Marine Ecology and Biodiversity
Our mission is to undertake excellent high-impact research on marine ecosystems to understand how and why they respond to environmental change and human pressures, and what determines their potential for adaptation, resilience and sensitivities in different contexts.
The Marine Ecology and Biodiversity group is at the forefront of work on the assessment of biological and ecosystem responses to climate change, ocean acidification and Blue Carbon as well as pioneering research on the prevalence and impacts of microplastics and artificial light at night.
The group employs field investigations, laboratory experiments and analyses of large biological and numerical modeling datasets to determine the causes and consequences of ecological change, the mechanisms driving ecological interactions and to address specific hypotheses regarding the impacts of climatic and anthropogenic stressors.Our activities encompass timescales from the short term (minutes, hours, weeks) to multi-decadal observations, and scales of organization from molecules through microbes, phytoplankton, zooplankton, benthic meiofauna, macrofauna to megafauna.
We use this knowledge to further help the development of state-of-the-art, process-based models of the marine environment, its species and habitats, as well as to support a better understanding of the goods and services it provides. Our scientists and data from the Western Channel Observatory (WCO) have been central in developing indicators and reporting targets for marine policy in the UK and the EU (e.g. UK Marine Strategy, MSFD, OSPAR) and at pan-Atlantic scales (e.g. ICES).
Our research seeks to:
- Understand and quantify the ecological connections among organisms and between organisms and their environment, identifying what drives changes in these interactions and the consequences, in order to to facilitate novel management strategies and enhance blue growth
- Explore the range of temporal and spatial variability across scales of biological organisation, using and developing analytical approaches and applying them to spatial and temporal data to quantify how species and systems vary.
- Identify the impacts of climatic change and human activity on organisms and ecosystems. This includes the direct and indirect effects of climate change (e.g. warming, stratification, extreme weather, ocean acidification, deoxygenation) and stressors from human activity including disturbance, contaminants, noise, and light.
- Understand and investigate the specific drivers of change in the polar regions that lead to sensitivity and/or resilience of polar animal and plant life, increasing our ability to predict ecosystem shifts in both the polar regions and at lower latitudes
- Determine what nature-based solutions limit and mitigate the impacts of climate change and pollution impacts in the marine environment, conducting research into ecologically inspired solutions.
- Cement PML as a leader in Marine Ecology and Biodiversity Research; fully exploiting our world class facilities, existing and new data sets and highly skilled staff.
- Focus key areas of scientific excellence in multiple stressors, emerging contaminants and climate change impacts.
- Increase our understanding of variability in biodiversity, community structure and ecological processes at different scales, including the biotic and abiotic links within marine ecosystems.
- Apply our knowledge to better identify, predict and mitigate the consequences of human impacts and climatic change and to protect biodiversity, thereby underpinning the maintenance of healthy, diverse, resilient and productive marine ecosystems.
PML Project pages
Artificial Light in Coastal Ecosystems (ALICE)
Atlantic Ecosystem Assessment, Forecasting and Sustainability (AtlantECO)
Bioavailability and biological effects of microscopic plastic debris in the ocean
DREAMS - Decommissioning - Relative Effects of Alternative Management Strategies
FutureMARES: Climate Change and Future Marine Ecosystem Services and Biodiversity
Marine Ecosystems Research Programme (MERP)
North East Atlantic hub of the Global Ocean Acidification Observing Network
Quantifying the contribution of sympagic versus pelagic diatoms to Arctic food webs and biogeochemical fluxes (MOSAiC SYM-PEL)
Removing marine microplastics with mussel power
S-3 EUROHAB - Sentinel products for detecting EUtROphication and Harmful Algal Bloom events
Shelf Seas Biogeochemistry research programme: biogeochemistry, macronutrient and carbon cycling in the benthic layer
The Changing Arctic Ocean Seafloor (ChAOS) - how changing sea ice conditions impact biological communities, biogeochemical processes and ecosystems
War on tiny giants - do viruses impact Pelagibacterales genotype dynamics in the Western English Channel
Western Channel Observatory (WCO)
- Climate Change Stresses of Antarctic krill
- Developing Nature-based solutions to plastic pollution
Resources and Links
MEB researchers play a major part in the sampling, analysis and data curation of the Western Channel Observatory (WCO). The WCO is an oceanographic time-series and marine biodiversity reference site in the Western English Channel just south of Plymouth. In situ measurements are undertaken weekly using the research vessels of the Plymouth Marine Laboratory and the Marine Biological Association, coupled to higher resolution sampling, for example at data buoys. Some of these measurements provide a near unbroken time series typically at weekly resolution, and bridge across pelagic, benthic and atmospheric domains and multiple sites, are complemented by PML's recognised excellence in ecosystem modelling and satellite remote sensing science. By integrating these different observational disciplines we can begin to disentangle the complexity of the marine ecosystem and understand how it is responding to stressors that are superimposed upon the natural seasonality.
These time series feed into a series of networks, for example ICES, MCCIP reports, reporting indicators to meet policy requirements (OSPAR) and South West Marine Ecosytems Annual Reports.
People are the key resource in MEB. We have a great depth of taxonomic expertise that includes benthic meiofauna to macrofauna, planktonic protists and metazoans, analytical expertise spanning carbonate both in terms of chemistry to multivariate statistics of large datasets. In terms of infrastructure we have Plymouth’s Research vessel Quest, the Western Channel Observatory time series and biodiversity reference site, and our excellent newly refurbished research laboratory facilities. These include our state-of-the-art intertidal mesocosm laboratory, the behaviour, sound and imaging laboratory, and polar to tropical constant temperature rooms, where we can design and implement cutting-edge research into the impacts of anthropogenic change through comprehensive environmental controls.
A suite of new analytical laboratories, including the molecular biology facility, the microbiology facility, the biodiversity suite and the ultraclean microplastic facility, housing new equipment such as a Fourier Transform Infra-red and near infra-red imaging system, infra-red photography, a suite of microscopes, FlowCam and various optical sensors, enable MEB to deliver globally leading marine ecology and biodiversity research.
- Queiros, AM; Talbot, E; Kay, S; Sailley, SF; Vu Hoang Le, T; Thi Pham, C; Widdicombe, S; 2022. Climate-smart spatial planning assessment in support of conservation and blue growth in Da Nang city’s marine environment. . .
- Botterell, ZLR; Bergmann, M; Hildebrandt, N; Krumpen, T; Steinke, M; Thompson, RC; Lindeque, PK; 2022. Microplastic ingestion in zooplankton from the Fram Strait in the Arctic . Science of The Total Environment.
- Mutshinda, CM; Mishra, A; Finkel, ZV; Widdicombe, CE; Irwin, AJ; 2022. Bayesian two-part modeling of phytoplankton biomass and occurrence . Hydrobiologia.
- Atkinson, A; Hill, SL; Reiss, CS; Pakhomov, EA; Beaugrand, G; Tarling, GA; Yang, G; Steinberg, DK; Schmidt, K; Edwards, M; Rombolá, E; Perry, FA; 2021. Stepping stones towards Antarctica: Switch to southern spawning grounds explains an abrupt range shift in krill . Global Change Biology.
- Ostle, C; Paxman, K; Graves, CA; Arnold, M; Artigas, LF; Atkinson, A; Aubert, A; Baptie, M; Bear, B; Bedford, J; Best, M; Bresnan, E; Brittain, R; Broughton, D; Budria, A; Cook, K; Devlin, M; Graham, G.; Halliday, NC; Helaouët, P; Johansen, M; Johns, DG; Lear, D; Machairopoulou, M; McKinney, A; Mellor, A; Milligan, AJ; Pitois, S; Rombouts, I; Scherer, C; Tett, P; Widdicombe, CE; McQuatters-Gollop, A; 2021. The Plankton Lifeform Extraction Tool: a digital tool to increase the discoverability and usability of plankton time-series data . Earth System Science Data.
- Tarling, GA; Freer, JJ; Banas, NS; Belcher, A; Blackwell, M; Castellani, C; Cook, KB; Cottier, FR; Daase, M; Johnson, ML; Last, KS; Lindeque, PK; Mayor, DJ; Mitchell, E; Parry, HE; Speirs, DC; Stowasser, G; Wootton, M; 2021. Can a key boreal Calanus copepod species now complete its life-cycle in the Arctic? Evidence and implications for Arctic food-webs . Ambio.
- Li, J; Weinberger, F; Saha, M; Majzoub, ME; Egan, S; 2021. Cross-Host Protection of Marine Bacteria Against Macroalgal Disease . Microbial Ecology.
- Agarwal, V; James, CC; Widdicombe, CE; Barton, AD; 2021. Intraseasonal predictability of natural phytoplankton population dynamics . Ecology and Evolution.
- Lindeque, PK; Botterell, ZLR; Coppock, RL; Cole, MJ; 2021. Plastics and Plankton in Our Seas . Frontiers for Young Minds.
- Beauchard, O; Brind’Amour, A; Schratzberger, M; Laffargue, P; Hintzen, NT; Somerfield, PJ; Piet, G; 2021. A generic approach to develop a trait-based indicator of trawling-induced disturbance . Marine Ecology Progress Series.