Connectivity of Hard Substrate Assemblages in the North Sea (CHASANS)

A global demand for energy in parallel with concerns about global warming and energy security are motivating many nations to look for novel and sustainable sources of energy. At the same time the oil and gas industry is looking to decommission significant infrastructure as it comes to the end of its life cycle. There is a clear transition underway which brings challenges of infrastructure management. Among the issues raised by the offshore industries are those arising from the biological colonisation of their structures.

The aim of the CHASANS project is to enhance our understanding of the connectivity of populations of marine fauna colonising artificial substrates across the North Sea (NS). Team expertise in epifaunal ecology, oceanographic modelling, and population genetics will be used to generate a multidisciplinary dataset to validate biologically realistic models of larval connectivity between sites in the North Sea. These models will be used to predict how networks of hard substrate in the North Sea function in the dispersal and metapopulation structure of marine epifauna. One of the outputs of the research is a tool which will predict how the distribution of epifauna is affected when specific artificial platforms are removed or added into the network. Such information will help to provide environmental evidence to decision makers regarding whether artificial platforms should be removed or remain in place, as well as allowing projection of connectivity based on future climate-driven scenarios.

The context described above leads to the following key research questions that motivate this project:

1. What are the best ways to capture data on the origins and patterns of settlement of epifaunal species on artificial structures in the NS, and what are the biogeographical, physical and ecological determinants?

2. How can we use this information to provide improved models describing larval dispersal (including invasive aquatic species) in the NS and the facilitating role created by the network of artificial structures?

3. What role does substrate type (i.e. natural vs artificial; historic vs recent) have on connectivity of epifaunal populations?

4. How will network connectivity be altered by future changes including the removal or addition of artificial structures following decommissioning and/or installations?

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