Integrating Macroecology and Modelling to Elucidate Regulation of Services from Ecosystems (IMMERSE)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Strathclyde
Department Name: Mathematics and Statistics

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 In the first stages of the project we have been assembling the data that we will need to run an ecosystem model for two regions of the shelf west of the British Isles - the west of Scotland and the Celtic Seas. We have also been planning in detail how to link our research with the other partners in the project.

We have used our models to produce scientific advice on the implementation of the fisheries discard ban in the revised EU Common Fisheries Policy. We found that the way in which the ban is implemented can have significant consequences for the marine ecosystem.

We have used our models to investigate the whole ecosystem impacts of trawling. We showed that ploughing of the seabed is a minor impact at the large scale, but potentially important at the local scale in muddy sediments.

We have also used our models to simulate the state of teh west fo Scotland marine ecosystem under the social, economic and regulatiry conditions arising from narratives for four of the worldview scenario in the UK National Ecosystem Assessment,, and presented these to stakeholders. The porpose of this was to discover how the values held by stakeholders play out when thay are presented with outcomes which conflict with some of their values while supporting others.
Exploitation Route We expect that our research wil be used to provide advice on the devlopment and use of indicators of good environmental status which are required by the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive. Th this end we are working right now with the UK team to run our model fior the North Sea and provide them with the advice that they need.

We were summonsed to appear before a hearing of the European Parliament Fisheries Committee to explain our research on the impacts of fisheries discarding.

We were asked to participate in a policy briefing for Defra to explain our work on impacts of trawling

Out outputs are feeding into the Defra Cefmat marine ecosustem information system
Sectors Environment

URL http://www.europarl.europa.eu/committees/en/pech/events-hearings.html?id=20150413CHE00161
 
Description We are in the process right now of providing outputs to defra to assist them in negotiations on environmental status indicators for the Marine Strategy Framework Directive We have used our models to produce scientific advice on the implementation of the fisheries discard ban in the revised EU Common Fisheries Policy. We found that the way in which the ban is implemented can have significant consequences for the marine ecosystem. We have used our models to investigate the whole ecosystem impacts of trawling. We showed that ploughing of the seabed is a minor impact at the large scale, but potentially important at the local scale in muddy sediments. This output is being used by Defra as part of their policy review. We have used our models to simualate the state of the west of Scotland marine ecosystem under four of the UK National Ecosystem Assessment worldview scenarios, and explored how these challenge the values held by marine stakeholders
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Environment
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services

 
Description Modelling the whole-ecosystem impacts of trawling
Amount £58,210 (GBP)
Funding ID FIS03 
Organisation Fisheries Innovation Scotland 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2015 
End 09/2015
 
Description Scoping the background information for an Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries in Scottish waters - review of predator-prey interactions with fisheries, and balanced harvesting
Amount £51,060 (GBP)
Funding ID FIS013 
Organisation Fisheries Innovation Scotland 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2016 
End 01/2017
 
Title StrathE2E Ecosystem model package 
Description Computer code for modelling the dynamics of marine ecosystems 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2016 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The model was used to simulate the ecosystem effects of the changing policy on fishery discards. This resulted in media coverage and a request to present the results at a public hearing of the fisheries committee of the European parliament 
URL https://pure.strath.ac.uk/portal/en/datasets/strathe2e-marine-foodweb-model%28c050f1e8-81d6-464f-951...
 
Title Data for: "A synthetic map of the northwest European Shelf sedimentary environment for applications in marine science" 
Description Results from a statistical mapping analysis of marine seabed sediments and their properties covering the NW European shelf 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Interest from defra regarding modelled maps of marine carbon deposits 
URL https://pure.strath.ac.uk/portal/en/datasets/data-for-a-synthetic-map-of-the-northwest-european-shel...
 
Title StrathE2E marine ecosystem model 
Description The model simulates the dynamics of the web of life in the sea. It represents the time-dependent chnages in biomass of living componets of the food web, nutrients and detritus in a shelf sea region which is assumed to be horizontally homogeneous, but vertically layered. The geographic setting is defined by fixed properties (layer thicknesses and sediment porosity) and the time dependent drivers and boundary conditions. Biological properties are defined by parameters of the various uptake, excretion, mortality and biogeochemical processes. Typically, the model outputs data at daily time intervals and also delivers annual averaged concentrations and annually integrated rates. 
Type Of Material Computer model/algorithm 
Year Produced 2014 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The model has been used to advise on the ecosystem impacts of the fisheries discard ban and on the ecosystem impacts of trawling 
URL http://www.mathstat.strath.ac.uk/outreach/e2e/
 
Title StrathE2E marine foodweb model 
Description Computational model of the dynamics of marine foodwebs 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2016 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact n/a 
 
Description Defra Policy Briefing on Marine Ecosystems research 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Eight staff from Defra marine policy divisions attending the briefing where researchers from the NERC MERP programme provided an update on policy-relevant research findings
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description ICES WKTRADE workshop on fishing and seabed impacts 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The ICES WKTRADE workshop was convened by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea to generate advice for the European Commission on the ecological and economic consequences of managing the spatial distribution of fishing in the North Sea to conserve the status of seabed habitats. My contribution was to run a marine food web model developed in this project, to simulate the ecological consequences.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Expert%20Group%20Report/acom/2017/WKTRADE/01%20WKTRAD...
 
Description MERP Science Symposium 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Symposium presenting science outcomes from the MERP project: Three presentations:
- Understanding trade-offs to maximise the benefits from living marine natural capital
- Humans are part of the ecosystem too. Linking models of marine ecology to economic drivers
- Comparing and contrasting the food webs of NW European fishing regions using the StrathE2E model.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description MERP Stakeholder Symposium 
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 Event was a presentation of science outcomes from MERP for stakeholder in the marine environment. Specific presentation title: Fishing and marine ecosystems: Addressing the different facets of fishing in the marine ecosystem using the MERP approach for evidence generation
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://www.marine-ecosystems.org.uk/getattachment/Events/MERP_Stakeholder_symposium_session_2_-_Fish...
 
Description Policy Briefing for Defra 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Briefing on current research in the Project for marine policy makers in defra
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Presentation on research into the ecosystem effects of trawling 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Presentation at the Fisheries Innovation Scotland Annual Conference on the results from contract FIS013
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.fiscot.org/media/1374/fis003-modelling-the-whole-ecosystem-impacts-of-trawling-mike-heath...
 
Description Public Hearing of the European Parliament Fisheries Committee 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This presentation was delivered to the European Parliament Fisheries Committee; in relation to a request by a Dutch MEP member of the Fisheries Committee to address a public hearing on the topic: "How to improve selectivity in the context of the discard ban". The objective being to improve understanding of others thinking.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Scottish Parliament Cross Party Group on Fishing 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The Cross Party Group on Fishing is a forum for Members of the Scottish Parliament, industry and other stakeholder in the fishing sector to meet on a regular basis and discuss key policy issues, especially Brexit. I am a member of the group and have attended every meeting . At the 30 Jan meeting I gave a presentation on the science behind stock assessments.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018
URL http://www.parliament.scot/msps/Fishing.aspx