Descriptor 1. Biological diversity is maintained. The quality and occurrence of habitats and the distribution and abundance of species are in line with prevailing physiographic, geographic and climatic conditions.
Descriptor 4. All elements of the marine food webs, to the extent that they are known, occur at normal abundance and diversity and levels capable of ensuring the long-term abundance of the species and the retention of their full reproductive capacity.
Descriptor 6. Sea-floor integrity is at a level that ensures that the structure and functions of the ecosystems are safeguarded and benthic ecosystems, in particular, are not adversely affected.
A report has been submitted to the EU on interaction between GES indicators based on StrathE2E. EU has accepted the functional group aggregations in StrathE2E as an operational basis for assessing food web GES. Development and testing of Typical Length as an indicator for fish community status continues: adopted by OSPAR as main indicator to asses fish diversity; IPBES are planning to use this indicator in assessment of “Biodiversity and Ecosystem Function in Europe and Central Asia”. Contact: Mike Heath
Indicators derived from the outputs of StrathE2E, Ecosim, contingent monetary valuation models, and the non-monetary valuation data analysis are being incorporated into the developing Cefas CefMAT web application, a tool which will allow users to interrogate integrated data and generate visualisations corresponding to scenarios of their own construction. These will be geared to aiding decision making in relation to MSFD and OSPAR assessments. Contact: Mike Heath
New data and R tools developed in the programme are now accessible through the Marine Ecosystems Research Programme GitHub repository. This provides a simple ‘research-grade’ interface to access, manipulate, and display UK marine biodiversity data. The data accessed via these tools involved input from multiple MERP partners.
For many applications it is crucial to know the traits of marine species, for understanding ecosystem function and building ecosystem models. We are still a long way away from complete characterization of every species, but the MERP Trait Explorer addresses this issue. Trait Explorer is publicly available and represents a step-change in estimating traits for species.
In collaboration with scientists from various ICES countries, MERP scientists have been using traits-based data, brought together through MERP (e.g. Trait explorer) and other nationally- and internationally-funded initiatives, to support activities of the ICES Working Group on Biodiversity Science (WGBiodiv). Contact: Jorn Bruggeman
The potential of using cetacean and seabird long-term survey data sets for trend analysis in relation to Descriptor 1 (Biodiversity) is being investigated.
A new size-based indicator has been developed, based on the observation that small species are more frequent than large species, formalised in the ‘diversity spectrum’. Contact: Axel Rossberg
Spatial data on the nature and composition of the seabed are crucial. MERP has brought together international datasets of sediment composition, grain size, and carbon and nitrogen content; this covers a large part of the NW European shelf. The gridded data products are available as maps of:
Derivation of the synthetic maps of area-proportions of exposed bedrock, and of rock covered by up to 5cm of sediment.
Invasive ecosystem engineers (IEE) are potentially one of the most influential types of biological invaders. They are expected to have extensive ecological impacts by altering the physical-chemical structure of ecosystems, thereby changing the rules of existence for a broad range of resident biota. MERP found that IEE had a significant effect (positive and negative) in most studies testing impacts on individual species, but the overall (cumulative) effect size was small and negative. The clear effects of IEE on ecosystem functions suggest that scientists and environmental managers ought to examine how those effects might be manifested in the services that marine ecosystems provide to humans. Contact: Ana Queirós
MERP investigated how infaunal structure varies with mesh size, sample size and sample dispersion within a muddy sand and a coarse sand. The MERP study showed the biology of marine metazoan benthos does not scale continuously across the full range of taxa and body size as has been recently suggested, but may do so for individual taxa and restricted size ranges.
To identify changes in UK pelagic habitats, plankton lifeform groups were constructed based on biological traits, using diverse UK data sets collected by different methods, including plankton sampling by nets, water bottles, integrating tube samplers, and the Continuous Plankton Recorder. This is the first time that the pelagic plankton community has been assessed on a UK-wide scale and forms the foundation of the UK’s 2020 MSFD Assessment for pelagic habitat biodiversity. This approach revealed that some of the plankton lifeforms used in the assessment displayed spatially-variable changes during the past decade.
Data from the Poseidon/Peltic cruises in the SW approaches to examine the environmental drivers of dominant pelagic fish of the Celtic Sea and western Channel suggest that temperature plays an important role in driving both anchovy and sardine distribution with phytoplankton and frontal features also playing an important role.
MERP examined 275 time points collected at weekly resolution over 6 years at station L4 in the Western English Channel. Despite order of magnitude variability in the mean biomass of key functional groups across years, the total planktonic biomass (from picoeukaryotes to fish larvae) varied only twofold.
MERP has developed an integrated 28-year time series of zooplankton biomass and traits from the Plymouth L4 station, 1988-2015. This value-added L4 zooplankton time series was used by the UK Pelagics Expert Group in the OSPAR 2017 intermediate assessment for one of its three pelagic indicators, namely PH 1: Planktonic Lifeforms. Contact: Angus Atkinson