Study identifies nine research priorities to better understand NZ’s vast marine area



New Zealand’s coastline spans a distance greater than from the south pole to the north pole.
from http://www.shutterstock.com, CC BY-ND

Rebecca Jarvis, Auckland University of Technology and Tim Young, Auckland University of Technology

The islands of New Zealand are only the visible part of a much larger submerged continent, known as Te Riu a Māui or Zealandia. Most of New Zealand’s sovereign territory, around 96%, is under water – and this means that the health of the ocean is of paramount importance.

Most of the Zealandia continent is under water.
CC BY-SA

New Zealand’s marine and coastal environments have significant ecological, economic, cultural and social value, but they face many threats. Disjointed legislation and considerable knowledge gaps limit our ability to effectively manage marine resources.

With the UN decade of ocean science starting in 2021, it is essential that we meet the challenges ahead. To do so, we have asked the New Zealand marine science community to collectively identify the areas of research we should focus on.

Ten important science questions were identified within nine research areas. The full list of 90 questions can be found in the paper and policy brief, but these are the nine priority areas:




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No-take marine areas help fishers (and fish) far more than we thought



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1. Food from the ocean

Fisheries and aquaculture are vital sources of food, income and livelihoods, and it is crucial that we ensure these industries are sustainable. Our study has identified the need for new methods to minimise bycatch, mitigate environmental impacts and better understand the influence of commercial interests in fishers’ ability to adequately conserve and manage marine environments.

2. Biosecurity

The number of marine pests has increased by 10% since 2009, and questions remain around how we can best protect our natural and cultural marine heritage. Future directions include the development of new techniques to improve the early detection of invasive species, and new tools to identify where they came from, and when they arrived in New Zealand waters.

3. Climate change

Climate change already has wide ranging impacts on our coasts and oceans. We need research to better understand how climate change will affect different marine species, how food webs might respond to future change, and how ocean currents around New Zealand might be affected.

Climate change already affects marine species and food webs.
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4. Marine reserves and protected areas

Marine protected areas are widely recognised as important tools for marine conservation and fisheries management. But less than 1% of New Zealand’s waters is protected to date. Future directions include research to identify where and how we should be implementing more protected areas, whether different models (including protection of customary fisheries and temporary fishing closures) could be as effective, and how we might integrate New Zealand’s marine protection into a wider Pacific network.




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5. Ecosystems and biodiversity

While we know about 15,000 marine species, there may be as many as 65,000 in New Zealand. On average, seven new species are identified every two weeks, and there is much we do not know about our oceans. We need research to understand how we can best identify the current baseline of biodiversity across New Zealand’s different marine habitats, predict marine tipping points and restore degraded ocean floor habitats.

6. Policy and decision making

New Zealand’s policy landscape is complicated, at times contradictory, and we need an approach to marine management that better connects science, decision making and action. We also need to understand how to navigate power in decision making across diverse interests to advance an integrated ocean policy.

7. Marine guardianship

Marine guardianship, or kaitiakitanga, means individual and collective stewardship to protect the environment, while safeguarding marine resources for future generations. Our research found that citizen science can help maximise observations of change and connect New Zealanders with their marine heritage. It can also improve our understanding of how we can achieve a partnership between Western and indigenous science, mātauranga Māori.

8. Coastal and ocean processes

New Zealand’s coasts span a distance greater than from the south pole to the north pole. Erosion and deposition of land-based sediments into our seas has many impacts and affects ocean productivity, habitat structure, nutrient cycling and the composition of the seabed.

Future research should focus on how increased sedimentation affects the behaviour and survival of species at offshore sites and on better methods to measure physical, chemical and biological processes with higher accuracy to understand how long-term changes in the ocean might influence New Zealand’s marine ecosystems.

9. Other anthropogenic factors

Our study identified a range of other human threats that need more focused investigation, including agriculture, forestry mining and urban development.
We need more research into the relative effects of different land-use types on coastal water quality to establishing the combined effects of multiple contaminants (pesticides, pharmaceuticals, etc) on marine organisms and ecosystems. Pollution with microplastics and other marine debris is another major issue.

We hope this horizon scan will drive the development of new research areas, complement ongoing science initiatives, encourage collaboration and guide interdisciplinary teams. The questions the New Zealand marine science community identified as most important will help us fill existing knowledge gaps and make greater contributions to marine science, conservation, sustainable use, policy and management.The Conversation

Rebecca Jarvis, Research Fellow, Auckland University of Technology and Tim Young, Marine Scientist, Auckland University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How to set conservation priorities in response to climate change



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The grey long-eared bat.
Anton Alberdi / Bat conservation trust, Author provided

Orly Razgour, University of Southampton

Climate change is not something that will just go away. It is already affecting global biodiversity, food security and human migration, and the situation is not expected to improve soon. Rising temperatures and regular extreme events will produce new selection pressures.

These will force many species to move to find more suitable conditions, or adapt. Their ability to respond to these pressures will depend on the rate and extent of change, their ability to adapt to new conditions or their ability to move away. Understanding how biodiversity responds to climate change requires an interdisciplinary perspective, combining ecological, molecular and environmental approaches.

As part of our work to establish a new way of studying biodiversity, we developed an integrated framework to help guide conservation efforts by identifying wildlife populations under threat from climate change. We assign levels of risk to populations based on their exposure to changing climate conditions, their sensitivity due to genetic variation and their ability to alter their range (range shift potential).

How we identify groups that are at risk.
Image from Razgour et al. 2017, Molecular Ecology Resources, Author provided

We show how our approach can be applied in a bat species, the grey long-eared bat, Plecotus austriacus. This bat is one of the rarest mammals in the UK, with a population estimated at less than 1,000 individuals. This bat has also been in decline across Europe. Our previous work showed that its geographic distribution is limited by climate, and current patterns of genetic variation were shaped by changes to the climate. We collected wing biopsy samples for genetic analysis from eight populations in the Iberian Peninsula and two populations in England – the southern and northern edges of their range.

Making models

We used ecological modelling and climate data to look at where changes are likely to be most extreme. And to identify climate-driven genetic adaptations we looked at genomic data. This allowed us to assess which populations are likely to be most sensitive to the effects of climate change. Finally, we use a combination of genetic and geographic data to predict the ability of populations to track suitable conditions in the future.

We show that while conditions in the UK could actually improve for the bat, populations in southern Europe that hold the key to the survival of the species as a whole could be devastated. We identified those likely to be most sensitive to future changes because they do not contain enough climate-adaptive variation.

We also looked at landscape connectivity to show populations that will become isolated in the future. As the suitability of the environmental changes, the movement of individuals will be affected. This will limit the ability of populations to move to more suitable areas, and limit the chances of spreading adaptive genetic variation into populations that are at risk.

A grey long eared bat in France.
Alexandre Roux/ Flickr, CC BY-SA

We identified one population, along the eastern coast of Spain, as being high risk. It will be exposed to high changes in the suitability of the climate, has a low levels of climate-adaptive genetic variation and will experience limited landscape connectivity.

We identified two other populations in the central regions of Spain that are medium-high risk. Despite high exposure to changes and limited connectivity, they have a higher frequency of adaptive genetic variation. In contrast, populations along the Atlantic coast of the peninsula and in the UK are at lower risk from climate change, because they will experience less change in the suitability of the climate, and keep higher landscape connectivity.

Implications for Conservation

Assigning levels of threat to populations can help us to set conservation priorities. Conservation management can focus on rescuing high risk populations. This could be by moving of the population to more suitable areas, or moving individuals with the right adaptive variation into the population.

But such intense management is likely to be costly and irrelevant when considering the number of species likely to be in need of these measures. Alternatively, we could focus on reducing threats to medium and medium-high risk populations by increasing landscape connectivity, this would allow range shifts and the spread of adaptive genetic variation.

Long-lived, slow-reproducing species with smaller population sizes are unlikely to adapt to climate change fast enough by spreading new mutations. They will depend on the spread of adaptive genetic variation caused by the movement of individuals between groups. Therefore a better understanding of movement processes and landscape connectivity is needed for predicting population persistence under climate change.

The ConversationThe framework we developed can be widely applied to other population groups and ecological systems to help decide how to focus conservation efforts to help species survive.

Orly Razgour, Lecturer in Ecology, University of Southampton

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

AUSTRALIA: THE NORTH MARINE REGION


Peter Garrett, Australia’s Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, today released a report on the biodiversity, ecosystems and social and economic uses of the oceans of northern Australia. The report entitled ‘The North Marine Bioregional Profile,’ brings together and explores the available knowledge of the Arafura and eastern Timor Seas, from the Northern Territory/Western Australia border to Torres Strait, including the Gulf of Carpentaria.

The report is expected to assist the government to better understand and protect our marine environment, conserve biodiversity and determine the priorities in our marine conservation efforts. It will also assist industry to better plan and manage their activities in the region.

A Marine Bioregional Plan for the region covered in the report is expected to be handed down in 2010. In total there will be five plans covering Australia’s marine regions.

View The North Marine Bioregional Profile at:
http://www.environment.gov.au/coasts/mbp/north/index.html