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MILJØFORSK-Miljøforskning for en grønn samfunnsomstilling

Movescapes, connectivity hotspots and eco-evolutionary dynamics: protecting the functional role of predatory coastal fishes

Alternative title: Bevaring av store rovfisk og deres funksjon i kystøkosystemer.

Awarded: NOK 4.0 mill.

Large predatory fish play key functional roles in marine ecosystems and are of important value for societies. Being close to the top of the food web, these species can have strong influences on how ecosystems function. Capable of travelling long distances, predatory fish can also play a major role in connecting ecosystems, acting as vectors for nutrient flow and carbon sequestration. In addition, specialised behavioural tactics including differences in habitat use and foraging are likely to shape their functional roles in the ecosystem. From an evolutionary perspective, such individual variation represents the raw material for natural selection. The scales at which these behaviours occur, however, poses important challenges for science and conservation. The current system of European marine protected areas (MPAs) consists mainly of small separate units covering a few km2, at least when considering areas that are fully protected from fisheries. Small MPAs, being unable to protect the fitness of mobile phenotypes, may therefore change the course of contemporary evolution with potential feedback on ecological processes and resource availability for fisheries. MOVE will assess the movescapes of coastal predatory fish, that is, their full range of movements and food web links against the needs for truly effective MPA networks.

We aim to fill a critical knowledge gap relating to the movement dynamics and protection of predatory coastal fishes. These are species that may move to an extent where they are not efficiently protected within the borders of current marine protected areas in Europe. This is unfortunate, since mobile coastal predators can play a crucial role in facilitating ecosystem productivity and resilience to environmental change, and even to promote genetic diversity at lower trophic levels. At the same time, these – usually larger – species are a priced catch in many fisheries and often suffer from size-selective overharvesting that may drive fisheries-induced evolution away from natural adaptations. Also, their movement dynamics tend to be poorly understood since current monitoring networks are typically designed to quantify behaviour at smaller spatial scales. In the MOVE project, we will combine fish tracking technology across multiple spatial scales with a novel eco-evolutionary perspective on fish movescapes. By adding larger-scale monitoring arrays, we aim to identify connectivity hotspots and movement corridors characterising predatory coastal fish that may have diverse functional roles in coastal ecosystems. We anticipate that a significant transnational added value will be achieved by applying a common and unifying theoretical framework, and a common approach for empirical data collection. Further strengthening this value, we will analyse data on several coastal predatory fish species that may have comparable functional roles across systems. We will also analyse existing data sets on inter- and intraspecific variation in movement dynamics of coastal predators inside and outside current MPAs. This way, we aim to elucidate the benefits of current levels of protection from an eco-evolutionary perspective by combining information about individual fish movements and fitness.

Funding scheme:

MILJØFORSK-Miljøforskning for en grønn samfunnsomstilling