Global marine biodiversity: causes, consequences, conservation

Marine biodiversity in space and time

My research interests have long focused on the interaction between people and marine biodiversity, at a regional to global scale. I am interested in how patterns of marine biodiversity arise, how hotspots of high species richness are formed and maintained. On the more applied side I have been tracking changes in marine biodiversity over time and space, with some emphasis on large marine predators such as sharks, tuna, billfish and whales. I am keen to understand what forces these changes, and what the relative contribution is of human-induced versus natural variation. A lot of my work has focused specifically on the impacts of fishing and climate change, and how they may interact in contemporary ecosystems. From this basis of understanding my students and I try to devise management solution that can help to conserve and restore marine biodiversity worldwide.

Ecosystem oceanography
Core support for my current research program ‘Ecosystem oceanography: understanding the dynamics of a changing ocean’ comes from the National Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada. The goal of this program is to analyze the causes and consequences of recent changes in marine food webs. Specifically, our lab attempts to analyze the potentially complex interdependencies of observed changes in predator and plankton abundance throughout the world’s oceans.
NSERC
PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR

Boris Worm
Professor in Marine Conservation Biology
Dept. of Biology, Dalhousie University Halifax
Email: Boris.Worm@dal.ca
Phone: +1 902 4942478 (office)

Contact Information
Principal Investigator
Boris Worm,
Professor Biology Department Dalhousie University
1355 Oxford St.
PO BOX 15000
Halifax, NS B3H 4R2
Canada
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Conservation ecology of North Atlantic shark populations.

Worldwide, shark populations are suffering from overexploitation and high incidental mortality rates. In particular the North Atlantic Ocean has experienced severe declines of many shark species over the last decades. However, a scientific basis for comprehensive protection measures is still lacking for many species. Therefore, this project is concerned with the delineation and characterization of critical habitat areas and the expansion of stock assessment methods for data-poor shark species, in order to aid spatial management and to provide scientific information on reference points and exploitation levels for data-poor shark species. The results will help to develop a more comprehensive science-based protection of threatened North Atlantic shark populations.

Many of today’s stock assessment methods rely on growth or age information. However, there is a scarcity of biological information in sharks and hence details on age and growth are often absent. Likewise, there is a lack of fisheries data and suitable models in order to assess shark species. Consequently the status of most species is unknown, in particular in developing countries or in shark species that are difficult to age, such as the Greenland shark. In order to allow for relatively simple to apply data-poor assessment, novel empirical relationships of life history traits in sharks will be developed first. This information can be utilized to predict life history parameters for shark species where this information is absent. Next, the performance of newly developed and existing age-independent assessment methods will be investigated. The best performing method will be applied to investigate the stock status and sustainable exploitation levels of species like the Greenland shark in the Canadian Arctic. However, recovery, conservation and management programs solely based on assessments might not be sufficient for species like sharks with low rebound potentials and recovery rates. Pupping grounds, nursery areas and spawning grounds are critical for recruitment success and adequate protection of these sites could increase survival and resilience. Therefore, the second part of this project will investigate the spatial ecology of North Atlantic shark populations. Here, the aim is to identify important habitat areas of several shark species, understand their characteristics and drivers that affect habitat use and investigate the overlap with human activities. The results will aid effective shark protection, the prediction of potential important habitats elsewhere and provide scientific information for spatial management priority sites. In addition to existing datasets, two tagging programs are conducted, one on Canadian Atlantic blue sharks and one on shark communities in Cabo Verde, West Africa. The latter is part of a recently established Cabo Verde Elasmobranch Research Project, initiated by the Worm Lab in collaboration with the Ocean Tracking Network (OTN) and local partners.

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR

Manuel Dureuil
Ph.D. Student, Dalhousie University
Email: Manuel.Dureuil@dal.ca
Phone: +1 902 494 2478 (office)

SUPERVISOR

Dr. Boris Worm (Dalhousie University) Canada

CO-SUPERVISOR

Dr. Rainer Froese (GEOMAR) Germany

TYPE/STATUS OF PROJECT

Scientific research (In progress)

Contact Information
Principal Investigator
Manuel Dureuil
Ph.D. Student
Biology Department Dalhousie University
1459 Oxford St.
PO BOX 15000
Halifax, NS B3H 4R2
Canada
Supervisor
Boris Worm
Professor
Biology Department Dalhousie University
1355 Oxford St.
PO BOX 15000
Halifax, NS B3H 4R2
Canada
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Interactions between large Marine Protected Areas and global fisheries.

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) have long been recognized as a tool to protect marine biodiversity. Through temporal and/or spatial closures and management of designated areas, the maintenance and recovery of special ecosystems, processes, habitats and species and their sustainable use and conservation are promoted. While most MPAs are comparably small (< 100km²) and located in coastal waters the recent years have seen a trend to establish large scale MPAs (LSMPAs). These LSMPAs cover >100,000 km² and are mostly located further offshore, covering shallow waters around islands as well as deep sea areas. MPA management plans often restrict or prohibit fishing within the protected area. This affects the fisheries in the respective regions – not allowed to fish in the MPA, the fishermen are displaced to surrounding areas, where fishing effort per unit area can increase. This can be problematic for critical habitats in the wider region, such as spawning and pupping grounds or ecosystem hotspots like seamounts or coral reefs. Next to this, fishing effort often concentrates along MPA boundaries (edge or boundary effect) to benefit from spillover, marine organisms leaving the MPA due to increased biomass within the protected area.

For my PhD project I focus on how large Marine Protected Areas influence fisheries activities and fishing pattern. I am looking at effects of the establishment of MPAs on fishing fleet behaviour such as a possible relocation of fishing efforts to other areas or to the borders of MPAs to benefit from spillover effects. A better understanding of pattern of fishing effort is vital for effective regional as well as global fisheries management and successful conservation measures.

I am participating in the German-Canadian Transatlantic Ocean System Science and Technology (TOSST) graduate programme which addresses key issues facing the North Atlantic under three distinct themes: Seafloor Structures, 4D water mass dynamics and Ecosystem Hotspots. The graduate programme is hosted by Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada and the GEOMAR as well as Christian-Albrechts University in Kiel, Germany.

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR

Kristina Börder
Ph.D. Student, Dalhousie University
Email: Kristina.boerder@dal.ca
Phone: +1 902 4942478 (office)

SUPERVISOR

Boris Worm, Ph. D (Professor)

TYPE/STATUS OF PROJECT

Scientific research (In progress)

Contact Information
Principal Investigator
Kristina Börder
Ph.D. Candidate
Biology Department Dalhousie University
1355 Oxford St.
PO BOX 15000
Halifax, NS B3H 4R2
Canada
Supervisor
Boris Worm
Professor
Biology Department Dalhousie University
1355 Oxford St.
PO BOX 15000
Halifax, NS B3H 4R2
Canada
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Investigating shark sanctuaries’ effectiveness in protecting and rebuilding shark populations

The problem: Is there evidence that shark sanctuaries are already effective in protecting and rebuilding shark populations?

The strategy: Evaluation and synthesis of observations made by marine resource users, focusing on experienced scuba divers, in Exclusive Economic Zones, with dive tourism that (i) have existing shark sanctuaries, (ii) proposed shark sanctuaries, and (iii) selected control sites for comparison. Focal countries (so far) include: Palau, Maldives, Honduras, Bahamas, Marshall Islands, French Polynesia, Cook Islands, New Caledonia, British Virgin Islands, Thailand, and Fiji.

Background:
Around the world, targeted fisheries and bycatch have reduced numerous shark populations to a fraction of their natural abundance, leaving nearly one third of sharks, with enough information to evaluate conservation status, vulnerable to extinction (IUCN.org). Recognizing these threats, there is momentum to improve shark conservation efforts. Since 2009, nine shark sanctuaries have been designated around the world, and more have been proposed.

Sanctuaries that protect all shark species of all age classes, should, in theory, promote population recovery. However, the success of a sanctuary in rebuilding shark populations is complicated by shark biology and human use patterns. For example, many sharks are highly mobile and, depending on the species’ home range relative to the size of the sanctuary, risk being caught if they move beyond the boundary of the sanctuary. Since shark products still hold value outside the sanctuary in international markets, effective monitoring and enforcement of the sanctuary regulations to prevent illegal harvest is required. Also, fishing in the sanctuary for other species may threaten sharks caught as bycatch or trapped in abandoned fishing gear. Further complicating the picture is that sharks often require site-specific habitats for certain life-stages, such as for feeding, mating, cleaning and nurseries. Protecting and preserving these areas is not currently a requirement of sanctuaries, perhaps because this level of information is not readily available in most cases. Therefore, degradation of essential habitat may limit the capacity of populations to rebound.

Despite these possible barriers, the recent momentum of shark sanctuary implementation suggests their potential for shark conservation. However, there is a paucity of baseline and monitoring data that can be used to evaluate the success of sanctuaries for protecting and rebuilding shark populations. Furthermore, since sharks can take years to reach sexual maturity and often have low fecundity, it may take years or even decades before population increases are noticeable. Similarly, since recovery times are expected to be long, it is essential to use the best available data to promptly identify any issues that may inhibit recovery and to adjust regulations accordingly. Therefore, acquiring a contemporary snapshot of shark population status and trends, and human use patterns is an important first step in discovering the potential value of shark sanctuaries for shark conservation.

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR

Christine Ward-Paige
Postdoctoral Fellow
Dalhousie University
Email: globalshark@gmail.com
Phone: 902-494-2478

SUPERVISORS

Boris Worm (Dalhousie University)

TYPE/STATUS OF PROJECT

Scientific research (In progress)

Contact Information
Principal Investigator
Boris Worm
Professor
Dalhousie University

Phone: +1 902-494-2478
Email: bworm@dal.ca

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Investigating predator-prey dynamics of leatherback sea turtles and jellyfish in Atlantic Canadian waters

The leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), classified as endangered in Canadian waters, faces several natural and anthropogenic threats. They are a highly migratory species, traveling between tropical waters to nest, and northern temperate waters to feed. There is a large foraging population of leatherbacks that gather on the Scotian Shelf in Canadian waters from July to the end of September every year, to feed on jellyfish. Leatherbacks are obligate jellyfish feeders, and while in Canadian waters are found to feed almost exclusively on large scyphozoan jellyfish (such as lion’s mane, and moon jellies). While the last decade has proven to be significant in leatherback sea turtle research in Atlantic Canada, their prey field is still highly under-researched.
My master’s project will investigate the spatial and seasonal distribution of jellyfish in the northwest Atlantic and relate that to the foraging behavior of leatherback sea turtles. Innovative databases created at Dalhousie University, as well as existing data sets from other organizations, citizen science and field work based off the coast of Nova Scotia will be used to examine broad scale and in-situ predator-prey dynamics between leatherbacks and jellyfish
MSc Biology Student

Bethany Nordstrom
Principal Investigator
Dalhousie University
Email: bethany.nordstrom@dal.ca
Phone: 902-494-2478

SUPERVISOR

Boris Worm (Dalhousie University)

IN COLLABORATION WITH

Mike James (PhD, Department of Fisheries and Oceans)

TYPE/STATUS OF PROJECT

Scientific research (in progress)

Contact Information
Principal Investigator
Bethany Nordstrom
MSc Student
Biology Department, Dalhousie University
1355 Oxford Street
PO Box 15000
Halifax NS B3H 4R2
Canada
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Understanding how local ecological assemblages change in response to global change drivers

Habitat change, invasive species, overexploitation, climate change, and nutrient pollution are all contributing to a global biodiversity crisis, with global species loss far exceeding background extinction rates. At the local scale, these global change drivers alter the composition of ecological communities and influence how ecosystems function which, in turn, impacts the capacity for ecosystems to provide the services humans depend on. The non-random nature of species loss suggests that predictable patterns of biodiversity change in response to global change drivers exist. There is still much uncertainty in what these patterns are, how they compare across different global change drivers, and how generalizable local biodiversity change is across taxa, biomes, and geographic regions. Gaining a better understanding of how local ecological assemblages change in response to global change drivers will be essential in informing future ecosystem management and conservation priorities.

My PhD research uses a combination of meta-analyses and laboratory experiments to achieve four key objectives: 1) Quantify the magnitude and predictability of local-scale biodiversity change in response to five global change drivers and compare the effects across taxa and ecosystems, 2) Identify the geographic biases that exist in the local-scale biodiversity change literature that hinder ecologist’s ability to infer biodiversity change patterns worldwide and use these data gaps to develop recommendations for where further studies need to be conducted across the Earth’s biomes, 3) Explore the extent to which the single and combined impacts of global change drivers differ in their effects on key ecosystem processes, and 4) Use an aquatic model ecosystem to assess the single and interactive effects of overexploitation/phytoplankton decline and warming/acidification on biodiversity change over time.

PhD Student

Grace Murphy
Principal Investigator
Dalhousie University
Email: grace.murphy@dal.ca

SUPERVISORS

Boris Worm (Dalhousie University)

TYPE/STATUS OF PROJECT

Scientific research (Winter 2016)

Contact Information
Principal Investigator
Boris Worm
Professor
Dalhousie University

Phone: +1 902-494-2478
Email: bworm@dal.ca

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Protection on the Move: Applying Dynamic Ocean Management to Address Shark Bycatch in Atlantic Canada

Dynamic Ocean Management (DOM) has evolved to fill in the management gaps occurring from static processes. DOM consistently changes in space and time, creating a zone of protection around a species based on their movement. Its ability to be very specific in its spatial targeting allows large sections of the ocean remain open to industries while reducing negative impacts to oceanic habitat and species.

 

My Master’s project focuses on the applicability of Dynamic Ocean Management in Atlantic Canada. For example, I am investigating how a DOM plan could be implemented to reduce Blue Shark bycatch within the Canadian Atlantic longline fishing industry. Through the seven elements required in a DOM project, the case study will create a model for actual implementation. The study also considers the technological and policy aspects associated with the application. Overall, this project aims to foster expansion of DOM in Atlantic Canada, improving marine biodiversity protection.

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR
Jasmine Prior
Masters Student, Dalhousie University
Email: jasmine.prior@dal.ca
Phone: +1 289 218 7166
SUPERVISOR

Dr. Boris Worm – Dalhousie Department of Biology

TYPE/STATUS OF PROJECT

Scientific research (in progress)

Contact Information
Principal Investigator
Jasmine Prior

Masters Student, Dalhousie University

Email: jasmine.prior@dal.ca

Phone: +1 289 218 7166

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