School of Marine Science and Technology | Marine Ecosystems & Governance

Marine Ecosystems & Governance

Led by Nick Polunin, our multidisciplinary group has three major research foci:

  1. What maintains the structural and functional integrity of marine ecosystems?
  2. What are the biological and socio-economic drivers of marine ecosystem changes?
  3. How can governance and actual management achieve sustainable marine resource and ecosystem use?

Our marine ecosystems research is exceptionally wide ranging. It includes research on coral reefs, hydrothermal events, food webs and biodiversity in the North Sea, and mega-fauna (sharks and marine mammals) in the western Indian Ocean. Understanding human-ecosystem interactions is equally important. Our work on marine protected areas (MPAs), coral reef ecosystems and application of stable isotopes to food-web dynamics has been very highly cited by the international scientific community. The MPA science has significantly impacted policy in the UK, while the East African marine mammal research has impacted fisheries and tourism policy in Tanzania.Our work also embraces citizen science to encourage active participation, greater stewardship and contribute new environmental data.

Coral reef ecology is a major focus, particularly predator-prey interactions, and impacts of reef fishing and climate-driven coral loss on reef ecosystems. We took an early lead in applying stable isotopes to elucidation of food web structure of shallow temperate and deep-sea environments. Major projects under way include studies of: relationships between coral reef biodiversity and habitat structural complexity in the Caribbean and the governance supporting improved management (‘FORCE’, European Commission FP7 funding); fisheries extinctions in the Philippines (Darwin Initiative); and marine biodiversity and governance in UK Caribbean overseas Territories (DEFRA). There has been a recent growth in North Sea research, a series of small conservation science projects on methods of quantifying fish and shellfish abundances, assessing biodiversity of mobile species, monitoring the condition of benthic habitats, understanding effects of prohibited trawl areas on fishery-target species and sustainability of nephrops fishing, and assessment of noise impact on marine mammals. Our Dove Time Series has demonstrated significant decadal changes in community composition. Local and international work explores societal perception of focal ecosystems, and marine resource needs of dependent communities. Novel methods for ecosystem management and governance studies are being successfully developed, including pioneering social network and futures analyses (EC FP7, DEFRA).

Our research students are very important to our science with substantial studies underway across the above foci.

We pride ourselves on the links we have between social and natural science approaches to understanding marine ecosystems. We have significant links to marine resource management decision making and policy (DEFRA, Marine Scotland Science Advisory Board, Northumberland and North Eastern IFCAs).