Coastal Ecology and Management

Research in coastal management helps us predict and understand how anthropogenic activities affect this vital interface between marine and terrestrial systems. Pressures like sea level rise, increased storminess, and urbanisation threaten the important roles coastal ecosystems play in fisheries, flood defence and recreation.

The University of Plymouth has an international reputation for the study of nature-based solutions for coastal protection. Dr Louise Firth and Dr Mick Hanley have a keen interest in understanding how hard engineered structures (e.g. concrete walls, breakwaters) can be modified to provide habitat for inter-tidal species and provision of ecosystem services (see Strain et al 2020). Our recent review cautions however, that ‘green-washing’ should not be an excuse to facilitate urban development (Firth et al. 2020). Mick Hanley’s research also focusses on the effects of storm surge flooding on inter and supra-tidal coastal ecosystems and how we can integrate natural vegetation like salt marsh and sand dunes into dynamic, cost-effective coastal defence. This work is sumarised in a recent review paper heading a Special Issue of Annals of Botany on plants and coastal flooding (Hanley et al 2020) and is now being extended via a AXA Insurance scholarship award to support PhD student Cally Barratt.

Dr Antony Knights has considerable experience elucidating how environmental gradients and impact of human activities influence coastal ecosystems, with the aim of identifying and managing the responses of marine communities to exploitation (Knights et al 2015). His recent studies, demonstrate how damage to coastal reef structures are expected to lead to changes in community structure, ecological functioning, and increased risk of ingestion of plastics (e.g. Lim et al. 2020). Other recent collaborative work with Dr Andy Foggo and Dr Evie Wieters (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile) evidences how marine protected areas benefit multitrophic interactions, boosting species resilience to environmental stress (Chaverra et al 2019).

Tony’s current projects include the 2020 NERC-funded ‘DREAMS’ in collaboration with Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML) and the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquatic Science (Cefas) evaluating how decommissioning of offshore structures is best implemented to achieve greatest environmental recovery, and 2019 Garfield Weston Foundation award supporting research assessing the biodiversity of mesophotic reefs in the British Indian Ocean Chagos Archipelago, an area free from anthropogenic influences.

<p>Ecology and Evolution Research Group: Coastal Management. trojan horse<br></p>
<p>Ecology and Evolution Research Group: Coastal Management. coastal defence<br></p>

Selected Publications

Chaverra A, Wieters E, Foggo A, Knights AM (2019) Removal of intertidal grazers by human harvesting leads to alteration of species interactions, community structure and resilience to climate change. Marine Environmental Research 146: 57-65.

Firth LB, et al (2020) Greening the grey: making space for nature in the built environment should not be used as a Trojan horse to facilitate coastal development. Journal of Applied Ecology 57: 1762-1768.

Hanley ME, Bouma TJ, Mossmann HL (2020) The gathering storm: optimizing management of coastal ecosystems in the face of a climate-driven threat. Annals of Botany 125: 197-212.

Knights AM, et al. (2015) An exposure-effect approach for evaluating ecosystem-wide risks from human activities. ICES Journal of Marine Science 72: 1105-1115.

Lim HS, Fraser A & Knights AM 2020 Spatial arrangement of biogenic reefs alters boundary layer characteristics to increase risk of microplastic bioaccumulation. Environmental Research Letters 15: 064024.

Strain EM, et al (2020) A global analysis of complexity-biodiversity relationships on marine artificial structures. Global Ecology and Biogeography In Press

Funding

Dr Antony Knights (Co-I with Dr Phil Hosegood) Conservation strategies for biodiversity hotspots and safe havens in a changing climate: Oceanographic drivers of ecosystem variability in the Chagos Archipelago. Garfield Weston Foundation £922,343. April 2019-March 2021.

Dr Antony Knights (Co-PI with Dr Paul Somerfield PML, Dr Michaela Schratzberger Cefas). ‘DREAMS’ Project: Decommissioning – Relative Effects of Alternative Management Strategies. UKRI NERC Insite 2 Programme £700,000. July 2020 – July 2023.

Dr Mick Hanley (Co-I with Professor Richard Thompson) Assessing the ecological vulnerability of natural defences and risks to agricultural land following seawater flooding. AXA Insurance Ocean Risk Scholarship £77,975. October 2019-March 2023.