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

Ecological complexity and networks


Environmental conditions affect the characteristics, behaviour and distribution of marine organisms, and ultimately the flow of energy and materials within and between ecosystems, which are directly linked to ecosystem services that benefit human well-being. If the environment experienced by organisms changes, the nature of any response is governed by a suite of genetic, physiological, behavioural and morphological traits. Understanding the complexity of organism responses to environmental differences, stressors, and biotic interactions is vital for maintaining the balance between the natural services ecosystems provide and human growth.       

Image: Phil Fenberg
The intertidal shore, northeast Pacific coastline. Image: P. Fenberg

The Marine Biology and Ecology Group has shown that

  1. Disturbances of the nutrient environment can render symbiotic reef corals susceptible to bleaching
  2. The expression of behavioural and morphological traits in marine benthic organisms is strongly affected by short-term seasonal responses to temperature and food availability, as well as local environmental history
  3. While several jellyfish species are tolerant of short-term heatwaves and other extreme events, global jellyfish populations will not necessarily increase with rising sea temperatures
  4. Global populations of pelagic sharks are maintained by food webs in temperate ecosystems, areas where fishing intensity is high
  5. And we have developed new isotopic approaches to show that field metabolic rates of teleost fish are recorded in otolith carbonate, giving us a time-integrated understanding of individual and population-level responses to environmental change.
Working on RV James Clark Ross
Working on RV James Clark Ross in the Barents Sea. Image: J. Godbold

Key Questions:

1. How does the physico-chemical environment shape the physiological performance and thermal tolerance of marine fishes and corals?

2. How does environmental history affect physiological, morphological, and behavioural trait expression in benthic soft-sediment ecosystems? –  what are the population specific impacts of trait expression on ecosystem functioning?

3. How do physical and biotic forces shape the distribution, connectivity, abundance and size structure of coastal populations?

4. How do different genetic signatures in organisms influence range shifts in coastal species?

5. What are the impacts of changing physico-chemical parameters on reproduction and life histories of jellyfish medusae and polyps? – what drives jellyfish population dynamics and the formation of potentially deleterious bloom populations?

6. How does food web structure vary across time and space, and what implications might this have for delivery of ecosystem services such as carbon export?

Coral bleaching
Coral bleaching. Image: J. Wiedenmann, C. D'Angelo

How do we do it?

  • We use isotope techniques to quantify field metabolic rates in fishes and track the flow of essential nutrients through food webs.
  • We combine multifactorial experiments under tightly controlled laboratory conditions with field sampling and observations to assesses the physiological, morphological and behavioural characteristics of organisms under different environmental conditions.
  • Work in partnership with the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA) to identify best practice for successful maintenance of jellyfish cultures.  
  • We work in partnership with the Natural History Museum and other museums to integrate historic and modern animal morphological data for understanding biotic responses to climate change across larger spatial and temporal scales.   

Links to other Research Themes

Past to Future Climate Change

Dynamics of marine planktonic and microbial communities

Staff MemberPrimary Position
Dr Cecillia D'Angelo Lecturer in Marine Biology
Dr Phil Fenberg Lecturer in Marine Biology
Dr Jasmin Godbold Associate Professor in Marine Ecology
Dr Cathy Lucas Associate Professor in Marine Biology
Dr Marc Rius Lecturer
Dr Martina Stiasny Lecturer
Dr Clive Trueman  Associate Professor in Marine Ecology
Prof. Jörg Wiedenmann Professor of Biological Oceanography
Prof. Martin Solan Professor in Marine Ecology
Dr Jamie Hudson Research Fellow
Dr Matthias Thomsen Research Fellow in Marine Ecology
Dr Trystan Sanders Research Fellow
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