have hosted the lead PI and PhD student Justin Judge during field visits to Iceland to deploy and collect sampling devices to assess intertidal food web structure.
Impact Experiments have been completed - local shoreline communities were sampled and returned to the UK where they are in use in laboratory based mesocosm experiments. The work is being written up as part of Justin Judge's PhD and we aim to publish at least one paper from this work.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Assessing the generality of marine intertidal food webs along the East Atlantic Sea Board 
Organisation University of the Algarve
Country Portugal 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution PhD student Justin Judge (funded by the Department for the Economy in Northern Ireland) is an aligned PhD student working on the topics addressed in MERP. Justin has engaged with Jorundar Svavarsson (Iceland) and Francisco Arenas (Portugal), deploying sampling devices on the Northwest Coast of Iceland and the Portugese coastline to quantify the intertidal communities on a large part of the North East Atlantic seaboard. The overall aim was to assess the generality in food web structure across a large latitudinal gradient to extend the generality of work being undertaken in MERP. Justin has been hosted by collaborators in Iceland and Portugal as part of this work. Experiments were undertaken using communities collected from Iceland and returned to the laboratory in Belfast. This work is being written up for publication as part of Justin Judge's PhD thesis
Collaborator Contribution The partners have hosted the lead PI and PhD student Justin Judge during field visits to Iceland to deploy and collect sampling devices to assess intertidal food web structure.
Impact Experiments have been completed - local shoreline communities were sampled and returned to the UK where they are in use in laboratory based mesocosm experiments. The work is being written up as part of Justin Judge's PhD and we aim to publish at least one paper from this work.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Cross NERC consortium engagement between MERP, Soil Security Program, and CBESS over development of R software packages 
Organisation Queen's University Belfast
Department School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution cross three NERC consortia, we have a mixture of PhD students and postdocs working on the development of an R package that provides a unifying framework for generating food web descriptions from archived databases. The consortia are MERP, CBESS and the Soil Security Program. Contributing food web databases and existing R-code to automate the process.
Collaborator Contribution An understanding of using relational databases and R-code development.
Impact Github account as the platform for the collaboration, no papers have emerged yet from the work.
Start Year 2015
 
Description Cross NERC consortium engagement between MERP, Soil Security Program, and CBESS over development of R software packages 
Organisation University of Sheffield
Department Department of Animal and Plant Sciences
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution cross three NERC consortia, we have a mixture of PhD students and postdocs working on the development of an R package that provides a unifying framework for generating food web descriptions from archived databases. The consortia are MERP, CBESS and the Soil Security Program. Contributing food web databases and existing R-code to automate the process.
Collaborator Contribution An understanding of using relational databases and R-code development.
Impact Github account as the platform for the collaboration, no papers have emerged yet from the work.
Start Year 2015
 
Description Research partnership with the University of Algarve, Portugal 
Organisation University of the Algarve
Country Portugal 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Organised and planned fieldwork along the southwest coast of Portugal during sampling associated with a latitudinal study in primary productivity of intertidal macroalgae.
Collaborator Contribution Assisted in fieldwork along the southwest coast of Portugal during sampling associated with a latitudinal study in primary productivity of intertidal macroalgae.
Impact No outputs as yet. However, several manuscripts resulting from the work are currently in preparation.
Start Year 2016
 
Description University of Greifswald 
Organisation University of Greifswald
Country Germany 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Abby Gilson is currently collaborating with Dr. Mia Bengsston, at the University of Greifswald, Germany, regarding DNA sequencing of microbial communities on kelp.
Collaborator Contribution University of Greifswald has the expertise in microbial communities and QUB has the study-system and field sites.
Impact No data as of yet.
Start Year 2016
 
Title FRAIR: functional response analysis in R 
Description The field of empirically measured functional responses is relatively data-poor and replete with inappropriate experimental design and analyses. To facilitate the flow of useful information from empiricists to whole-ecosystem modellers we have produced an R packaged for the statistically robust selection, fitting and comparison of functional response models. The package is now available on CRAN (https://cran.r-project.org/web/packages/frair/frair.pdf) and the manuscript is currently in review with Methods in Ecology & Evolution: Pritchard, D.W., Paterson, R.A., Bovy, H.C. and Barrios-O'Neill, D. FRAIR: an R package for fitting and comparing consumer functional responses (under revision) Methods in Ecology & Evolution 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2016 
Open Source License? Yes  
Impact Provides a unified and statistically robust framework for selecting and fitting functional response models to empirical data, and provides novel tools for objective comparisons between responses. 
URL https://cran.r-project.org/web/packages/frair/frair.pdf
 
Description BES Aquatic Ecology Group meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Abby Gilson gave a poster presentation to the BES on 22th July, 2016
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description BES Aquatic Ecology meeting 2015 (London) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Conference for aquatic ecologists disseminating and debating latest research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Canned Ecology Roadshow - mobile touch tank show casing NERC science here focussed on MERP (Slieve Gullion Forest Park Red Squirrel Day) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Canned Ecology is a mobile interactive outdoor space (a trailer with touch tank and NERC branding) that was funded through the NERC Summer of Science. Three live NERC projects were bundled together CBESS, Soil Stability and MERP. The focus of the display is very much about the predator prey interactions. We have placed a strong emphasis on the touch tank embedded in the display and this provides the public with the chance to interact with plants and animals whilst describing the importance of processes like predation and competition. The conservation rangers at Slieve Gullion were particularly impressed with the roadshow and have recently asked us to return in August 2016.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL https://www.facebook.com/cannedecology/
 
Description Canned Ecology Rockpool Roadshow visit to Stormont as part of Environment week NI 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Canned Ecology is a mobile interactive outdoor space (a trailer with touch tank and NERC branding) that was funded through the NERC Summer of Science. Three live NERC projects were bundled together CBESS, Soil Stability and MERP. The focus of the display is very much about the predator prey interactions. We have placed a strong emphasis on the touch tank embedded in the display and this provides the public with the chance to interact with plants and animals whilst describing the importance of processes like predation and competition. in this instance we took Canned Ecology to the very steps of Stormont for the day, engaging with a range of prominent Northern Irish MLAs and Staff at Stormont.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL https://www.facebook.com/cannedecology/photos/a.948032738603351.1073741828.947813065291985/948031771...
 
Description Functional Response Workshop (Stellenbosch, SA) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Daniel Barrios-O'Neill: teaching delegates analysis methods for functional response data. Initiation of international collaboration to build a database of all published functional responses.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description MERP workshop (Manchester) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Daniel Barrios-O'Neill, Mark Emmerson and Abby Gilson: Workshop aimed at integrating empirical and modelling data to refine the suite of ecosystem models and to target future empirical work.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Oldenburg workshop participation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Invited to participate in a workshop at the University of Oldenburg - presented results from the PDRA (Danny Barrios-O'Neill) and PhD student (Justin Judge) work that is central to MERP
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Portaferry Marine Lab Open Day 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Open day showcasing marine life, NERC science and other lab activities.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015