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Our team’s common research interests lie within benthic ecology, from basic science to more applied conservation and management issues. We are in particular interested in disturbance ecology and threats to biodiversity, and its ecological consequences. Our research focuses on the ecology of benthic communities in soft-sediment habitats and here different aspects of our research are briefly presented:





General research interests
Disturbance ecology
Biodiversity and ecosystem function
Ocean acidification
Invasive species
Population ecology of benthic fish
Metacommunity ecology
Food-web interactions



General research interests

Marine environments are under increasing threat from broad-scale degradation and biodiversity loss. Although the impacts of many large-scale disturbances are well studied, our knowledge of how this affects ecosystem multifunctionality is limited. Therefore we are broadly interested in exploring the value of biodiversity and the mechanisms important for its maintenance.

To address these questions, we use a combination of field sampling, manipulative field experiments (SCUBA diving), laboratory experiments and analysis of long-term monitoring data. We conduct most of our costal research at Tvärminne Zoological Station, Finland where we have access to a vast range of different habitats. Our open sea research spans the entire Baltic Sea, which provides an ideal model system, as it has a natural north-south gradient in biodiversity, while simultaneously being subject to massive human pressure (eutrophication, hypoxia, pollution, over fishing).


Disturbance ecology


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Benthic communities are affected by disturbances that vary in spatial and temporal extent, but little information is available on the scale-dependence of benthic recovery processes. We thus lack in our understanding of system recovery potential, necessary for predicting ecosystem resilience. We are therefore investigating scale-dependent recovery and colonisation processes following disturbance in soft-sediment environments. We integrate process-oriented experimentation in coastal waters with analysis of existing monitoring data available for the entire open sea areas of the Baltic Sea. Information from the experiments will also be used to guide targeted sampling of dynamic spatio-temporal mosaics of hypoxic events in coastal archipelago waters, and less dynamic open sea areas, subject to large-scale hypoxia/anoxia. Thus, we test how predictions based on smaller-scale experiments may be applied to benthic recovery dynamics at scales relevant to most environmental problems, such as eutrophication and hypoxia.



Biodiversity and ecosystem function

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Rapid changes in biodiversity are occurring globally, as a consequence of anthropogenic disturbance. This has raised concerns, as biodiversity is known to significantly contribute to ecosystem functions and services. Marine benthic communities participate in important functions provided by soft-sedimentary ecosystems, such as secondary biomass production and sediment nutrient cycling. Yet, there are limited information about what is lost in terms of ecosystem functioning if benthic communities are harmed. Through manipulating the benthic community in situ, we assess how changes in benthic functional characteristics affect the multifunctionality of coastal sedimentary ecosystems. How the functional diversity and health of benthic communities affects sediment nutrient cycling and ecosystem function under different levels of hypoxic disturbance is also explored in different sub-basins of the open Baltic Sea. Research collaborators are members of the BONUS+ project HYPER, Dr. Kaarina Lukkari and Dr. Kari Lehtonen at the Marine Research Centre, Finnish Environment Institute, as well as Prof. Simon Thrush, Dr. Judi Hewitt and Dr. Conrad Pilditch, NIWA, New Zealand.


Ocean acidification

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Rising level of CO2 in the atmosphere is making the oceans more acidic: by the year 2100 it is estimated that oceanic pH will be 0.5 units lower than at present, equivalent to a 3 times increase in acidity. Climate-related changes in pH are predicted to be even faster in the Baltic Sea, and ecosystem-wide effects of this change are predicted to be far-reaching. However, ocean acidification research in the Baltic Sea area is still relatively scarce. It s therefore essential to develop an understanding of the effects of acidification on the health, survival and function of benthic communities in the northern Baltic Sea, especially on key species of soft-bottom ecosystems, like the bivalve Macoma balthica. Questions on how climate change will affect Baltic Sea benthic communities, and why it matters in a system already affected by multiple stressors, are addressed through a combination of experimental studies and analyses of long-term data and monitoring samples. This research is done in collaboration with Dr. Sam Dupont at the Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, University of Gothenburg, Kristineberg.

Invasive species

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Invasive species are considered to be a major threat to both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems worldwide due to their negative effects on biodiversity, ecosystem functioning and species interactions. Recently also positive effects have been recognized. The Baltic Sea is very vulnerable to species invasions due to the naturally low species and functional diversity, which leaves available niches for the invaders. The spionid polychaete Marenzelleria spp. is a species native to the northeastern coast of North America. The species was introduced to the Baltic Sea via ballast water in ships. Although the species is now found virtually everywhere in the Baltic, with potential for significant impacts on the surrounding benthic communities, information on the basic biology and ecology of the species itself in its new environment is still not available. The aim of this study is to provide understanding of the ecology and ecosystem effects of Marenzelleria spp. in the Baltic Sea. Being able to quantify the effect of invasive species in a spatially explicit manner is the necessary basis for any applied management decisions. This research is done in collaboration with Erik Kristensen and Cintia Quintana at the University of Southern Denmark, Gary Banta at Roskilde University, Stefan Forster, Ralf Bastrop and Judith Renz at the University of Rostock, Maria Granberg at the Norwegian Polar Institute in Tromsø, Jonas Gunnarsson and Caroline Raymond at Stockholm University, Karin Wiberg and Sarah Josefsson at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, and Marianne Zandersen at Aarhus University.



Population ecology of benthic fish

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European founder (Platichthys flesus (L.)) is the most widely distributed flatfish species in the Baltic Sea. At the south coast of Finland, flounder lives at the edge of its distributional range, determined by seawater salinity. Although flounder constitutes marginal populations, it still has been one of the main marine coastal species in this area. Over the past decade the Finnish commercial flounder landings have more or less collapsed. Similarly, according to local fishermen at the Finnish coast of western Gulf of Finland, flounder has decreased, which is further supported by anecdotal evidence from the recreational fishery. No studies to date have comprehensively examined the potential bottlenecks of recruitment and mechanisms for population maintenance in the area. Revealing the mechanisms behind the variability in these marginal flatfish populations provides understanding and explanations for the recent decline in the flounder populations in the Finnish coastal waters. Research collaboration is done with an international group of ecologists and fisheries scientists: Prof. Leif Phil from Gothenburg University, Dr. Håkan Wennhage from the Department of Aquatic Resources, Lysekil, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Dr. Antti Lappalainen, Dr. Eero Aro and Dr. Meri Kallasvuo from Finnish Game and Fisheries Research Institute, Dr. Mats Westerbom at Finnish Forest and Park Service and Kaj Ådjers at the Fisheries Agency, Government of Åland.



Metacommunity ecology

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We apply metacommunity ecology to interpret spatial patterns in the marine benthos. While environmental heterogeneity and niche requirements of species are important, dispersal is a prerequisite that can also impact the spatial organization of communities across scale (spatial and temporal). In order to understand how benthic communities are connected, we have performed manipulative field experiments to investigate in situ dispersal of benthic invertebrates. We are especially interested in how dispersal processes and different types of disturbances affect patterns of diversity, which are both important in predicting recovery and resilience of ecosystems. We use existing data from the national inventory program (VELMU) to identify mechanisms driving patterns of diversity. Such information is vital in, for example, the planning of effective networks of marine reserves. Research collaborators are Dr. Jani Heino at the Large-Scale Ecology Lab, Finnish Environment Institute, Oulu, Dr. Mats Westerbom at Natural Heritage Services, Finnish Forest and Park Service, and Prof. Markku Viitasalo at the Marine Research Centre, Finnish Environment Institute.



Food-web interactions

The role of food in the succession of benthic marine communities has received relatively little attention. We utilise stable isotope analysis in combination with analysis of community dynamics to address the role of resource utilisation and trophic structure in the resilience and recovery of marine benthic communities, with special emphasis on the interactions between different magnitudes of hypoxic disturbance and eutrophication-induced changes in primary production. We integrate field experiments and targeted field sampling in relation to gradients of hypoxic disturbance, with stable isotope analysis of historical samples from long-term monitoring of Baltic Sea benthic communities.

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