Impacts of climate change and fisheries on the Celtic Sea ecosystem
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Climate change and fisheries have affected marine environments worldwide leading to impacts on ecosystem structure and functioning. However there is clear evidence of spatial variability in the response of these impacts both within and among marine ecosystems. Although several studies have tried to explain the effect of these impacts on marine food webs, it is unclear how they interact, and how they may affect marine ecosystems remains an important unanswered question. This suggests the urgent need for multiple-trophic level and ecosystem-based management approaches to account for both fisheries and climate change impacts at ocean basins across the globe. Marine apex predators, such as seabirds, are vulnerable to the effects of both climate and fishing impacts, and can be used as reliable and sensitive bio-indicators of the status of the marine ecosystem. The Celtic Sea ecosystem is a productive shelf region in the Northeast Atlantic. It is characterized by high fish and invertebrate biodiversity. In addition, internationally important numbers of seabirds, such as Northern gannet Morus bassanus (L.), Manx shearwater Puffinus puffinus (B.), Common guillemot Uria aalge (P.) and Black-legged kittiwake Rissa tridactyla (L.), breed along the Celtic Sea coasts. In recent years, fisheries from across Europe have intensively exploited the Celtic Sea, leading to changes in stock structure. Moreover, the increase in annual average Sea Surface Temperature by 0.67 oC over the past two decades has altered the composition of plankton communities. These impacts, independently and in tandem, are likely to have had dramatic effects upon the Celtic Sea food web emphasizing the need to enhance our understanding of this important marine ecosystem. In this thesis the effects of climate change and fisheries on the Celtic Sea pelagic food web are evaluated, in particular focussing on the response of seabird populations. This is in part because of recent declines in the breeding success of many seabird colonies in the northeast Atlantic, particularly around the North Sea. Long-term data across four trophic levels (phytoplankton, zooplankton, mid-trophic level fish and seabirds) and different modelling approaches are used to determine factors influencing seabird productivity at different geographical scales. First, I review the direct and indirect effects of climate change and fisheries upon marine ecosystems, as well as their impacts upon marine birds. Second, I use data collected during 1986-2007 from a single seabird colony, across four trophic levels, to investigate long-term direct and indirect climate effects. The results suggest only a weak climate signal in the Celtic Sea, and this is only evident between mid-trophic level fish and certain species of seabird. Third, a similar multi-trophic level approach across three nearby regions in the southwest UK (Irish Sea, Celtic Sea, and English Channel) reveal no evidence of a bottom-up signal during the period 1991-2007. These findings are in contrast with the nearby North Sea region, where a strong bottom-up effect was found to affect seabird populations, highlighting the importance of regional-based studies across multiple trophic levels. Finally, to provide a more complete picture of the Celtic Sea, and how it might respond to changes in fisheries management and climatic variation, I use the complex tropho-dynamic ecosystem model Ecopath with Ecosim. The main focus is on how seabird biomass changes in response to the application of different fisheries regimes likely to be implemented under forthcoming reforms to the Common Fisheries Policy (e.g. the application of quotas and discard bans), as well as future climate change scenarios, in order to provide guideline support for resource management and seabird conservation in the Celtic Sea. The results suggest that some seabird guilds (gulls and some other scavengers) may be negatively affected by a reduction in discards, while other species (offshore divers) will benefit from a decrease in the fishing of pelagic fish species. Climate change is likely to have a negative impact across all trophic levels with a strong negative impact upon seabird populations. Therefore seabirds are likely to show species-specific responses to both climate variation (bottom-up effect) and changes in fishing practices, in particular our findings suggest that for some species climate may outweigh the fisheries impacts even when fisheries pressure is reduced by 50%. In summary, this study suggests that despite the generally negative impact of climate described for some regions in the Northeast Atlantic, the Celtic Sea ecosystem seems to be more resilient. However, both climate and fisheries and the interactions between these factors should be taken into account in the formulation of future management plans for the Celtic Sea ecosystem. The use of multiple-trophic level and ecosystem-based approaches over multiple spatial and temporal scales has helped to elucidate possible trophic mechanisms that are the response to future fishing and climate impacts in the Celtic Sea. The results of this study could have implications for both management plans and conservation policy.
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