Community ecology

The study of interactions between ecological communities and their environment

Much of our research focuses on the structure and functioning of marine plant (algae) and animal communities and their responses to environmental gradients and pressure from human activities. Dr Antony Knights has considerable experience elucidating links between human activities and changes in biological communities, with the aim of identifying and managing the responses of marine communities to exploitation (Knights et al 2015) and anthropogenically-induced climate change. For instance, our recent studies demonstrate how ocean acidification could affect shell biomineralisation in the mussel Mytilus edulis and increase predation risk from dogwhelk Nucella lapillus (Sadler et al 2018), while Lemasson et al (2018) suggests that future climate scenarios are expected to lead to changes in community structure and ecological functioning by economically important shellfish species. Recent collaborative work with Dr Andy Foggo (below) and Dr Evie Wieters (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile) also shows how marine protected areas benefit multitrophic interactions, boosting species resilience to environmental stress (Chaverra et al 2019).

Dr Knights also has a strong interest in understanding the mechanisms underlying the formation and development of marine communities in terms of larval connectivity (James et al. 2019) and recruitment dynamics (Hanlon et al. 2018) with a view to maintain biodiversity and ecosystem service provision (Firth et al. 2016). This work will continue thanks to a recent Garfield Weston Foundation award funding a large-scale, University of Plymouth-based interdisciplinary project to examine how a thriving marine ecosystem surrounding the British Indian Ocean Chagos Archipelago develops in the absence of anthropogenic influences. 

Dr Andy Foggo also focuses on how environmental change, including rising sea surface temperatures and ocean acidification, affects trophic interactions between, and the fitness and distributional patterns of, marine species. In one of many projects undertaken with undergraduate and postgraduate students, Dr Foggo investigated how climate‐driven substitutions of foundation species influence processes associated with the cycling of organic matter in kelp forests, showing that colonising warm‐temperate kelps accumulate and release 80% more biomass than native cold‐temperate species. These changes presage potentially important changes in ecosystem functioning should community structure continue to change in the future (Pessarrodona et al. 2018).

<p>Community ecology<br></p>
<p>Community ecology<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, Knights AM et al. (2016) Ocean sprawl: challenges and opportunities for biodiversity management in a changing world. Oceanography and Marine Biology: An Annual Review 54: 193-269.

Hanlon N, Firth LB, Knights AM (2018) Time-dependent effects of orientation, heterogeneity and composition determines benthic biological community recruitment patterns on subtidal artificial structures. Ecological Engineering 122: 219-228.

James M, Polton J, Brereton A, Howell K, Nimmo-Smith A, Knights AM (2019) Reverse engineering field-derived vertical distribution profiles to infer larval swimming behaviors. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America doi/10.1073/pnas.1900238116.

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.

Lemasson AJ, Hall-Spencer J, Fletcher S, Provstgaard-Morys S, Knights AM (2018) Indications of future performance of native and non-native adult oysters under acidification and warming. Marine Environmental Research 142: 178-189.

Pessarrodona A, Foggo A, Smale DA (2018) Can ecosystem functioning be maintained despite climate-driven shifts in species composition? Insights from novel marine forests. Journal of Ecology 107: 91-104.

Sadler D, Lemasson AJ, Knights AM (2018) The effects of elevated CO2 on shell properties and susceptibility to predation in mussels Mytilus edulis. Marine Environmental Research 139: 162-168.


Dr Phil Hosegood PI (with Dr Antony Knights Co-I) 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.