Rocky, intertidal habitat; home to many species that play a major role in primary and secondary production, energy and nutrient cycling.
Brittle stars living in the sediment.
Lophelia pertusa reefs provide a habitat for a variety of species and the coral skeletons provide a biodiversity 'hot spot'.
Close-up of a Lophelia cluster, showing the detail of a corallite.
Baseline survey on maerl bed before sample collection.
The sea urchin uses its spines and teeth to bore into soft rocks.
Long-term laboratory study of the effect of ocean acidification on key benthic organisms.
Sediment burrows showing how burrowing benthic organisms help mix seabed sediments.
Settlement panels, which incorporate gas permeable membranes, have been used to create and maintain high CO2 micro-environments in the field.
What are the impacts of ocean acidification on key benthic (seabed) ecosystems, communities, habitats, species and their life cycles?
This consortium project (as part of the UK Ocean Acidification Research Programme) is to quantify, predict and communicate 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.
The average acidity (pH) of the world's oceans has been stable for the last 25 million years. However, the oceans are now absorbing so much manmade CO2 from the atmosphere that measurable changes in seawater pH and carbonate chemistry can be seen. It is predicted that this could affect the basic biological functions of many marine organisms, which in turn could have implications for the survival of populations and communities, as well as the maintenance of biodiversity and ecosystem function.
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 40% of the world's population lives within 100km of the coast and 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.
During several recent international meetings scientific experts have concluded that new research is urgently needed. In particular we need long-term studies that 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 that determine ecosystem structure will be affected.
This current lack of understanding is a major problem as ocean acidification is a rapidly evolving management issue and, with an insufficient knowledge base, policy makers and managers are struggling to formulate effective strategies to sustain and protect the marine environment in the face of ocean acidification.