Discussion Session 6: What model approaches are available that could help us scale up from data on individual responses to impacts at the level of populations, communities and ecosystems?

Chair: Steve Widdicombe. Rapporteur: Kristy Kroeker.

As a final discussion the group explored the potential mechanisms, opportunities and activities that could be used to support ongoing collaborative activities between all of us interested in studying the impacts of ocean acidification (and associated climate stressors) on marine ecosystems. The discussions were roughly divided into 4 major areas; mechanisms, facilities, future opportunities for group meetings and communication.

First we considered the practical mechanisms and identified the need for a website that could act as a focal point for gathering and exchanging information. This website is now established and hosted on the UKOA benthic consortium website. Initially this site will contain pages that display researchers profiles (with key words), identify opportunities and resources that would be of interest to OA Ecosystem researchers and provide links to best practice protocols. In time however, it is hoped that this site will grow and develop as the group becomes more active and collaborative studies are planned and conducted.

It was also concluded that researchers should make use of and engage with existing and emerging initiatives and activities. In particular the group identified the Ocean Acidification International Coordination Centre (OA-ICC) to be hosted by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as part of its Peaceful Uses Initiative and the Ocean Acidification global monitoring initiative which held its inaugural meeting in Seattle in 2012, and plans a second meeting to coincide with the annual meeting of the UKOA programme scheduled for 22nd – 24th July 2013 in St Andrews, Scotland.

The group concluded that it would be beneficial to encourage the exchange of students and post doctorial researchers between laboratories. In addition, groups with specific facilities or expertise should look to offer these to researchers from other labs to support training and knowledge exchange.

It was thought that as a group we could summarize our aspirations in a mission statement or strategy document. This would help communicate our ideas to other groups (including potential funders) and the suggestion is being considered. As part of this it was also suggested that the group could produce a series of position papers. Again this is currently under consideration.

Finally, to help with respect to the consolidating the group’s identity we considered whether we should have an official name and/or logo. We currently go under the title “The International Working Group on the Ecosystem Level Impacts of Ocean Acidification” but have yet to identify a suitable title.

The group then went on to discuss the type of facilities that were available to support collaborative research on ecosystem impacts.

The group identified a number of novel or emerging technologies that will hopefully support ecosystem level research in the near future. Particular attention was given to FOCE (Free Ocean CO2 Enrichment) experiments which have been pioneered by researchers from MBARI but are now being put to work in a number of projects stdying a variety of habitats including tropical coral reefs (cpFOCE), Mediterranean seagrass meadows (eFOCE) and Antarctic subtidal rocky reefs.

The other technological advance that promises to significantly simplify ecosystem level research is the ongoing development of reliable, cheap, robust sensors for each of the different carbonate chemistry parameters (pH, DIC, alkalinity, pCO2), and organic nutrients. Related to this is the growing access researchers have to best practice advice, training opportunities and to high quality reference materials that support accurate determination of the carbonate system. This community wide improvement in carbonate chemistry determination will improve the comparability of datasets, support meta-analysis and allow intra and inter habitat comparisons to be made.

On the topic of data, the group noted that long-term observations in natural systems provided a powerful tool in linking environmental drivers to changes in ecosystem structure and function. This has been demonstrated beautifully by the work done by Tim Wootton and his group at Tattoosh Island in Washington State, USA. A global network of similar sites could make a significant contribution to understanding the impact of ocean acidification and climate change on ecosystem dynamics.

Finally in this section, the group noted that a more coordinated approach to identifying opportunities for access to research vessels and platforms as well as to training programs and to funding was needed to ensure that ecosystem level research moved forward as quickly as possible. It was hoped that this group could work together to provide this greater coordination.

All agreed that the workshop had been extremely stimulating and that there was enormous potential for future collaborations and interactions between group members. Consequently, some time was spent trying to identify opportunities for more meetings and workshops. The group identified the follow opportunities and these will be considered further and followed up if found to be appropriate:

  • The Society of Experimental Biology supports (maybe some funds) discussion groups and has a macroecology group
  • There is a session on ocean acidification and conserving biodiversity at the forthcoming 11th INTECOL Congress “Ecology: Into the next 100 years” in London (18th – 23rd August). This meeting is part of the centenary celebrations of the British Ecological Society.
  • The annual meeting of the UKOA programme will be held in St Andrews, Scotland (22nd – 24th July 2013). Many of the UK participants will be present and the group wondered whether OCB would be in a position to support US participation in this meeting.
  • The UKFCO office in San Francisco provided generous funding for the initial workshop and could possibly be in a position to support a few additional activities.
  • It was noted that a number of organisations provide funding to support workshops and discussion groups. This should be investigated further.

The final part of this discussion session was dedicated to how we could improve communication between researchers interested in ecosystem level effects. The group identified 3 key activities that would provide a starting point for greater communication.

The first was to support greater connectivity between data gathers and modelers. The group thought that greater interaction between these disciplines was fundamental in pushing forward ecosystem level understanding. The group recommended more joint workshops between these science areas and a desire that more interdisciplinary projects would result.

Whilst the long-term goal is to broaden the membership of this group it was thought that in the short-term we should concentrate on supporting directional travel between current members to demonstrate the value of this approach before attempting to expand our numbers.

Finally the group agreed to share resources and expertise to develop a pool of dissemination material that could be used by all to support their own outreach activities.