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Impacts of ocean acidification on key benthic ecosystems, communities, habitats, species and life cycles

Funder: UK Research and InnovationProject code: NE/H017305/1
Funded under: NERC Funder Contribution: 419,646 GBP
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Impacts of ocean acidification on key benthic ecosystems, communities, habitats, species and life cycles

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The average acidity (pH) of the world's oceans has been stable for the last 25 million years. However, the oceans are now absorbing so much man made CO2 from the atmosphere that measurable changes in seawater pH and carbonate chemistry can be seen. It is predicted that this could affect the basic biological functions of many marine organisms. This in turn could have implications for the survival of populations and communities, as well as the maintenance of biodiversity and ecosystem function. In the seas around the UK, the habitats that make up the seafloor, along with the animals associated with them, play a crucial role in maintaining a healthy and productive marine ecosystem. This is important considering 40% of the world's population lives within 100 km of the coast and many of these people depend on coastal systems for food, economic prosperity and well-being. Given that coastal habitats also harbour incredibly high levels of biodiversity, any environmental change that affects these important ecosystems could have substantial environmental and economical impacts. During several recent international meetings scientific experts have concluded that new research is urgently needed. In particular we need long-term studies that determine: which organisms are likely to be tolerant to high CO2 and which are vulnerable; whether organisms will have time to adapt or acclimatise to this rapid environmental change; and how the interactions between individuals that determine ecosystem structure will be affected. This current lack of understanding is a major problem as ocean acidification is a rapidly evolving management issue and, with an insufficient knowledge base, policy makers and managers are struggling to formulate effective strategies to sustain and protect the marine environment in the face of ocean acidification. This consortium brings together 25 key researchers from 12 UK organisations to begin to provide the knowledge and understanding so desperately needed. These researchers share a unified vision to quantify, predict and communicate the impact of ocean acidification on biodiversity and ecosystem functioning in coastal habitats. They will use laboratory experiments to determine the ways in which ocean acidification will change key physiological processes, organism behaviour, animal interactions, biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. The understanding gained will be used to build and run conceptual, statistical and numerical models which will predict the impact of future ocean pH scenarios on the biodiversity and function of coastal ecosystems. The consortium will also act as a focal point for UK ocean acidification research promoting communication between many different interested parties; UK and international scientists, policy makers, environmental managers, fisherman, conservationists, the media, students and the general public.

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