Marine Ecology and Conservation

Marine studies at NCEAS address fundamental questions about ecological and evolutionary processes, and provide valuable insights to marine resource management and conservation professionals. The capacity enabled by NCEAS’ model of synthesis and collaboration has resulted in influential research of global scale and significance(1,2). However, NCEAS marine projects span diverse topic areas and scope. In all, NCEAS projects directed at marine systems have produced hundreds of publications and presentations that contribute to the body of marine research.

From the coast to the deep sea
NCEAS research spans the coastal zones to the deep oceans. Near the shoreline, a large number of studies focus on the ecology of rich coastal marine habitats – estuaries(3), seagrass beds(4,5), and coral reefs(6) – which provide important services, such as shoreline protection, water filtration, and key habitat for many economically and culturally important organisms.

Credit: Jen SmithMarine population and community dynamics also have a prominent place in NCEAS research, and studies have focused on marine species that span diverse trophic levels in marine food webs(7-10), from the smallest organisms(11) up to whales(12). NCEAS scientists have also examined the complexities of recruitment that affect populations and communities(13), from propagule distribution models(14), to assessments of nursery habitats(15) and connections between nurseries and adult habitat(16).

Human impacts on the marine environment have inspired many NCEAS projects(17). For example, researchers have assessed the vulnerability of marine systems to excess nutrients from fertilizers(18). A number of studies have focused on the effects of fishing, or overfishing, on marine food webs(19,20) and ecosystems using contemporary as well as historical and fossil records(21,22). NCEAS researchers also have re-examined the most common means of assessing the health of marine fisheries(23), and analyzed non-fishing declines in fish stocks(24). Complementing the fisheries science research, NCEAS scientists have even analyzed the global dynamics and governance of seafood production and consumption(25).

With the increasing emphasis on ecosystem-based marine management around the world, NCEAS marine studies continue to inform marine spatial planning(26). In particular, NCEAS scientists have incorporated science in envisioning the design and implementation of marine reserves, in order to evaluate strategies to maximize effectiveness for conservation and for fisheries management(27-30). At the same time, human dependence on marine resources and marine ecosystem services have inspired NCEAS working group collaborations that incorporate sociopolitical and economic factors, which influence the success of marine management initiatives(31-33).

Credit: Deep sea anemone, NOAA archivesThe deep sea is the area of the ocean where no light penetrates. Once thought to be devoid of life, these ecosystems are surprisingly diverse, and NCEAS researchers have synthesized historical and emerging perspectives on these environments(34,35). The ocean floor also holds vast records of past evolutionary patterns and ecological dynamics in the form of fossils. By synthesizing available data from marine fossil records, NCEAS researchers have found evidence for environmental controls on evolutionary rates(36) and intriguing patterns in the emergence of dominant and widespread biota following mass extinctions(37).

Marine species of concern

Credit: Jen SmithNCEAS has hosted many projects that examine the status of specific marine organisms of concern, including seabirds, marine mammals, and whales. The NCEAS research model brings together diverse researchers equipped with different data sources and perspectives, to examine threats to and recovery potential for marine species of management and conservation interest. For example, a life history study of Spectacled Eiders found that the significant threat of climate change may limit, or ultimately invalidate, the effectiveness of spatial marine reserves intended to protect the species(38). In another study, sophisticated population modeling of sea otters(39) compared likely results for several proposed management actions. Also, a retrospective analysis by NCEAS researchers found that the removal of the North Pacific gray whale from the Endangered Species list, following its successful reestablishment, required a surprisingly modest economic investment from a managing agency(40).

Many marine studies at NCEAS have incorporated climate change scenarios and the dynamics of disease, and are discussed further in NCEAS research sections on ecological effects of climate change and ecology of disease.

Databases related to marine studies can be accessed through the NCEAS Data Registry and Repository. For example:

  1. B. Worm et al., Science 325, 578 (2009).
  2. B.S. Halpern et al., Science 319, 948 (2008).
  3. M.W. Beck et al., Bioscience 51, 633 (2001).
  4. J.E. Duffy, Marine Ecology-Progress Series 311, 233 (2006).
  5. A.R. Hughes et al., Frontiers in Ecology 7, 242 (2009).
  6. J.M. Pandolfi et al., Science 301, 955 (2003).
  7. S.L. Williams & J.E. Smith, Annual Review of Ecology Evolution and Systematics 38, 327 (2007).
  8. K.D. Lafferty, Ecological Applications 14(5), 1566 (2004).
  9. F. Juanes, Canadian Journal of Aquatic Sciences 60, 594 (2003).
  10. S.R. Floeter et al., Journal of Animal Ecology 76 105 (2007).
  11. V.H. Smith et al., Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 102(12), 4393 (2005).
  12. L. Morrissette et al., Marine Ecology Progress Series 404, (2010)
  13. K.A. Selkoe et al., Ecology 87(12), 3082 (2006)
  14. A.L. Shanks et al., Ecological Applications 13(1), S159 (2003).
  15. T.J. Minello et al., Marine Ecology Progress Series 246, 36 (2003).
  16. B.M. Gillanders et al., Marine Ecology Progress Series 247, 81 (2003).
  17. B. Worm et al., Science 314, 787 (2006).
  18. J. K. Craig et al., Marine Ecology-Progress Series 294, 79 (2005).
  19. J. Bascompte et al., Procedings of the National Academies of Sciences 102(15), 5443 (2005).
  20. D.E. Schindler et al., Ecological Applications 12, 735 (2002).
  21. T.E. Essington et al., Procedings of the National Academies of Sciences 103, 3171 (2006).
  22. J.B.C. Jackson et al., Science 293, 629 (2001).
  23. T.A. Branch, Nature 468, 341 (2010).
  24. R. Mac Nally et al., Ecological Applications 20(5), 1417 (2010).
  25. M.D. Smith et al., Science 327, 784 (2010).
  26. L. Crowder et al., Marine Policy 32, 772 (2008).
  27. M.L. Baskett et al., Biological Conservation 137, 163 (2007).
  28. A. Hastings et al., Ecological Applications S13, 4 (2003).
  29. F. Micheli et al., Ecological Applications 14(6), 1709 (2004).
  30. S. Hansson et al., Ambio 36, 365 (2007).
  31. P.J. Christie et al., Coastal Management 37(3-4), 374 (2009).
  32. E.B. Barbier et al., Science 319, 321 (2008).
  33. C. Wilcox & J.C. Donlan, Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 5, 325 (2007).
  34. R.J. Etter et al., Deep-Sea Research Part I-Oceanographic Research Papers 46, 1095 (1999).
  35. L.A. Levin et al., Annual Review Of Ecology And Systematics 32, 51 (2001).
  36. A.P. Allen et al., Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 103, 9130 (2006).
  37. A.I. Miller et al., Science 302, 1030 (2003).
  38. J.R. Lovvorn et al., Ecological Applications 19, 1596 (2009).
  39. L.R. Gerber et al., Ecological Applications 14, 1554 (2004).
  40. L.R. Gerber et al., Conservation Biology 13, 1215 (1999).