Measuring ecosystem services and assessing impacts

Scorpion fish on a rocky outcrop. © Leigh Tait, NIWA

We are finding new ways to measure and map the ecosystem services provided by marine ecosystems.

Project leader: Drew Lohrer, NIWA

Duration: April 2016 – June 2019 
Budget: $1,020,000 
Status: Ongoing 

Marine species and habitats provide many ‘ecosystem services’ that are of value to people and communities, such as food, coastal protection, improved water quality and nutrient cycling. We are developing ways to measure two ecosystem services:  

  1. The provision of refuge habitat that supports young finfish and shellfish.  
  2. The removal of pollutants, specifically nutrients, from our coastal waters.  

We have predicted and mapped variation in the amount of refuge habitat in the Hauraki Gulf (14,000 km2) and in the Marlborough Sounds (30,000 km2). The work in the Hauraki Gulf has been validated with survey data from 57 sites.  

Excessive nutrients are a problem for coastal ecosystems, and it is important to identify areas that can process or remove nutrients efficiently. Denitrification is one such process that removes nitrogen, but it is difficult and expensive to measure. We have found environmental measures that correlate well with denitrification, and these can be used to predict areas where high levels of nutrient removal occur. We have developed maps of the nutrient removal service for two bays near Auckland: Whitford and Wairoa.  

Our results will be useful for regional government agencies seeking to identify marine ‘hotspots’ of ecosystem service delivery that require protection. We are also working closely with other Challenge researchers to clarify the links between New Zealanders’ social and cultural values for marine areas and the ecosystem services they provide.

You can read more about  the kinds of services that ecosystems provide on NIWA's website. 

Journal articles: 

Douglas EJ, Pilditch CA, Kraan C, Schipper LA, Lohrer AM & Thrush SF (2017) Macrofaunal Functional Diversity Provides Resilience to Nutrient Enrichment in Coastal Sediments. Ecosystems 20(7):1324 DOI: 10.1007/s10021-017-0113-4

Gladstone-Gallagher RV, Needham HR, Lohrer AM, Lundquist C & Pilditch CA (2017). Site-dependent effects of bioturbator-detritus interactions alter soft-sediment ecosystem function. Marine Ecology Progress Series 569:145 DOI: 10.3354/meps12086

Gladstone-Gallagher RV, Sandwell DR, Lohrer AM, Lundquist CJ & Pilditch CA (2017). Quantifying macrodetritus fluxes from a small temperate estuary. Marine and Freshwater Research 68(12):2289 DOI: 10.1071/MF16408

Townsend M, Davies K, Hanley N, Hewitt J, Lundquist C & Lohrer AM (2018). The challenge of implementing the marine ecosystem service concept. Frontiers in Marine Science DOI: 10.3389/fmars.2018.00359

Latest news and updates

Assessing marine ecosystems to improve management

Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge researchers are hoping that marine health data gathered on a recent field trip to Queen Charlotte Sounds will support more integrated management of the ecosystem.

Developing ecosystem-based management principles for NZ

The Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge leadership team have proposed seven major principles for ecosystem-based management (EBM) in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Growing a successful and sustainable Māori marine economy

The Sustainable Seas research team led by Dr John Reid and Dr Jason Mika have identified five key factors that will drive growth of the Māori marine economy: