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: Ongoing

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.  

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