What are the impacts of ocean acidification on key benthic (seabed) ecosystems, communities, habitats, species and their life cycles?

In the seas around the UK, the habitats that make up the seafloor, along with the animals associated with them, play a crucial role in maintaining a healthy and productive marine ecosystem. This is important considering that 40% of the world's population lives within 100km of the coast and that many of these people depend on coastal systems for food, economic prosperity and well-being. Given that coastal habitats also harbour incredibly high levels of biodiversity, any environmental change that affects these important ecosystems could have substantial environmental and economical impacts.

Considering the importance of coastal benthic habitats scientists have concluded that research in these areas is urgently needed. In particular studies need to determine: which organisms are likely to be tolerant to high CO2 and which are vulnerable; whether organisms will have time to adapt or acclimatise to this rapid environmental change; and how the interactions between individuals which determine ecosystem structure and function will be affected.

 

The overarching aim of this project is to quantify and predict the impact of ocean acidification on biodiversity and ecosystem functioning in three key UK coastal habitats; soft sediments, calcareous biogenic habitats (such as cold water coral reefs and maerl beds) and the rocky intertidal.

This consortium has six science objectives:

  • Quantify the impact of ocean acidification and warming on the health and activity of key benthic organisms
  • Assess the potential for organism adaptation to ocean acidification and warming
  • Quantify the impact of ocean acidification and warming on the biogeochemistry of marine benthic habitats
  • Quantify the impact of ocean acidification and warming on benthic microbial communities
  • Predict the impact of future CO2 scenarios on the population dynamics of benthic marine organisms
  • Predict the impact of future CO2 scenarios on the biodiversity and functioning of coastal habitats

This project will assist UK government (via Defra and DECC) in delivery of statutory obligations under national legislative drivers (e.g. UK Biodiversity Action Plan, UK Marine and Coastal Access Bill). The research will provide information to aid the assessment process for the UK Regional Seas via the UKMMAS Charting Progress III in 2015 and the OSPAR Assessment Framework. This project will support the design and implementation of measures needed to achieve Good Environmental Status in UK Regional Seas.

 

The major outputs from this project will be:

  • The synthesis of understanding from across a broad suite of scientific disciplines to generate holistic predictions for the potential impacts of acidification and warming on the biodiversity and function of key UK ecosystems.
  • Novel data which describe and quantify the impact of acidification and warming on benthic organisms and ecosystems.
  • Development of new models, and the improvement of existing ones, to extrapolate beyond experimental and observational data in order to quantify the response of key ecosystem processes.

Project outputs will be used to meet the challenges facing society:

  • Predict how ocean ecosystems will change in response to increasing acidity and improve understanding of biogeochemical cycles.
  • Understand the role of biodiversity in key ecosystem processes and provide evidence for the impact that biodiversity loss has on people's well-being and health.
  • Understand how exploiting resources could affect the environment.
  • Provide new scientific knowledge to enable policy-makers to develop adaptation and mitigation strategies by constructing models linking climate change with changes in the natural world.
  • Improve the exchange of knowledge between the science community and stakeholders.
  • Train experts for the future.

Results from this project will be used to help conservation agencies define current baseline conditions and predict future shifts, thereby facilitating adaptive monitoring and management (particularly in context of the Water Framework Directive and Habitats Directive).

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