Sustainable methods for gross proximate composition of North Sea species as a key component of ecological models

Research projects

Project Description:

This Research Project is part of the Aura CDT’s Understanding environmental impacts and consequences¬†Cluster.

The use of offshore wind turbines will significantly change the seascape and hence have effects on the surrounding ecosystems, currently these impacts are not well understood. Offshore Windfarms are, and will continue to be, the most significant physical anthropogenic change to the North Sea. This will particularly affect benthic organisms as they have limited habitat mobility and thus likely to be significantly affected by changing sea beds. The small size of these species makes analysis of individuals challenging thus little is known about how there proximate composition changes.

Ecological models are a key route to understanding what the impacts of climate change could be on our marine systems. Cutting edge fisheries models are starting to incorporate both ecological and environmental data in order to understand how whole ecosystems are likely to respond to disturbances . One of the most widely recognised and accessible modelling systems is Ecopath with Ecosim which can model both temporal and spatial aspects of fished marine ecosystems. Ecosystem models are very data hungry requiring, ideally, information on who eats who and how much. However very few ecological models incorporate nutrient fluxes and the temporal variation in nutritive value of prey items. For example, most models assume a constant nutritive value of prey without considering the fact that predators may seek particular prey to satisfy particular nutrient requirements. Also most models assume a constant rate of consumption rather than the often more realistic concept of hyperphagia (gorging followed by no food for an extended period).

To understand these complex nutritional relationships between prey and predator regular proximate composition (PC) analysis is needed, initially measuring a base line of seasonal change in an undisturbed area which then can be used to show change affected by environmental stressors. To achieve this type of data collection, analysis methods need to be rapid and efficient providing a platform that can measure PC across the range of a food web, from across the different trophic levels.

One focus of this project will be to widen the range of species that can be analysed as single organisms by PC through the miniaturisation of assays and measurement techniques. Understanding changes on this scale builds a much more detailed picture of ecological affects than analysis of grouped specimens. A further advantage of miniaturising chemical assays is enhanced sustainability of the analysis. Reduction of reagent volumes, replacing environmentally toxic reagents with less harmful alternatives will be a focus of this project to develop analytical processes with a imbedded sustainability.

This project, a collaboration among the School of Environmental Sciences, School of Natural Sciences and the Environment and Energy Institute will examine the importance of detailed information about species interactions in marine foodwebs. The project will involve fieldwork and labwork to collect specimens and carry out proximate analysis (ash, protein, carbohydrate and lipids) of tissues to establish nutrient values of ecosystem components.

Working in the School of Environmental Science and School of Natural Sciences labs the project will have access to ecological and analytical expertise and high specification labs and support from the Marine team and Hull Marine Lab. The student will have the opportunity to get involved in undergraduate fieldwork and practicals which will be an opportunity for the candidate to develop their own skill set as well as mentoring others.

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