Research

Marine Biodiversity and Climate change

The Marine Biological Association maintains some of the longest biological time-series in the world. The Marine Biodiversity and Climate Change Project, MarClim which was consortium funded from 2001-2005 restarted and maintained several UK rocky intertidal time-series dating back to the 1950s www.mba.ac.uk/marclim This project has demonstrated some of the fastest biogeographic changes globally, far exceeding most documented in terrestrial systems (see publications page for details). The UK time-series continues annually at around 150 shores and is supported by funding from CCW, Natural England and the EU Interreg programme. The MarClim field team include Prof. Steve Hawkins (University of Southampton), Dr Heather Sugden (University of Newcastle) and Dr Louise Firth (University of Galway).

The geographic coverage has been expanded to include large sections of the European coastline. Resurveys of Crisp & Fischer-Piette�s 1950s historical sites have been carried out in France and Portugal, along with additional new sites in Norway. The time-series data is supporting ongoing collaborative modelling work with Prof. Brian Hemuth (USC), Dr. Mike Burrows (SAMS) and Dr Elvira Poloczanska (CSIRO).

Impacts of ocean acidification on key benthic ecosystems, communities, habitats, species and life cycles. NERC / Defra / DECC - Ocean Acidification Large Programme 2010-2013.

UK Ocean Acidification Research Programme

This consortium project comprises 25 researchers from 12 organisations across the UK, and an international partner at Kristineberg Marine Research Station (part of Gothenburg University). Laboratory experiments, field observations, numerical models and interdisciplinary workshops are being developed to provide an integrated, holistic ‘cells to ecosystems’ approach to tackle key questions about the impacts of ocean acidification in benthic systems. The MBA is developing a thermal and CO2 controlled macrocosm system to investigate the long-term impacts of elevated temperature and decreased pH on juvenile survival and adult reproductive output of key climate indicator species. The results will feed into population and trophic models being developed by researchers at PML, SAMS and the MBA. The consortium will deliver the benthic component of the £12M, 5 year UK Ocean Acidification Research Programme (www.oceanacidification.org.uk).

Ocean Acidification: novel molecular studies on impacts on rocky shore biofilms and interactions with grazers are showing how temperature and pH alter food availability, quality and implications for keystone primary consumers, in collaboration with http://www.mba.ac.uk/fellows/cunliffe/

Fucus serratus

Ocean Acidification impacts on early life stages of Fucoids: sensitivities of early life stages of the three main intertidal fucoid species found in northern Europe, Fucus sprialis, F. vesiculosus and F. serratus are being investigated in response to climate change and ocean acidification. These three species predominantly occupy different vertical zones within the intertidal and are likely to exhibit differing susceptibilities to these climatic drivers, potentially altering intertidal community structure and functioning.

Physiological mechanisms underpinning organismal response to climate change

Gibbula gonad section
Gibbula umbilicalis

The reproductive cycles and seasonal recruitment success of key climate indicator species of trochid gastopods are being tracked within field populations close to their northern range limits to monitor phenological shifts in onset of gonad activity and alterations to reproductive strategy. Laboratory mesocosm experiments are teasing out the effects of sea and air temperature on reproduction and subsequent survival of recruits under a range of past, present and future climates.

Ongoing collaborative work with Jones and Wethey at the University of South Carolina is investigating thermotolerance limits of the keystone habitat-forming species Mytilus edulis, and how intertidal populations of this OSPAR Annex 1 habitat are at risk from short-term heatwave events that are becoming increasingly frequent.

Coastal biogeography and biodiversity of New Zealand

New Zealand map
Biofouling of Perna canalcicula

A British Council researcher exchange award has linked the MBA with the National Institute for Water and Atmospheric research, NIWA in New Zealand. 126 rocky intertidal sites have been surveyed between 2008-2011, producing a unique, broadscale dataset of the biogeographic distribution and population abundances of macroalgae and invertebrates. Quantitative data has also been recorded for all key limpet, barnacle and trochid species to determine macroecological patterns of species which play integral roles in ecosystem structure and functioning. Ongoing research is mapping patterns in biodiversity and identifying hotspots for future change. The displacement and loss of endemic species is being investigated, and the spread of warm water native and invasive species south with warming coastal seas.

INTERREG Marinexus Project: MBA and Station Biologique Roscoff 2010-2013.

New Zealand map

Field manipulative experiments will be carried out on local wild beds of the non-native oyster, Crassostrea gigas during a 12 month period in 2010 to determine the impacts of colonisation on natural rock for native intertidal biodiversity. This species was permitted to be farmed in UK estuaries where the water temperature was deemed too cold for them to breed.

In recent years, however, settlement of C. gigas spat has occurred on natural rock and sediment habitat in the region of oyster farms, and these individuals are forming dense beds in some locations. The reproductive cycle of C. gigas will be tracked in field populations in tandem with thermal mesocosm studies at the Marine Biological Association to investigate the roles of thermal thresholds as triggers for reproduction.

Kelp population observations

Kelp population observations and studies have been a key focus inter-tidally at the MBA for many years and notable changes have been observed, however, little has been conducted sub-tidally. This project is the first to look at potential population shifts sub-tidally in relation to climate change, focusing on depth/temperature gradients in near-shore environments.