Assessing the sensitivity of subtidal sedimentary habitats to pressures associated with marine activities. Phase 1 Report: Rationale and proposed ecological groupings for Level 5 biotopes against which sensitivity assessments would be best undertaken.

Tillin, HM and Tyler-Walters, H 2014 Assessing the sensitivity of subtidal sedimentary habitats to pressures associated with marine activities. Phase 1 Report: Rationale and proposed ecological groupings for Level 5 biotopes against which sensitivity assessments would be best undertaken.. Peterborough, Joint Nature Conservation Committee, 68pp. (Report no. 512A)


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The purpose of this study is to produce a series of Conceptual Ecological Models (CEMs) that represent sublittoral rock habitats in the UK. CEMs are diagrammatic representations of the influences and processes that occur within an ecosystem. They can be used to identify critical aspects of an ecosystem that may be studied further, or serve as the basis for the selection of indicators for environmental monitoring purposes. The models produced by this project are control diagrams, representing the unimpacted state of the environment free from anthropogenic pressures. It is intended that the models produced by this project will be used to guide indicator selection for the monitoring of this habitat in UK waters. CEMs may eventually be produced for a range of habitat types defined under the UK Marine Biodiversity Monitoring R&D Programme (UKMBMP), which, along with stressor models, are designed to show the interactions within impacted habitats, would form the basis of a robust method for indicator selection. This project builds on the work to develop CEMs for shallow sublittoral coarse sediment habitats (Alexander et al 2014). The project scope included those habitats defined as ‘sublittoral rock’. This definition includes those habitats that fall into the EUNIS Level 3 classifications A3.1 Atlantic and Mediterranean high energy infralittoral rock, A3.2 Atlantic and Mediterranean moderate energy infralittoral rock, A3.3 Atlantic and Mediterranean low energy infralittoral rock, A4.1 Atlantic and Mediterranean high energy circalittoral rock, A4.2 Atlantic and Mediterranean moderate energy circalittoral rock, and A4.3 Atlantic and Mediterranean low energy circalittoral rock as well as the constituent Level 4 and 5 biotopes that are relevant to UK waters. A species list of characterising fauna to be included within the scope of the models was identified using an iterative process to refine the full list of species found within the relevant Level 5 biotopes. A literature review was conducted using a pragmatic and iterative approach to gather evidence regarding species traits and information that would be used to inform the models and characterise the interactions that occur within the sublittoral rock habitat. All information gathered during the literature review was entered into a data logging pro-forma spreadsheet that accompanies this report. Wherever possible, attempts were made to collect information from UK-specific peer-reviewed studies, although other sources were used where necessary. All data gathered was subject to a detailed confidence assessment. Expert judgement by the project team was utilised to provide information for aspects of the models for which references could not be sourced within the project timeframe. A multivariate analysis approach was adopted to assess ecologically similar groups (based on ecological and life history traits) of fauna from the identified species to form the basis of the models. A model hierarchy was developed based on these ecological groups. One general control model was produced that indicated the high-level drivers, inputs, biological assemblages, ecosystem processes and outputs that occur in sublittoral rock habitats. In addition to this, seven detailed sub-models were produced, which each focussed on a particular ecological group of fauna within the habitat: ‘macroalgae’, ‘temporarily or permanently attached active filter feeders’, ‘temporarily or permanently attached passive filter feeders’, ‘bivalves, brachiopods and other encrusting filter feeders’, ‘tube building fauna’, ‘scavengers and predatory fauna’, and ‘non-predatory mobile fauna’. Each sub-model is accompanied by an associated confidence model that presents confidence in the links between each model component. The models are split into seven levels and take spatial and temporal scale into account through their design, as well as magnitude and direction of influence. The seven levels include regional to global drivers, water column processes, local inputs/processes at the seabed, habitat and biological assemblage, output processes, local ecosystem functions, and regional to global ecosystem functions. The models indicate that whilst the high level drivers that affect each ecological group are largely similar, the output processes performed by the biota and the resulting ecosystem functions vary both in number and importance between groups. Confidence within the models as a whole is generally high, reflecting the level of information gathered during the literature review. Physical drivers which influence the ecosystem were found to be of high importance for the sublittoral rock habitat, with factors such as wave exposure, water depth and water currents noted to be crucial in defining the biological assemblages. Other important factors such as recruitment/propagule supply, and those which affect primary production, such as suspended sediments, light attenuation and water chemistry and temperature, were also noted to be key and act to influence the food sources consumed by the biological assemblages of the habitat, and the biological assemblages themselves. Output processes performed by the biological assemblages are variable between ecological groups depending on the specific flora and fauna present and the role they perform within the ecosystem. Of particular importance are the outputs performed by the macroalgae group, which are diverse in nature and exert influence over other ecological groups in the habitat. Important output processes from the habitat as a whole include primary and secondary production, bioengineering, biodeposition (in mixed sediment habitats) and the supply of propagules; these in turn influence ecosystem functions at the local scale such as nutrient and biogeochemical cycling, supply of food resources, sediment stability (in mixed sediment habitats), habitat provision and population and algae control. The export of biodiversity and organic matter, biodiversity enhancement and biotope stability are the resulting ecosystem functions that occur at the regional to global scale. Features within the models that are most useful for monitoring habitat status and change due to natural variation have been identified, as have those that may be useful for monitoring to identify anthropogenic causes of change within the ecosystem. Biological, physical and chemical features of the ecosystem have been identified as potential indicators to monitor natural variation, whereas biological factors and those physical /chemical factors most likely to affect primary production have predominantly been identified as most likely to indicate change due to anthropogenic pressures.

Item Type: Publication - Report (UNSPECIFIED)
Additional Keywords: biological traits, functional, ecological groups, sensitivity assessment
Subjects: Conservation
Ecology and Environment
Marine Sciences
Divisions: Marine Biological Association of the UK > Other (MBA)
Marine Biological Association of the UK > Data & Information
Depositing User: Dr Harvey Tyler-Walters
Date made live: 08 Sep 2015 13:31
Last Modified: 09 Feb 2024 17:03

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