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The Marine Ecosystems Research Programme was structured around eight work modules that enhanced our understanding of the dynamics of ecosystem services provided by marine ecosystems. The novel, inter-disciplinary marine ecosystem science in the programme lead to a mechanism for providing advice on the likelihood of changes in ecosystem services in response to future environmental changes.

A key characteristic of the programme was integration. Findings and data from Modules 1 and 2 were used to improve models in Modules 3 and 4, outputs from Modules 3 and 4 were fed back into Modules 1 and 2 to generate new hypotheses and to validate models. Outputs from the first 4 modules were fed into Modules 5 and 6.

A beach with shoreline in the day
Marine ecosystem data toolbox & application of macroecology (Module 1)

This work specifically addresses the need to improve our understanding of how marine ecosystems may respond to specific "bottom up" and "top-down" changes through the novel combination of existing data with recent theoretical advances from marine and terrestrial ecology.

Existing marine ecosystem data records from a wide range of sources will be rearranged according to species traits (body size, habitat, feeding mode). This resource will be used to conduct a comprehensive regional macroecological analyses.

Brown seaweed covering rocks on the beach
Fieldwork to measure poorly known processes (Module 2)

This activity aims to fill knowledge gaps in marine ecosystem ecology through new field-based and experimental observations with recent theoretical advances from marine and terrestrial ecology.

We have identified key components and properties of marine ecosystems that are currently under-sampled and not adequately represented in existing ecosystem models. A programme of field surveys and experiments to generate new data and understanding of these features will be conducted and the results used in model development. 

Seaweed in very clear shallow water
Ecological processes and their representation in models (Module 3)

This area of work focuses on integrating improved understanding from modules 1 and 2 into marine ecosystem models, using concepts and expertise derived from non-marine models.

In contrast to macroecology, simulation models seek to assemble ‘from the ground up’ representations of relationships between groups of organisms, so as to reproduce the observed properties of the ecosystem as a whole under known driving conditions. We shall identify the implications of differences in model structure on macroecological patterns to reduce model uncertainty.

Laptop linked to blue earth globe on white background
Simulating and predicting ecosystem changes using a model ensemble (Module 4)

This will focus on quantifying the uncertainty in future predictions as well as improving predictions about the fate of marine ecosystems and their services under different past and future scenarios, at local and regional spatial scales.

The predictive engine of the project will be a model ensemble comprising well-documented, whole or partial simulation models of marine ecosystems together with statistical models emerging from macroecological analyses. Optimisation methods will then be applied, following modelling principles defined by the International Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) for forecasting the consequences of greenhouse gas emissions, to forecast ecosystem states under scenarios of future conditions.

Offshore wind turbines on the horizon with a fishing trawler in the foreground
Linking macroecology and models to ecosystem services (Module 5)

This work is directed towards translating improved understanding of the dynamics of marine ecological communities into the currency of ecosystem services.

Outputs from the model ensemble will be mapped onto an inventory of ecosystem services developed by the National Ecosystem Assessment and the EU VECTORS programme. Outputs from modules 1, 2, 3 and 4 will also be translated into quantitative measures of goods and services and relevant indicators of ecosystem status, in particular indicators that are defined in the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD). This will create an integrated system capable of making forecasts of ecosystem status, goods and services for various scenarios of future environmental conditions.   

A screenshot of a model simulation of the waters around the UK
Developing a model-based understanding of ecosystem service regulation (Module 6)

This will increase capacity to assess the structure of marine ecosystems by improving the way that biodiversity and ecosystem function are represented in the European Regional Seas Ecosystem Model (ERSEM).

The cornerstone of this development is the transition of ERSEM from a one-size-fits-all model of fixed complexity to a hierarchy of models that selectively inserts detail (e.g. species diversity) when demanded by other applications. The enhanced model will be used to explore the impacts of human-induced stresses and natural variability on the structure of marine ecosystems (e.g. their species composition and size structure), and develop links to forecast ecosystem services in order to meet the knowledge needs of future science strategies, environmental management initiatives and policy development.

Benefits from the ocean
Understanding trade-offs to maximise the benefits from living marine natural capital (Module 7)

This work will investigate the trade-offs between economic and cultural services in the UK marine environment and examine how benefits from living natural capital can be optimised.

Through a programme of stakeholder engagement activities and further model development, this body of work will: advance current understanding of natural capital valuation; develop a framework for conducting virtual experiments on the integrated social-economic-ecological system; help inform strategic decisions on the sustainable use of the marine environment incorporating cultural values, and support Marine Strategy Framework Directive assessments.

Dreamstime | Alexey Rybakov
Cumulative impacts and the management of marine ecosystems (Module 8)

This project seeks to understand how multiple activities interact to affect marine ecosystems and establish the cumulative effects of current and potential management actions.

Expanding on previous stakeholder engagement activities in the two case study areas, South West England and West Wales, the project will: demonstrate how empirical data, modelling and expert judgement can be translated into both context-specific guidance and general principles for marine management; extend existing cumulative effects assessments to address critical and recurring evidence gaps, and incorporate MERP’s extensive expert knowledge and judgment into social-economic-ecological models of the case study regions.