Doctoral Programme on Marine Ecosystem Health and Conservation
 The MARES Researchers and their Research
Observing, modelling and testing trade-offs in management options of multiple stressors against both experimental and real world marine systems
PhD Code: MARES_19_2010:
  • Host institute 1: P3 - University of Bologna
  • Host institute 2: P21 - The Nature Conservancy (Global Marine Team)
Research fields:
  • T6 - Habitat loss, urban development, coastal infrastructures and Marine Spatial Planning
  • Laura Airoldi
  • Michael W Beck
  • Georges Allaert
  • Magda Vincx
Contact Person and email: Laura Airoldi -

Subject description
On a European scale, a recent report from the European Environment Agency (EEA) EEA 2009) warns that most species and habitats across the continent are in poor condition and that the risk of extinction continues to rise. Politically, the European Union is failing to meet the pledge to halt biodiversity loss by 2010. The challenges are even greater in the marine environment. The coastal seas are changing under the pressure from a growing human population, and conversion of shoreline habitat to urban development. Over the centuries, marine environments and seascapes have been globally altered by land reclamation, coastal development, offshore infrastructure, overfishing, pollution and species invasions (Lotze et al. 2006, Airoldi & Beck 2007). Marine management has focused on one use or exploitation at a time (Beaumont et al., 2007) instead of looking at their management more holistically. The shortfalls of this approach are becoming evident, with only one per cent of world’s oceans under protection - far behind the 10 percent target promised for 2010- and projected trends suggesting that human demand will far exceed available resources under the current piecemeal management approaches (Toropova et al. 2010). There is an imperative ecological and socio-economic urgency to develop management plans for marine areas that combine conservation needs and sustainable use. Conservation issues and a proper ecosystem functioning are often presented one aspect of marine management where e.g. conservation areas are implemented to guarantee the ecosystem functioning. To reach sustainability, however, it is necessary to understand how natural systems affected by multiple stressors can respond to management interventions that aim to achieve multiple goals. A recent synthesis has suggested that in natural systems the cumulative impact from several stressors tends to result in synergistic and antagonistic effects rather that additive ones, and that synergies double whenever more than two stressors are considered, which is the most frequent scenario (Crain et al. 2008). This has important management implications; where multiple stressors have additive effects their management is relatively straightforward and consistent with past approaches. Whenever stressors have synergistic or antagonistic interactions with other stressors, their management becomes more challenging and requires a much more thorough understanding of the interaction. This scientific knowledge is fundamental to identify management approaches that can combine the conservation of marine biodiversity and the flow of ecosystem goods and services with a sustainable use of marine resources. It also sets the necessary scientific backgound to inform and guide future development in the context of Marine Spatial Planning, by providing information on trade-offs in the management of marine spaces to simultaneously achieve ecological, economic and social goals.
Objectives and work programme.The main objectives of the proposed MARES PhD project, for which The University of Bologna, The Nature Conservancy and Ghent University will join their complementary expertises and infrastructure are: 1) to develop knowledge and tools aimed at predicting the interactions among different stressors and how they affect the trade-offs and management among resource uses and 2) to translate this information into coordinated protocols to guide informed allocation of marine spaces to meet ecological, economic and social goals in the context of Marine Spatial Planning.
The work will comprise three phases. In the first phase the candidate will review, consolidate and analyse (though meta-analysis) available information on the known effects of different management interventions on individual or multiple human pressures, while being trained in spatial planning. As we expect the ecosystem to deliver goods and services, also outside marine protected areas, the ‘ecology pillar’ in the sustainability triangle needs to be defined more clearly and a full review of practices and approaches will be done in the first phase.
In the second phase, the results will be used to formulate predictive models for trade-offs in meeting management goals and to derive relevant hypotheses that will be tested experimentally in the field and/or in the laboratory. In the third phase, the candidate will combine the novel scientific knowledge into protocols for achieving multiple management objectives in the context of marine spatial planning that will be subsequently validated by application to real case studies in Ghent, the Gulf of Mexico (USA) or the Adriatic coastline.

Airoldi, L. & Beck, M.W. 2007. Loss, status and trends for coastal marine habitats of Europe. Oceanography and Marine Biology: an Annual Review 45, 345-405.
Crain, C. M., Kroeker, K. & Halpern, B. S. (2008) Interactive and cumulative effects of multiple human stressors in marine systems. Ecology Letters, 11, 1304-1315.
EEA 2009. Progress Towards the European 2010 Biodiversity Target. EEA Report No 4/2009, pp 56
Lotze, H.K., Lenihan, H.S., Bourque, B.J., Bradbury, R.H., Cooke, R.G., Kay, M.C., Kidwell, S.M., Kirby, M.X., Peterson, C.H. & Jackson, J.B.C. 2006. Depletion, degradation, and recovery potential of estuaries and coastal seas. Science 312, 1806-1809.
Toropova, C., Meliane, I., Laffoley, D., Matthews, E. & Spalding, M. (eds.) 2010. Global ocean orotection: present Sstatus and future possibilities: Brest, France: Agence des aires marines protégées, Gland, Switzerland, Washington, DC and New York, USA: IUCN WCPA, Cambridge, UK : UNEP-WCMC, Arlington, USA: TNC, Tokyo, Japan: UNU, New York, USA: WCS

Expected outcomes
The candidate is expected to produce at least three scientific publications with the supervisors: a review of known trade-offs in management goals, a paper on the results of experimental tests, and a paper on methodology used to develop the protocols and its application to the three case studies. The candidate will benefit from close exchange with (inter)national projects (THESEUS, MESMA, Coastal Resilience, CcASPAR) which will facilitate access to a variety of biotic and socio economic data in multistressor coastal environments and will ensure that the outcomes of the PhD project will have direct validation and application to real case studies.

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