Marine Alliance for Science and Technology for Scotland

Marine Ecosystem Modelling

Marine Ecosystem Modelling

The Marine Science Coordination Committee (MSCC) and MASTS are working with ecosystem modellers across the UK to increase the impact of ecosystem models on policy development and management.

Ecosystem models are central to delivering marine ecosystem-based management as specified by the Marine Strategy Framework Directive and Common Fisheries  Policy. While the UK has leading capability in ecosystem modelling, this capability is widely dispersed across the community in different organisations using different types of ecosystem models for different purposes and is isolated from decision-makers.

MSCC and MASTS have brought together advisors, assessors, biologists, socio-economists, modellers, policymakers, and funders, to understand how to maximise the impact of UK ecosystem modelling. This involved building a shared understanding about ecosystem models, improving communication, and developing a roadmap for the future of UK ecosystem modelling.

How can ecosystem models be used to support marine management and policy? Find out more.

The UK is a leader in marine ecosystem modelling, and has developed many classes of marine ecosystem models from those representing low trophic levels to size-based approaches to models of the whole food web. The UK has a key role in the development and application of ecosystem models, but also draws on experience from the international scientific community.

There are a limited number of model types, and various models within each type that can be applied to ecosystem problems, so the challenge is the application of these methods to address specific management questions.

Parameterisation and validation of large complex ecosystem models often relies on limited data sets, so there is a challenge to make best use of existing data. To encompass a wide range of both physical and biological processes, models often need to be coupled, which is usually a technical challenge and may affect the mechanics of the individual components. The UK is a leading proponent of the application of ecosystem models, the coupling of models, and development of ensemble approaches.

Figure: Components that can be included in ecosystem models and potential interactions (Copyright, Beth Fulton, CSIRO, Australia).

Specific examples of the application of ecosystem models in support of policy include forecasting water quality, eutrophication in the North Sea, and Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) and the Large Fish Indicator (LFI).

Forecasting water quality:operational forecasting and monitoring of water quality enables timely interventions by both stakeholders and the agencies responsible for public health. The AlgaRisk monitoring tool is a prototype that provided warnings of algae blooms to support the statutory obligations of the Environment Agency. This tool combines data from an operational physical-biological coastal model with satellite observations, and the results are available through an internet portal where users can visualise both model output and observations. A demonstration AlgaRisk service was implemented in 2008 to support the European Union Bathing Waters Directive.

Eutrophication in the North Sea: following the first assessment of eutrophication for OSPAR, the Netherlands and Germany identified eutrophication problem areas in their marine waters and alleged that inputs of nitrogen from the UK made a significant contribution. The OSPAR Eutrophication Committee tasked the Intersessional Correspondence Group for Ecosystem Modelling (ICG-EMO) to undertake modelling based on OSPAR riverine nutrient reduction scenarios and trans-boundary nutrient transport. This work involved the application of seven ecosystem models by different institutes for pre-defined scenarios, using the same forcing, validation data, methods, and post-processing procedures. The resulting multi-model ensemble was used to assess uncertainty, which substantially enhanced the overall credibility of the results reported to the OSPAR Eutrophication Committee. Their subsequent influence on OSPAR decision making was far greater than would have been achieved by one national source. This modelling work was also used as supporting evidence in a case where the UK successfully defended against the European Commission in the European Court of Justice (Case C-390/07).

Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) and the Large Fish Indicator (LFI):ecosystem models are less widely used in European fisheries management, but have been adopted to provide advice on the prospects for meeting single-species management targets simultaneously and assessing the trade-offs between meeting targets for fisheries management and conservation. For example, example, three different models have been used to support advice on whether CFP targets for fishes in the North Sea would be sufficient to meet a proposed target for MSFD. Even though the rationale underlying the two targets is very different, they were indeed compatible with each other within the uncertainty of the combined model data.

While the UK has leading capability in ecosystem modelling, this capability is widely dispersed across the community in different member organisations using different types of ecosystem models for different purposes. Often groups are quite isolated from the policy makers that need model-derived products and this is one of the barriers to maximising the utility of UK ecosystem models in policy.

It is important to produce the right information from models to inform policy and this can only work where there is good dialogue between policy makers and modellers. Policy makers need to have confidence in model-derived products and be provided with information about the uncertainty around predictions, especially where policy and regulatory decisions could be subject to legal challenge.

Modellers need to improve the visibility of models and access to model-derived products, so that they become more widely used, and the methods are transparent. Finally, there is need for targeted development of ecosystem models to address specific issues including scales of applicability, validation, uncertainty, and data assimilation.

Figure: The interactions between marine organisms, their physical environment, and human pressures. Ecosystem models support the provision of advice on the conservation and exploitation of the marine environment. Crown Copyright, creasted as part of the Fizzyfish Project (MF1228).

The UK is a leader in marine ecosystem modelling, and has developed many classes of ecosystem models. This is a very complex landscape, so simple summaries of 14 different UK shelf ecosystem and community models have been produced. These include a brief summary of the model, description of validated models, existing and potential new uses, modelling issues, key references and point of contact.

Below are links to single page descriptions of featured models:

  • Atlantis – summary and web
  • Coupled Community Size-Spectrum Model (CCSSM) – summary
  • Ecopath with Ecosim – summary and web
  • European Regional Seas Ecosystem Model (ERSEM) – summary and web
  • Fish community size-resolved model (FCSRM) – summary
  • Fishsums – summary and web
  • GETM-ERSEM-BFM – summary and web 
  • Length-based Multispecies Analysis by Numerical Simulation (LeMANS) – summary
  • NEMO MEDUSA – summary and publication
  • Multispecies Size Spectrum Ecological Modelling in R (MIZER) – summary and web
  • Population-Dynamical Matching Model (PDMM) – summary and book
  • Species Size Spectrun Model (SSSM) – summary and more
  • Strathclyde End-to-End Model (StrathE2E) – summary and web
  • Strathclyde Spatial Population Dynamics Model (StrathSPACE) – summary

Contact details for each model can be found in the summary documents.

The UK marine ecosystem modelling community is working with the MSCC and MASTS to develop a five year strategy for ecosystem modelling. To realise the potential of UK ecosystem modelling, we have the following vision:

“To deliver world-class ecosystem modelling that supports our understanding, use, and management of the marine environment through impact on policy and regulatory decision making.”

To achieve this vision, the UK ecosystem modelling community needs to adopt 5 core principles:

  1. Maximise policy and regulatory impact – ensure policy makers know where and how ecosystem models can be used, and maximise the impact of existing models on policy and regulatory decisions.
  2. Build multidisciplinary communities – build multidisciplinary communities of policy makers, observationalists, modellers, data scientists, and socio-economists. These will speak a common language, have regular contact, share new policy requirements, and co-deliver ecosystem modelling.
  3. Deliver novel policy-relevant science through ecosystem modelling – maintain the UK at the forefront of ecosystem model development, horizon scan new science to maximise pull through of new techniques, and put in place programmes to fill existing knowledge gaps that could be addressed using models.
  4. Ensure quality and availability of model-derived products – define and employ rigorous quality standards to satisfy legal challenge in policy and regulatory decisions, and ensure that model-derived products are available and robust.
  5. Produce people with the right skills – assess existing UK ecosystem-modelling capacity and develop training programmes for new personnel with the right skills to ensure that the utility of ecosystem modelling is optimised in future.

Image: ERSEM schematic

This is being led by Dr Kieran Hyder at the Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science (CEFAS) and Prof David Paterson at the University of St Andrews

This work has received support from DEFRA (ME5428) and CEFAS (Seedcorn DP348).

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