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The impacts of global environmental change for marine biotic interactions and ecosystem functioning

Final Report Summary - GLOBEF (The impacts of global environmental change for marine biotic interactions and ecosystem functioning)

The Fellowship aimed to undertake more ecologically realistic experiments to determine the impacts of environmental change on shallow-water marine assemblages. In particular the Fellowship sought to understand how biotic interactions may alter in response to realistic scenarios of global environmental change and to scale these responses to understand the implications for food-web dynamics and the structure and function of shallow-water ecosystems. Conducting cross-disciplinary research and using state of the art experimental mesocosms and techniques the Fellowship has demonstrated a number of important outcomes:
1. Meta-analysis of the peer-reviewed literature showed that the combination of increased temperature and pCO2 generally led to stronger positive or negative effects then when organisms were only subjected to a single stressor. In addition, for four of the five response variables (survival, reproduction, calcification, photosynthesis, but not growth) investigated the combined stressors led to synergistic outcomes i.e. ‘ecological surprises’.
2. Experiments in experimental mesocosms and along natural gradients have demonstrated that warming and/or ocean acidification alters the physiological responses of marine species that in turn alters predator-prey/ plant herbivore/ competitive interactions. Molecular approaches suggest reduced gene flow between acidified and control conditions along a natural CO2 gradient with implications for genetic diversity and the resistance and resilience of acidified populations to other environmental stressors.
3. Using a space for time gradient, we have linked environmental variables to the ecological structure and standing stock of kelp forests and demonstrated regional scale differences in kelp forest structure linked to temperature.
4. Using ecological, molecular and physiological approaches we have shown that important ecosystem engineers with limited dispersal ability are equally as vulnerable to warming at their range centre as at their range edge. This has implications for predictions of species range shifts as they are based on species having similar thermal physiologies throughout their range.
5. With international collaborators, we have developed a definition for marine heatwaves as well as demonstrating that they have increased in frequency and duration with wide ranging ecological impacts affecting the goods and services they provide.

The Fellow has developed a range of collaborations both within her home institute and with colleagues in Europe and more widely. Moreover, she has developed an independent research group, been made a permanent member of academic staff and promoted to Reader as well as being made the equivalent of Head of Department within her Institute.