Environmental and trait variability constrain community structure and the biodiversity-productivity relationship [Wed. March 9th]

tidal flats

Biodiversity-ecosystem functioning (BEF) has been a major topic in ecology for years. Nevertheless, there is still considerable debate about which mechanisms drive the relationship. Although most scientists agree on the existence of two underlying mechanisms, complementarity and selection, experimental studies keep producing contrasting results on the relative contributions of the two effects.  My colleagues and I implemented a spatially explicit resource competition model to investigate how the strength of these effects and underlying mechanisms are influenced by trait and environmental variability, resource distribution, and species pool size. I will mainly present the model outcomes and then show a couple of BEF related projects I have been working on recently.


Dorothee Hodapp
Carl von Ossietzky University Oldenburg
Institute for Chemistry and Biology of the Marine Environment (ICBM)
AG Planktology
Schleusenstr.  1
26382 Wilhelmshaven

Synthetic ecology across scales: a follow-up discussion on hurdles to synthesis

This will be a follow-up to a round-table last July on hurdles to synthesis (here). Look forward to an informal discussion on the process of data synthesis, based on a poster presentation by the GoA group at the CERF meeting last November in Portland, OR. A list of questions for discussion will be posted before the round-table on Wed, Jan 6th.

Here’s a link to the full poster (pdf): CERF 2015_Poster_Large

Large-scale ecological syntheses are increasingly important to understanding patterns, processes, and effects at an ecosystem scale.  However, conducting such syntheses requires lots of data which frequently is considered either large data (large-scale, designed to identify broad patterns not mechanisms, often many investigators or organizational) or small data (intensive, designed to identify mechanisms, often single/few investigators).  We explored a case where we integrated large and small data to examine questions across spatial and temporal scales in the Gulf of Alaska, focusing on the impacts of the Exxon Valdez oil spill.  However, for this discussion we will be focusing on the process of synthesizing disparate datasets rather than the actual data themselves.  Key to integrating data for synthetic analyses is the availability of informative documentation of the data.  We used Ecological Metadata Language (EML), online code sharing (GitHub), and an online data repository (DataONE) to document the data we used and to aid in transparency of these analyses.  Some of the hurdles encountered included a wide variety of poorly documented data formats, and fragmented research (through space and time).  Potential solutions include standardization of data formatting and storage across organizations, and better integration of research efforts by large organizations (government agencies, academia, etc.).  We hope to foster a discussion about these hurdles and potential solutions to synthesizing ecological data across scales.

Rachael Blake, NCEAS Post Doc
Jessica Couture, NCEAS Research Associate
Colette Ward, NCEAS Post Doc

Open Science with the Ocean Health Index [Nov 18, 2015]

The Ocean Health Index (OHI) is a framework to assess the state of our marine systems. With a definition of ‘healthy’ that includes sustainable human use, the OHI scores locations from 0-100 depending on how sustainably their waters provide a suite of benefits to people. The OHI framework was first used to assess all coastal nations globally, and was published in 2012 (Halpern et al. 2012, Nature).
Following the 2012 publication, the OHI framework has been used to assess smaller-scale locations, most often states or provinces within a single nation. These smaller spatial scales often have information that better represents local characteristics of marine systems and are also often the scale at which policy decisions are made.
To date, eleven assessments using the OHI framework have been completed at global, national, and regional scales, four of which have been led by independent academic or government groups. To facilitate these assessments, we have developed a suite of open-source tools and instruction. The OHI Toolbox provides structure for data organization and storage, with data processing and goal modeling done in the programming language R and RStudio for reproducibility and repeatability. The OHI Toolbox is stored on the open-source online platform GitHub, which allows for transparency and collaboration and also houses websites to display and communicate methods and results with interactive visualizations. More information can be found at ohi-science.org (currently under a major restructuring and improvement, stay tuned!).
Julia Stewart Lowndes, PhD
Project Scientist, Ocean Health Index
National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS)
University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB)
735 State Street, Suite 300
Santa Barbara, CA, 93101, USA
ohi • ohi-science • github • twitter

A Network Approach to Assessing Social-Ecological Systems in the Cook Islands (Nov 10)

A social-ecological system approach emphasizes the connectivity that exists between natural and human systems. This coupling is evident at a local scale, with people accessing natural resources for food provisioning and economic gain, and ecosystems providing services such as storm protection and food security. At a larger scale, institutions, and regional and global ecological processes influence how systems function. I present findings from research in Colombia and the Solomon Islands where social networks, institutions, livelihoods, and local ecological knowledge were analyzed to determine the factors that influence an individual’s motivation to comply with marine resource management and to withstand large-scale ecological disturbances. Finally, I propose a network-based approach to quantify social-ecological system interaction and assess the drivers of resilience in the Cook Islands.

Dr. Jaime Matera
Anthropology Program
California State University Channel Islands

Matera Pic

When does hypoxia affect management performance of fisheries? A MSE of Dungeness crab fisheries in Hood Canal, WA

Hypoxia [dissolved oxygen (DO) < 2 mg/L] is one of the key threats to some of the most productive regions of the marine environment (e.g., estuaries). Although mortality can occur, mobile organisms have the potential to avoid the most severe low oxygen conditions, but suffer ecologically significant indirect and sublethal impacts as a result. In Washington State, USA, a fjord estuary of the Puget Sound marine ecosystem, known as Hood Canal (110 km), regularly experiences seasonal hypoxia. My dissertation addresses several important gaps in the current knowledge pertaining to the non-lethal biological effects of hypoxia on the mobile benthic and pelagic species of Hood Canal – for the sake of time and your sanity, I’ll be focusing on the benthos. Using acoustic telemetry, I quantified movement patterns and distributional shifts of Dungeness crab (Metacarcinus magister), an abundant and widely distributed species. Although highly mobile, Dungeness crab displayed more localized, rather than large-scale, directional movement relative to hypoxia. More specifically, the tagged crabs showed significant distributional shifts towards shallower waters. As one of the most important fisheries in Puget Sound, I wanted to then investigate the generalized relationship between hypoxia and the Dungeness crab harvest (3-S) management strategy. Inferred by the shoaling behavior from the field, an age-structured population model was constructed to test several hypoxia-scenarios with other stressors, including harvest, illegal crab fishing, and incidental capture mortality. It was found that the 3-S management strategy is most sensitive to the influence of hypoxia when other sources of demographic restrictions are considered, underscoring the uncertainty associated with a data-poor species under multiple anthropogenic and environmental stressors.

FieldWork_2010_HoodCanal Tagged_Crab


Halley E. Froehlich, Ph.D. (Halley is the untagged one on the left)

Postdoctoral Researcher

National Center for Ecological Analysis & Synthesis
University of California, Santa Barbara



IPCC, Oceans and a 2°C warming target

Next month, the global science community will come together ahead of the COP21 of the UNFCCC in December to discuss the key issues concerning climate change. Discussion will include a focus on the ocean. The ocean is critical to life on Earth through its regulation of atmospheric gases, stabilisation of planetary heat, and provision of food and resources to well over 4 billion people worldwide. I will start with a peek at the processes for the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the IPCC, including the roles of the authors, editors and expert reviewers, coordination across chapters and working groups and assessment of the literature. AR5 included a number of oceans chapters for the first time, which identified serious risks to marine ecosystems, fisheries, and coastal livelihoods. Focusing on these, I’ll discuss the key findings, updating with recent knowledge, with particular reference to the 2°C global warming target.

Elvira Poloczanska
CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere Flagship, Brisbane, Australia
Global Change Institute, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia

CSIRO Hobart -    - photo by Bruce Miller 4/2008

CSIRO Hobart – – photo by Bruce Miller 4/2008


Extending risk and cumulative impacts assessment to include life stage considerations

Roundtable for next week will be presented by Emma Hodgson, a graduate student in the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington, Seattle.


Marine species are experiencing a suite of novel stressors from anthropogenic activities that have impacts at multiple scales. Ecological risk assessment is commonly used to judge the consequence of novel stressors to species, but usually without consideration of the life history of organisms. Most marine species vary throughout their life history in their spatio-temporal distributions in the water column, their responses to external pressures, and their level of contribution to the population overall. Better incorporating our understanding of those differences between life stages provides an opportunity to advance our understanding of the consequences of stress at the population level. This work advances approaches to ecological risk assessment and cumulative impacts assessment by explicitly incorporating life stage exposure, sensitivity, and importance to population growth rate.

Emma in the wild

Emma in the wild