The research of Dr Kerry Howell and her team focusses on deep-sea ecology, deep-sea conservation and management, spatial planning, high seas / deep-sea marine protected areas, habitat classification, habitat mapping, predictive species modelling, deep-sea food webs, and the ecosystem impacts of deep-water fisheries.
Deep Links Project
Deep Links is a NERC-funded collaborative project between Plymouth University’s Deep Sea CRU and the University of Oxford, in partnership with the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) and the British Geological Survey (BGS). During this project, we will investigate how patterns of population connectivity vary with depth in the deep-sea, and how this influences species diversity.
In the marine environment, many species do not move as adults (e.g. corals) or move very slowly (sea urchins). This means that for different adult populations to remain connected they rely on the dispersal of early life history stages. Most marine species have a larval stage that lives in the water column for a period of time, moving with the currents, before settling in a new area. It is larval dispersal that keeps distant populations connected. In the deep-sea (>200m), the bathyal region of the continental slope has been identified as supporting high numbers of species and being an area where the rate of origination of new species may also be high. The reasons for this are not clear, but given the importance of connectivity to population isolation and speciation, it follows that the key to understanding patterns of species diversity in this region lies in understanding connectivity.
Further details about the Deep Links project are available on the Deep Links website
Mapping the deep project
The Mapping the Deep project has already produced coarse scale predictive maps of the distribution of three highly vulnerable deep-sea habitats which can now be used to help target future survey and conservation work. Nils Piechaud is now working on fine-scale predictive mapping of Rockall Bank
Further details about the Mapping the Deep project are available in our project film.
Toward sustainable management of the deep sea: investigating population connectivity
Conservation of sensitive deep sea habitats like cold water coral reefs within Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) is an important part of current global marine environmental management strategy. However, in the case of non-mobile species like coral, the mobile larval phase must be able to move between protected sites in order to sustain the populations. Thus, the success of MPAs depends on having a clear understanding of population connectivity. In 2012 Dr Kerry Howell was awarded funding from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) for a PhD studentship entitled “Investigating the role of offshore banks and seamounts as stepping stones for dispersal”. The project combined the biological modelling of the ‘mapping the deep’ project with physical oceanographic modelling in order to assess the dispersal ability and connectivity of deep-sea animal populations. Rebecca Ross completed her PhD earlier this year and is now publishing her chapters.
Deep sea habitat classification