MAE: Climate resilience

Marine ecosystems are challenged by various aspects of climate change. In order for ecosystems to persist they need to be resilient: able to absorb and withstand stress, maintain function and, if necessary, evolve into configurations that are able to thrive. Marine Animal Ecology aims to increase climate resilience of reefs through understanding how organisms respond to change and how we can best protect them.

Putting structure back in reefs

A major cascading effect on marine ecosystems is the disappearance of hard, three-dimensional substrate that impairs the settling of benthic organisms. From the bottom up, this affects whole marine trophic food webs as three-dimensional structure provides crucial habitat for different life stages of benthic and pelagic species. Therefore, restoring structure in reefs will hopefully result in an increase in biodiversity, which will make the reef more resilient to climate change. Projects that are working on habitat restoration include:

North Sea artifical structure. Photo: Dr. O. Bos.
North Sea artifical structure. Photo: Dr. O. Bos.

Marine lakes as predictors of the future

Marine lakes, landlocked bodies of sea, are not only great model systems to answer ecological and evolutionary questions, but some also represent future oceanic conditions. As predicted by the IPCC, sea surface temperature will rise and ocean acidification will decrease water pH, with potentially severe consequences for calcifying organisms. Marine lakes already show temperatures up to 35 degrees Celsius and pH levels of around 7.0. As such, they can be studied to see how communities are structured and how they function in severe conditions. Perhaps we can use them to predict how oceans will look in the future and take better precautions to increase resilience. Projects include:

Drone shot of a marine lake. Photo: C. de Leeuw.
Drone shot of a marine lake. Photo: C. de Leeuw.

Techniques used & Implications

To ensure reefs are resilient to climate change, Marine Animal Ecology performs field monitoring and field, mesocosm and lab experiments. One of the tools used are molecular techniques. Conserving ecosystems effectively will allow reef associated organisms to show climate resilience and resistance.