Ecosystem connectivity: tracking biochemical fluxes to inform ecosystem based management

Blue cod. © Steve Wing, University of Otago

We are tracing the fate of water and sediments from land through coastal food webs, evaluating connections between coastal and deep sea habitats, and identifying 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 uses advanced forensic chemistry to understand ecosystem connectivity. We are tracing movement of organic matter, nutrients, metals and contaminants through marine food webs and investigating how they are processed and channelled. Changes in these biochemical fluxes can shape ecological function and the provision of ecosystem services. 

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

  1. Coastal and offshore fisheries – we are studying 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.  
  2. Shellfish survival – we are studying how changes in land-use have influenced uptake of organic matter and contaminants by bivalve populations (including cockles, mussels, scallops and horse mussels). 
  3. Commercial fish farms – we are studying how waste materials from salmon farming operations are taken up and processed by natural food webs.  

Journal articles

Udy JA, SR Wing, SA O’Connell-Milne, LM Durante, RM McMullin, S Kolodzey & RD Frew (2019) Regional differences in supply of organic matter from kelp forests drive trophodynamics of temperate reef fishMarine Ecology Progress Series 621: 19-32 doi.org/10.3354/meps12974

Udy JA, SR Wing, RM McMullin, SA O’Connell-Milne, S Kolodzey, LM Durante & RD Frew (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, Wing SR, Jowett T, O'Connell‐Milne SA, Durante LM, McMullin RM & Kolodzey S (2019) Regional differences in kelp forest interaction chains are influenced by both diffuse and localized stressors. Ecosphere 10(10), article e02894

Media

'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

Latest news and updates

'Toolkit' for managing cumulative effects

The latest Resource Management Journal is a special issue about our collaborative research into how management of cumulative effects (CE) can be improved. It includes a suite of co-developed recommendations and guidance regarding how to progress work on CE management in Aotearoa.

Tracking the transport of ocean trash

A web-based interactive tool tracks how floating plastic waste moves around New Zealand's coastline. Initially designed as an educational tool for schools, the Ocean Plastic Simulator also has potential for environmental and biosecurity monitoring, and aquaculture.

Blue Economy theme: co-development and funding update

If you're interested in being involved in co-developing our core research projects and/or want notifications about our Innovation Fund then email sustainableseasNC@niwa.co.nz