Ecosystem connectivity: tracking biochemical fluxes to inform EBM

We traced the fate of water and sediments from land through coastal food webs, evaluating connections between coastal and deep sea habitats, and identified the effects of key coastal developments (such as aquaculture) on food web connectivity.

Project Leader Duration Budget
Steve Wing (University of Otago) April 2016 – June 2019 $1,055,000


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 used advanced forensic chemistry to understand ecosystem connectivity. We traced movement of organic matter, nutrients, metals and contaminants through marine food webs and investigated how they are processed and channelled. Changes in these biochemical fluxes can shape ecological function and the provision of ecosystem services.

We focused on three systems where human activities have changed, and are continuing to change ecological function:

  • Coastal and offshore fisheries – we studied 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.
  • Shellfish survival – we studied how changes in land-use have influenced uptake of organic matter and contaminants by bivalve populations (including cockles, mussels, scallops and horse mussels).
  • Commercial fish farms – we studied how waste materials from salmon farming operations are taken up and processed by natural food webs. 

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