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The University of Southampton
Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre Southampton

Research project: A hierarchical approach to the examination of the relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem service flows across coastal margins - Dormant

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The health of the UK's coastlines is inextricably linked to our success as an island nation, and resonates through our economy, our recreation, and our culture. Most pressingly, of all the UK's many and varied landscapes, its coastal systems are the ones most immediately sensitive to climate change.

As temperatures increase, sea levels will rise and the forces experienced where land and sea meet will become more destructive. Salt marshes, mudflats, beaches and rocky shores will all be affected but, of these areas, the most sensitive are the mudflats and salt marshes that are common features of coastal systems, and which comprise just over half of the UK's total estuarine area. Not only do these landscapes support a wide range of economically valuable animal and plant species, they also act as sites of carbon storage, nutrient recycling, and pollutant capture and destruction. Their preservation is, therefore, of the utmost importance, requiring active and informed management to save them for future generations. The Natural Environment Research Council's call to help understand the landscape-scale links between the functions that these systems provide (ecosystem service flows) and the organisms that help provide these services (biodiversity stocks) offers an important opportunity to move beyond most previous work in this field, which has been conducted at small or laboratory scales. While of foundational scientific importance, the implications of laboratory studies can be hard to translate into policy, and coastal managers require a clearer evidence base to understand how ecosystem service flows operate at much larger spatial scales, e.g. entire salt marshes or regions of intertidal flat and salt marshes.

The programme we are proposing 'A hierarchical approach to the examination of the relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem service flows across coastal margins' (CBESS) will provide such a large scale understanding. Our consortium of UK experts ranges from microbial ecologists, through environmental economists, to mathematical modellers, including organisations like the BTO and the RSPB, who have immediate and vested interest in the sustainable use of coastal wetlands. Together, CBESS will create a study that spans the landscape scale, investigating how biodiversity stocks provide the following ecosystem services (cf. National Ecosystem Assessment). - Supporting' services: nutrient cycling, healthy habitat - Provisions services; goods obtained from the landscape - Regulating' services: coastal protection, climate regulation (greenhouse gas exchange, carbon sequestration) - Cultural services: Recreation (walking, canoeing, angling, birding, hunting and beauty) CBESS will combine the detailed study of two regional landscapes with a broad-scale UK-wide study to allow both specific and general conclusions to be drawn. The Regional study will compare two areas of great local and national importance: Morecambe Bay on the west coast and the Essex coastline on the east coast. We will carry out biological and physical surveys at more than 600 stations and use these results to clarify how biodiversity can provide these important ecosystem functions. This information will be shared with those interested in using and managing coastal systems and, after our analysis; we will propose practical methods and improved tools for the future analysis, management, and sustainability of the UK's coastal wetlands.


Type of project: NERC Directed Programme, Biodiversity and Ecosystem Service Sustainability (BESS) programme

Principal Investigators:

David Paterson (University of St. Andrews)
Martin Solan
Jasmin Godbold
Steve Hawkins (now retired)

Funding provider: 


Funding dates: 1 May 2012 - 31 Jan 2017


Key Publications

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