From gradients to thresholds; using long-term datasets to explain ecosystem dynamics in the Celtic Sea

Master Thesis subject (30 ECTS)
The MSc project will complement a larger 3-year research project that commences in March 2015 through funding secured from the EPA (Ireland). The full project is described below. The specific focus of the MSc project will be agreed between the student and project supervisor, inline with the student's interests. This project uses existing data resources for Ireland’s marine environment to build empirical understanding of the relationships between pressures and ecosystem structure and functioning and develop tools for the detection of ecological tipping points. This will inform the development and implementation of policy by enabling decision makers to assess current ecosystem status, evaluate ecosystem service trade-offs and predict effectiveness of management interventions. The methods developed for the Celtic Sea ecosystem will be applicable to other systems. The project addresses current knowledge deficits, improves understanding of how ecosystems important to Ireland have changed and provides tools to improve forecasting of future changes. Using the Celtic Sea as a model ecosystem, the study will integrate available long-term datasets and interrogate temporal dynamics in several interdependent functional groups (plankton communities; fish species; seabirds; marine mammals). Novel statistical approaches will be used to identify coherence in dynamics and to detect change points indicative of regime shifts. Causal inference methods will help to identify external drivers of observed change (environment and human impacts). Linkages between oceanic and coastal environments will be explored. Methods for detecting thresholds and candidate early warning indicators will be developed in a simulation modelling framework and validated using empirical data.
An honours degree in Marine Biology, ecology or similar (2.1 or higher). Strong quantitative skills.
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contact person first name: 
Deirdre Brophy
Reference Number: RP-36352