• Active project

Ecological responses to cumulative effects

This project brings together mātauranga Māori and science to develop new knowledge about cumulative effects

Project Leader Duration Budget
Simon Thrush (University of Auckland) & Kura Paul-Burke (MUSA Environmental/University of Waikato) March 2020 – June 2023 $3,904,000


This project addresses the cumulative effects (CE) of multiple stressors on soft-sediment and rocky reef biodiversity and ecosystem function. This knowledge is necessary to underpin models, decision-making processes and to implement EBM.

Building on Tipping points and Ecosystem services research, this project will:

  • Co-develop place-based tohu (traditional indicators) of the ecological condition of our estuaries and coasts
  • Develop ecological footprint analysis to support improved decision-making, investment and knowledge of how activities and stressors impact on biodiversity and ecosystem services
  • Investigate bottlenecks to recovery of reef and soft-sediment seafloor ecosystems
  • Develop new methods to map ecological response footprints of stressors and their impacts on ecosystem services
  • Provide a cumulative effects assessment (CEA) framework that is based on understanding of interactions between ecosystem components to inform marine spatial planning and risk assessment
  • Identify the constraints on ecosystem recovery to better manage risk and expectations.

We will engage in field studies, develop models and work with broader environmental initiatives across Aotearoa New Zealand proposed by iwi, community groups, central or regional government that support EBM developments. This includes:

  • Hauraki Gulf Seas Change process
  • Tauranga Harbour and Ōhiwa Harbour in response to actions to improve biodiversity and ecosystem function
  • Marlborough Sounds with multi-sector interests in trailing EBM
  • Southland estuaries with interests in enhancing the removal of nitrogen from the coastal ecosystem

In the context of each of these initiatives, we will work ecological communities and processes that play important roles in ecosystem service delivery and resilience.

For example, in Ōhiwa Harbour we will work with the potential for shellfish populations to enhance the ecosystem recovery of estuaries and rehabilitate negative effects of sediments and nutrients.

This research will allow us to develop frameworks across the Challenge that improve the way we make decisions about the risks posed by different activities in the marine environment, and the opportunities we have to improve the ecological health and mauri of our coasts and estuaries. 

Research Team

Simon Thrush (University of Auckland)
Kura Paul-Burke (MUSA Environmental/University of Waikato)
Conrad Pilditch (University of Waikato)
Karin Bryan (University of Waikato)
Nick Shears (University of Auckland)
Judi Hewitt (NIWA/University of Auckland)
Drew Lohrer (NIWA)
Carolyn Lundquist (NIWA/University of Auckland)
Dave Schiel (University of Canterbury)
Steve Wing (University of Otago)
Candida Savage (University of Otago)

Related News


This is a national project.


  • June 2021
    Initial methods for assisting hapū to bring mātauranga Māori of rohe moana together with ecological knowledge made available for comment
  • March 2022
    Methods for assisting hapū to bring mātauranga Māori of rohe moana together with ecological knowledge finalised and made available
  • September 2022
    Ecological footprint analysis (EFA) in the context of CE disseminated to co-development partners for input
  • December 2022
    Guidelines about the relationship between stress/disturbance and ecosystem interactions and the ecosystem outcomes that may arise
  • March 2023
    A list of practical steps to enhance recovery rates produced and communicated to iwi and stakeholders
  • June 2023
    Marine management tool/kete mātauranga and an educational resource of tohu for kaitiaki, community and schools that can be used alongside the CEA framework