Ecology in coastal habitats

Species interaction

To be able to understand ecological changes in response to urban development and human use of the coast, it is crucially necessary to be able to understand ecological processes that bring about or cause a lack of, change in response to disturbances. Projects are designed to develop testable models about relevant biological processes in coastal systems and then to test them. Relevance is defined by the project being about processes that help explain how animals and plants are arranged in space and time, patchiness/connectivity of populations/habitats, biodiversity and its spatial variance and temporal change, responses to built structures and changes involved in restoration of habitats. As with all programmes, we are also doing original research on methods of sampling and analysis of data from complex assemblages.

Research is focussed on the processes causing and maintaining patterns of distribution and abundance of animals and plants in coastal habitats. Without a good understanding of the ecology of species in these habitats, the interactions among the species and the relationships among patches of similar or different habitat, it is not possible to solve problems in the management of coastal change. So, the Centre has numerous research projects on rocky shores and in subtidal rocky reefs and in soft-sedimentary habitats - mangrove forests, salt-marshes, seagrass beds, mud-flats.

The experimental analysis of interactive ecology of numerous species is a crucial component of understanding issues of biodiversity and its conservation, detecting and interpreting environmental changes caused by human activity, repairing and restoring habitats that are deteriorating due to coastal development. Only by experimentation, using appropriate analytical sampling and experimental designs, can ecological theory be tested. Untested ecological theory and poor understanding of relevant ecological processes have for too long hindered better planning and management and too often prevent sensible plans for conservation of our unique coastal fauna and flora.

The projects in this programme have been centred around habitats, rather than processes, including projects examining natural ecological patterns and processes (including natural disturbances). Many projects may span themes in this (e.g. intertidal and subtidal habitats) or other projects (e.g. natural and anthropogenic disturbances in the same habitat).