Marine ecosystems and the individuals, populations and communities they comprise are changing in response to natural and anthropogenic factors, such as from climate forcing, fishing pressure and habitat degradation. The MBA’s research in this area focuses on gaining an understanding of the ecological processes underpinning responses to such drivers. Research addresses, for example, how physiological responses and species ecology interact with physical environmental changes to determine distribution patterns and range shifts, how movements and behaviour patterns are structured in response to resource heterogeneity, and how population abundances, community structure and composition change in relation to environmental variations such as climate warming and ocean acidification. Knowledge of this type contributes to our ability to predict organisms’ responses and the timescales of response to key changes in natural environments. MBA research in this theme includes responsive mode and strategic funding programmes using a range of methods and approaches, including long-term field studies, experimental mesocosms, biotelemetry, advanced statistical analysis, computer simulations and modelling.
Temporal variation in animal population levels at specific spatial co-ordinates depend not only on births and deaths but also on movement. However, movement is a critical but poorly understood component of population dynamics and especially in relation to how it is influenced by environmental fluctuations and changes in habitat quality. The MBA’s research on this topic is led by Professor David Sims (MBA Senior Fellow) and sets out to understand the ecology of animal movement and the underlying behavioural mechanisms. Fish and other marine taxa are used as models to test ideas about the behavioural tactics used by free-ranging animals, for example, in searching, foraging, habitat selection, and migration. A primary aim being to quantify how environmental heterogeneity affects individual movement patterns and behaviour, and how this impacts the larger scale re-distributions of populations. Species studied include those of conservation concern, such as various species of sharks, tunas and billfish, but also threatened skates, rays and demersal teleosts. The research contributes to fundamental and strategic understanding of animal space use that is relevant to, for example, predicting spatial responses to changes in resource availability, development of individual-based fish population models for conservation and management initiatives (marine protected areas) and in quantifying impacts of marine renewable energies on habitats. Funding is provided by NERC, The Leverhulme Trust, Defra and DECC. Click here for more information.
Marine Biodiversity and Climate Change
The marine climate of northern Europe is warming faster than the global average, and UK coastal seas are following this trend. This research topic led by Dr Nova Mieszkowska (MBA Fellow) focuses on detecting and forecasting responses of marine biodiversity to climate change. Changes in both the mean and variance in climatic regimes, modified by local and regional factors can lead to complex patterns of species distribution. Long-term data collected at many shores over extensive geographical ranges provides insights into the responses of ectothermic species to climate change. Research in collaboration with the Scottish Association for Marine Science and University of South Carolina is developing analyses and statistical modelling of the time-series to test hypotheses over a hierarchy of spatial and temporal scales in the marine environment. A principal aim of this MBA topic is identifying the biological mechanisms that underpin the macroecological responses of invertebrates and macroalgae to climate warming and ocean acidification. Current research in the UK Ocean Acidification Research Programme funded by NERC/Defra/DECC uses combined laboratory and field experiments to explore how increasing temperatures are altering reproductive cycles and impacting recruitment, using warm water invertebrates as model species. Click here for more information.