Much research has focused on understanding relationships between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning and stability. It has been shown that loss of species can affect ecosystem processes but we still cannot draw generalities regarding these effects that transcend experimental systems. This limits application of our knowledge for conservation and management requirements. Most previous work has only manipulated species diversity and thus could not assess the strength of diversity relative to other known drivers of ecosystem functioning. My research simulates the loss of species and tests for interactions among effects of loss of species and other factors, such as variable environmental conditions or habitat structure, to test the context dependency of results.
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Anthropogenic stresses on ecosystems rarely occur in isolation yet we still understand very little about the effects of multiple stresses on the diversity of communities and how this relates to ecosystem functioning and services. One of my current projects is quantifying the effects of anthropogenically- increased nutrient loads on the diversity and functioning of coastal ecosystems. The impact of sewage outfalls on benthic communities is being assessed using a rigorous sampling programme. The combined and interactive effects of species loss and nutrient enrichment on the diversity, functioning and stability of rocky shores are being examined through a series of experimental manipulations. These findings will be highly relevant for the implementation of several EU Directives (e.g., Habitats, Water Framework and Marine Strategy Framework Directives).
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I'm also interested in the community dynamics of intertidal communities. Experimental manipulation is required to identify key mechanisms that drive observed patterns and that is the focus of much of my research. A primary aim is identification and characterization of direct and indirect interactions among benthic species on rocky shores. The importance of underlying mechanisms may vary with physical attributes of the habitat. For example, biotic processes, such as recruitment, competition or predation may interact with abiotic processes, such as shore exposure, desiccation or habitat structure. Rocky shores are highly tractable and are excellent model systems for testing basic ecological theory, understanding the consequences of specie loss and for examining predicted climate change scenarios.
Current projects include:
EURONADS - Phenology of key speices in rocky intertidal habitats: patellid limpets in changing world (co-ordinated by Dr. Louise Firth at NUI Galway)
Royal Society: Context-dependency of effects of loss of species in real ecosystems (with Ian Donohue at Trinity College, Dublin).
Northern Ireland Environment Agency: Modiolus Restoration II (click here for preceding Modiolus project)
Zen II - Zostera Experimental Network (click here for preceding Zen project)
Check out collaborator Dan Smale's kelp video here
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