Ecosystem connectivity: tracking biochemical fluxes to inform ecosystem based management

Blue cod. © Steve Wing, University of Otago

We traced the fate of water and sediments from land through coastal food webs, evaluating connections between coastal and deep sea habitats, and identified the effects of key coastal developments (for example, aquaculture) on food web connectivity. 

Project leader: Steve Wing, University of Otago

Duration: April 2016 – June 2019 
Budget: $1,055,000 
Status: Completed

Effective restoration and recovery of Aotearoa New Zealand’s coastal ecosystems relies on accurate information about their function and the influence of human activities. Our research will help guide effective decision-making by providing information on the connections that are vital for productive, healthy ecosystems.  

Our team used advanced forensic chemistry to understand ecosystem connectivity. We traced movement of organic matter, nutrients, metals and contaminants through marine food webs and investigated how they are processed and channelled. Changes in these biochemical fluxes can shape ecological function and the provision of ecosystem services. 

We focused on three systems where human activities have changed, and are continuing to change ecological function:  

  • Coastal and offshore fisheries – we studied the effects of environmental change and removal of marine resources on the food web structure of coastal and offshore fisheries from pre-industrial to present times.
  • Shellfish survival – we studied how changes in land-use have influenced uptake of organic matter and contaminants by bivalve populations (including cockles, mussels, scallops and horse mussels).
  • Commercial fish farms – we studied how waste materials from salmon farming operations are taken up and processed by natural food webs.  

Journal articles

Udy JA et al (2019) Regional differences in supply of organic matter from kelp forests drive trophodynamics of temperate reef fishMarine Ecology Progress Series 621: 19-32

Udy JA, et al (2019) Organic matter derived from kelp supports a large proportion of biomass in temperate rocky reef fish communities: implications for ecosystem-based management.Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 2019: 1-17 doi/full/10.1002/aqc.3101

Udy JA et al (2019) Regional differences in kelp forest interaction chains are influenced by both diffuse and localized stressors. Ecosphere 10(10), article e02894


'Seaworthy' scientists outrun ex-Cyclone Gita as they flee Sounds, Stuff Professor Steve Wing from Otago University and the team working on ecosystem connectivity were in the news during Cyclone Gita

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Innovation Fund is open for blue economy initiatives

We invite NZ-based researchers, industry, stakeholders and Māori to submit expressions of Interest (EoIs) for research projects that will contribute directly to building a ‘blue economy’ in Aotearoa.

1,800+ schoolchildren (virtually) explored marine science for Seaweek

Last week (3–5 March), schoolchildren from across New Zealand travelled with LEARNZ and the Sustainable Seas Challenge to discover what's threatening mussels/kuku or kūtai, a taonga species, in Ōhiwa Harbour, and how science and mātauranga Māori are being combined by local kaitiaki to understand – and address – the problem.