Marine Ecology / Marine Foodwebs
Ecology is the scientific study of the relationships between different living organisms and between those organisms and their environment. This has long been a fertile field of scientific research and is becoming increasingly important for addressing many serious global issues such as food security, water security and climate change.
Mylnefield Isotope Signatures works with researchers across the world to understand these critical issues. For example, Professor Wolfram Meier-Augenstein and Dr Helen Kemp were recently involved in a major research collaboration of internationally recognised marine biology institutes, including the Centre Scientifique de Monaco, the Marine Environment Research Centre in La Spezia, the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in France and the University of Plymouth Marine Biology and Ecology Research Centre. The aim of the research was to understand the different food sources of certain species of marine corals.
Why was this research so important and how did stable isotope analysis help?
A fundamental aspect of studying ecology and ecosystems is to understand how various nutrients flow through those systems. In many cases a particular organism will obtain identical nutrients from several different sources. However, in many cases the stable isotope profiles of those nutrient sources are different, providing researchers with a natural tag or label for following their movement through the environment.
In turn, studying and understanding ecosystems is vital to solving those problems of food security, water security and climate change.
For example, many of the properties of soils are critically dependent on the complex ecosystems that they support; systems that include insects, fungi, worms and numerous types of microorganism. A healthy soil, supporting a strong and flourishing ecosystem will be more productive for farming, better able to tolerate extremes of weather and better able to retain organic matter, thus providing an invaluable carbon sink.
In aquatic environments, corals can act as indicator organism for many factors affecting environmental health including pollution, change in global temperature, increase in atmospheric CO2, increase in ultraviolet radiation due to ozone depletion and eutrophication due to fertiliser or sewage run-off. As they grow, corals also act as a living record of the marine environment around them - which in turn is affected by changes in climate. Studying coral helps scientists to reconstruct past climatic conditions, which provides valuable data for modelling present day climate change.