Investigating the physical and ecological drivers of change in a coastal ecosystem : from individual- to poulation-scale impacts
Ross, Kathryn Elizabeth
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Coastal ecosystems are undergoing unprecedented rates of environmental change. Many of these changes are anthropogenically-driven and linked to long-term, climate-related phenomena. This thesis focusses on ecological change in soft sediment intertidal habitats. One of the largest harbours in Europe, Poole Harbour, is used as a case study. It contains a variety of important habitats including intertidal mudflat and non-tidal saline lagoon. The two main themes of the thesis are 1) assessing the physical and ecological factors that determine benthic invertebrate abundance, distribution and community structure, which is examined at the scale of the whole harbour, and at the scale of individual habitats: an intertidal mudflat and a saline lagoon; and 2) predicting the response of an overwintering shorebird population, the pied avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta), to future environmental changes, such as sea-level rise and habitat loss. This is achieved by development of an individual-based model (IBM) and consideration of the species’ unique foraging behaviour. This study contributes to the understanding of the factors structuring soft sediment benthic communities, including the use of data from fine-scale hydrodynamic models. It offers a unique comparison of the spatial and temporal variables driving community structure of a saline lagoon and an intertidal mudflat. It also provides insight into the foraging ecology of the pied avocet at a level of detail that has not previously been considered, including a comparison of foraging behaviour in a tidal and non-tidal habitat, the importance of social foraging, and the novel application of an IBM to this species.