Assessing the state of marine biodiversity in the Northeast Atlantic – for the first time, ever!

A paper has recently come out that I’m really, really proud of.

As you might (or might not!) know, the EU countries are committed to achieving Good Environmental Status (GES) in their marine waters under the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive. The UK is following a parallel process with the same commitment under the UK Marine Strategy, which also has the objective of Good Environmental Status. OSPAR is coordinating this work at the regional scale, and delivered an Intermediate Assessment in 2017 (IA2017). As the chair of the OSPAR Pelagic Habitats Expert Group, I work on the biodiversity aspects of GES. IA2017 was (somehow!) five years ago now, but as a quick refresher, IA2017 brought together over 200 scientists and 40 policy-makers to perform this first assessment of marine biodiversity indicators in the Northeast Atlantic, from plankton to mammals to food webs.

However…. IA2017 didn’t really determine GES for most indicators; we just didn’t get that far in many cases.

Our new paper, however, presents a first attempt to actually assess the biodiversity status of the indicators used in IA2017. We use a simple, semi-quantitative approach to evaluate holistically the state of Northeast Atlantic biodiversity.

We found that, overall, the state of marine biodiversity in the Northeast Atlantic is not good. 25% of indicators were in poor status, 56% of indicators were in uncertain status, and only 18% were in good status.

We did find some bright spots though! These include recent signs of recovery in some fish and marine bird communities and recovery in harbour and grey seal populations and the condition of coastal benthic communities in some regions. 

Our analysis revealed widespread degradation in marine ecosystems and biodiversity, particularly for marine birds and coastal bottlenose dolphins, as well as for benthic habitats and fish in some regions. The poor biodiversity status of these ecosystem components is likely the result of cumulative effects of human activities, such as habitat destruction or disturbance, overexploitation, eutrophication, the introduction of NIS, and climate change.

The status of many indicators across all ecosystem components, but particularly for the novel pelagic habitats, food webs and NIS indicators, however, remains uncertain due to gaps in data, unclear pressure-state relationships, and the non-linear influence of some pressures on biodiversity indicators. We are working hard to address these issues to make future assessments more robust and meaningful for policy-makers.

The work published here was conducted by the same experts involved in the OSPAR process, but has no formal link to any policy regulation. However, this work will underpin delivery of the next OSPAR biodiversity Quality Status Report assessment to be published in 2023, which will in turn contribute to MSFD national reporting due in 2024.

Abigail, Plankton and Policy

Read more: McQuatters-Gollop, A., Guérin, L., Arroyo, N.L., Aubert, A., Artigas, L.F., Bedford, J., Corcoran, E., Dierschke, V., Elliott, S.A.M., Geelhoed, S.C.V., Gilles, A., González-Irusta, J.M., Haelters, J., Johansen, M., Le Loc’h, F., Lynam, C.P., Niquil, N., Meakins, B., Mitchell, I., Padegimas, B., Pesch, R., Preciado, I., Rombouts, I., Safi, G., Schmitt, P., Schückel, U., Serrano, A., Stebbing, P., De la Torriente, A., Vina-Herbon, C., 2022. Assessing the state of marine biodiversity in the Northeast Atlantic. Ecological Indicators 141, 109148.

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Come do a PhD with me!

Developing meaningful marine biodiversity indicators to support conservation

I’m looking for an exceptional candidate to carry out an interdisciplinary PhDship at University of Plymouth, in collaboration with Plymouth Marine Laboratory and the Marine Biological Association. The PhD is co-funded with Defra and so provides a unique opportunity to gain experience at the science-policy interface. Please contact me for an informal chat at the email address below. Applications close at 12 noon on 20 May 2022.

Supervisory team:
Dr Abigail McQuatters-Gollop, University of Plymouth
Dr Angus Atkinson (PML)
Dr Clare Ostle (MBA)
Dr Sian Rees (UoP)

Apply here

For further information on research studentships at the University of Plymouth and to apply for this position please visit: and select the studentship you would like to apply for. Please clearly state the name of the studentship that you are applying for on your personal statement.

Project description


Human activities and climate change are causing widespread alterations to marine ecosystems. At the base of marine foodwebs, changes in plankton communities affect ecosystem services within and beyond the water column, including climate change mitigation and fisheries yield. Policy frameworks now recognise plankton communities as a critical aspect of marine biodiversity. In 2017 plankton indicators were first included in UK/EU marine biodiversity policy assessments, which applied a suite of indicators developed in collaboration with policy-makers to capture aspects of plankton diversity, functioning, and productivity. There is now an urgent need to address key questions on what the observed changes in these indicators mean for natural capital and ecosystem services and how the indicators respond to climate change, including extreme events. Answering these questions is critical for providing robust scientific information to support UK/EU biodiversity policy assessments and inform decision-making, which is urgently required by UK Government post-Brexit.


Building on the above plankton indicator development, and working directly with Defra, the student will apply statistical modelling approaches to data from the world’s most extensive plankton network to 1) develop policy-relevant plankton indicators for climate change (including ocean acidification); 2) analyse relationships between plankton indicators, determining which are most robust for inclusion in policy assessments; 3) investigate links between plankton indicators and existing foodweb indicators to understand how these relationships change spatio-temporally, and 4) explore what changes in these indicators mean for natural capital and ecosystem services. This work will be in collaboration with policy working groups and Defra to ensure relevance of outputs to UK/EU marine biodiversity policy frameworks.

Training The studentship provides a diverse range of interdisciplinary skills essential for working across the science-policy interface. They will receive training in spatial-temporal analysis of large datasets, statistical techniques, and application of science to policy through participation in UK and international science-policy workshops, expanding the student’s personal network through working with scientists and key policy stakeholders involved in the UK/EU marine biodiversity conservation community.

Person specification We are looking for a numerate (e.g. R) candidate with an interest in conservation/policy and a 1st or high 2:1 degree in marine/environmental science/biology

Key reading:

McQuatters-Gollop, A., Atkinson, A., Aubert, A., Bedford, J., Best, M., Bresnan, E., Cook, K., Devlin, M., Gowen, R., Johns, D.G., Machairopoulou, M., Mellor, A., Ostle, C., Scherer, C. and Tett, P., (2019). Plankton lifeforms as a biodiversity indicator for regional-scale assessment of pelagic habitats for policy Ecological Indicators, 101: 913-925.
Capuzzo, E., Lynam, C.P., Barry, J., Stephens, D., Forster, R.M., Greenwood, N., McQuatters-Gollop, A., Silva, T., Sonja M. van Leeuwen and Engelhard, G.H., (2018). A decline in primary production in the North Sea over 25 years, associated with reductions in zooplankton abundance and fish stock recruitment. Global Change Biology, 24: e352-e364.
Bedford, J., Ostle, C., Johns, D.G., Atkinson, A., Best, M., Bresnan, E., Machairopoulou, M., Graves, C.A., Devlin, M., Milligan, A., Pitois, S., Mellor, A., Tett, P. and McQuatters-Gollop, A., (2020). Lifeform indicators reveal large-scale shifts in plankton across the North-West European shelf. Global Change Biology, 26: 3482-3497.
Beaugrand, G., McQuatters-Gollop, A., Edwards, M. and Goberville, E., (2013). Long-term responses of North Atlantic calcifying plankton to climate change. Nature Climate Change, 3: 263-267.
Rees, S.E., Sheehan, E.V., Stewart, B.D., Clark, R., Appleby, T., Attrill, M.J., Jones, P.J.S., Johnson, D., Bradshaw, N. & Pittman, S., (2020). Emerging themes to support ambitious UK marine biodiversity conservation. Marine Policy 117: 103864-103864 

Further information:

The problem

Human pressures, including climate change, are changing marine ecosystems, impacting their ability to deliver ecosystem services, such as carbon cycling and food provision, with pelagic systems showing the fastest change. In response, the post-Brexit UK Marine Strategy (which incorporates the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive) applies a holistic approach to managing marine biodiversity,including plankton. Recent biodiversity assessments included 3 indicators for plankton, alongside indicators for the wider marine foodweb such as fish, birds and benthic communities. The assessments, however, did not examine integrative links between plankton indicators, or between plankton indicators and other foodweb indicators. Additionally, the assessments identified responses of plankton communities to climate change and ocean acidification as key evidence gaps. Addressing these gaps is crucial for UK Government and will strengthen the evidence base available to inform UK/EU decision-making around marine environmental management. We urgently need this improved understanding and this studentship will form an interdisciplinary solution during this period of rapid environmental change.


The student will use existing plankton and foodweb policy indicators[1,2], along with time-series datasets[3], to:1) develop policy-relevant plankton indicators for climate change (including ocean acidification); 2) analyse relationships between plankton indicators, determining which are most robust for inclusion in policy assessments; 3) investigate links between plankton indicators and existing foodweb indicators to understand how these relationships change spatio-temporally, and 4) explore what changes in these indicators mean for natural capital and ecosystem services.


The NW European shelf has the most comprehensive network of plankton time-series globally, and the supervisory team will provide this unparalleled resource. Building on techniques developed during recent biodiversity policy assessments[3-6], the student will develop plankton indicators for aspects of climate change including temperature, pH(ocean acidification), and climatic oscillations[7]. Statistical approaches[e.g.4-6] will analyse indicator change at multiple spatio-temporal scales, evaluate relationships between plankton indicators and other biodiversity indicators(fish, birds, benthic communities–data available through UK/OSPAR Expert Groups)[4-5], and consider links between plankton indicators and natural capital and ecosystem services. This work is critical to underpinning UK Government’s management decisions around marine conservation and sustainability, and will feed directly into the policy process through the student’s placement at Defra, as well as involvement in UK/OSPAR Expert Groups. This engagement will ensure project outcomes are policy-relevant and can effectively support decision-making.


The student will join a vibrant Plymouth marine research and policy group as part of ongoing collaborations between renowned Plymouth marine institutes (UoP/MBA/PML). This provides hands-on experience, supporting the student in developing skills in time-series analysis, spatial analysis, statistical modelling, and foodweb dynamics. Through the supervisory committee, the student will collaborate closely with UK/OSPAR Expert Groups, which will support the student in technical and ecological aspects of indicator development and policy application. The student will also benefit from a three-month placement with Defra, where they will directly experience the policy aspects of biodiversity assessment. The student will be a member of UoP dynamic Marine Institute and Marine Conservation Research Group.

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Plankton Highlights 2020

It’s been a busy year in plankton science for policy in the UK and OSPAR. Much of our work focused on further developing our ability to assess the state of pelagic habitats through the Improving Confidence Evaluating GES for Regional Assessments of Pelagic Habitats (ICEGRAPH) project. ICEGRAPH is an EU-funded project, led by University of Plymouth, in collaboration with the UK’s key plankton monitoring time-series. Below we’ve highlighted our key results and achievements. Here’s to an even more productive 2020!


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The State of UK Marine Nature

The UK is an island nation and our cultural identity is tightly linked to the sea. As well as being home to a bounty of wildlife, ranging from intricate intertidal invertebrates to bustling seabird colonies, our marine ecosystems provide a multitude of services including fisheries and carbon sequestration. The UK marine environment however, faces ongoing pressures as a result of varied and cumulative human activities, as well as undergoing fundamental restructuring as a result of climate change. Given our connection to the marine environment, and these ongoing pressures, an assessment of the state of nature for the UK must include marine as well as terrestrial biodiversity. An up-to-date overview of the state of marine biodiversity is therefore included in the RSPB State of Nature report for 2019 (embargoed until Oct 4, 2019).

Plankton communities support higher trophic levels, including seabirds

Marine biodiversity in the UK is monitored and assessed under an overarching framework called the UK Marine Strategy. The aim of the UK Marine Strategy is to achieve a sustainable, balanced level of human activities that allows marine biodiversity to flourish and the flow of ecosystem services to be sustained. To develop the Marine Strategy, a concerted effort has been undertaken to develop a suite of indicator metrics for different components of the marine ecosystem. In order to ensure alignment with this key policy framework, the State of Nature report drew on these indicator metrics for reporting on marine biodiversity trends. Data that inform these indicators for the State of Nature assessment came from a variety of sources.

Continuous Plankton Recorders
are towed behind ships of opportunity and collect phytoplankton and zooplankton samples onto a continuously moving roll of silk.

For example data on plankton, which form the base of the marine ecosystem, was provided by the Continuous Plankton Recorder survey. The CPR survey has been monitoring UK phytoplankton and zooplankton communities since 1931, with consistent, comparable data available since 1958. This unique 60 year time-series has been achieved through partnerships with ‘ships of opportunity’ including passenger ferries and cargo ships, which allows a collection of plankton samples at large spatial scales.

The CPR survey has revealed key plankton trends, largely related to the signals of climate change. These include an increase in the proportion of warmer water copepod species with increasing Sea Surface Temperatures, and an increase in the Phytoplankton Colour Index (PCI), which measures the ‘greenness’ of the silk of each CPR sample, and is a proxy for total phytoplankton biomass. As shown in the State of Nature report, this index has shown a clear increasing trend in UK seas since 1958. For example, in the Northern North Sea, the PCI is 67% higher than it was in the 1960s.

Phytoplankton biomass 1960s-2000s calculated from the CPR time-series. The Phytoplankton Colour Index has increased across the North Atlantic, including in UK waters. From McQuatters-Gollop et al. (2015).

The reporting on trends in the composition of plankton communities followed the UK Marine Strategy by aggregating individual taxa into broad functional groups known as lifeforms. In contrast to conserving the populations of birds and mammals, when assessing and managing plankton biodiversity the emphasis is on maintaining a healthy community composition, rather than maintaining high abundance and richness. Through monitoring the relative abundance of different lifeforms, changes in the structure and functioning of lower trophic levels can be monitored. For example, small and large copepods are two key functional groups of zooplankton that have different roles in the ecosystem and may support different trophic pathways.  As functional changes in plankton, such as the size composition of copepods, can affect higher trophic levels, plankton lifeforms help provide context for marine conservation and management.

Warmer water copepods such as Calanus helgolandicus have increased in abundance whilst cooler water copepods such as Calanus finmarchicus have decreased in abundance, affecting higher trophic levels.

The State of Nature report highlights the complex and interactive drivers affecting marine ecosystems. As well as large-scale climate change trends, fishing continues to damage the seafloor and alter the size composition of fish communities, although recovery in abundance is shown for many fish species from historical over-exploitation. Noise and plastic pollution are also emerging threats. Moving forward, it is crucial that these cumulative impacts on biodiversity are tackled through innovative and progressive management interventions. For example, it is highlighted in the report that although management measures have been documented in 60% of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in the UK, they are only fully implemented in 10% of sites.  By fully adopting an ecosystem approach, for example through well-enforced, whole-site based MPA management, declines in key habitats and species can be halted. This in turn will help build resilience in the ecosystem to future climate change.

Jake, Plankton and Policy

Read more:

Bedford, J., Johns, D., Greenstreet, S. and McQuatters-Gollop, A., (2018). Plankton as prevailing conditions: a surveillance role for plankton indicators within the Marine Strategy Framework Directive. Marine Policy, 89: 109-115.

Capuzzo, E., Lynam, C.P., Barry, J., Stephens, D., Forster, R.M., Greenwood, N., McQuatters-Gollop, A., Silva, T., Sonja M. van Leeuwen and Engelhard, G.H., (2018). A decline in primary production in the North Sea over 25 years, associated with reductions in zooplankton abundance and fish stock recruitment. Global Change Biology, 24: e352-e364.

McQuatters-Gollop, A., Atkinson, A., Aubert, A., Bedford, J., Best, M., Bresnan, E., Cook, K., Devlin, M., Gowen, R., Johns, D.G., Machairopoulou, M., Mellor, A., Ostle, C., Scherer, C. and Tett, P., (2019). Plankton lifeforms as a biodiversity indicator for regional-scale assessment of pelagic habitats for policy Ecological Indicators, 101: 913-925.

McQuatters-Gollop, A., Edwards, M., Helaouët, P., Johns, D.G., Owens, N.J.P., Raitsos, D.E., Schroeder, D., Skinner, J. and Stern, R.F., (2015). The Continuous Plankton Recorder survey: how can long-term phytoplankton datasets deliver Good Environmental Status? . Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science, 162: 88-97.

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Plankton on the move

The distribution of organisms globally is governed by the range of environmental conditions each organism can tolerate. For example, temperature is a key variable structuring the distribution of life on earth. Whereas some organisms have wide temperature tolerance, so can be found across a variety of latitudes all with differing temperatures, many organisms have narrow temperature tolerances, and so the range of areas they can live are more restricted. In the oceans, global climate change means that these boundaries between different temperatures are becoming ever more obscured. Areas of warming that were historically too cold for survival may now be habitable for species needing warmer water, but species with narrow temperature tolerances may be forced out as it becomes too warm for their survival. These ‘range shifts’ lead to a global reshuffling of the distribution and abundance of biodiversity, which has profound implications for environmental policy and conservation management.  For example, range shifts mean that our concepts of native vs not-native species are being tested i.e., which species are ‘meant’ to be in a certain area because they occur there naturally, and which ones aren’t., This distinction is important for detecting and managing any negative impacts of ‘newly occurring species as a result of climate change. Similarly, range shifts affect fisheries policy. As fish move into different areas, they will become potentially exploitable by commercial fisheries. This means that fisheries managers will need to assess whether any newly occurring species can be fished sustainably and set appropriate management measures. Understanding range shifts is also key for building resilience to climate change through effective policy, for example placing protected areas in areas that are relatively sheltered from the effects of climate change.

Plankton are a key example of range shifting taxa in the oceans. Due to the sensitivity of plankton to changes in their environment, the distribution of different plankton species is tightly coupled with environmental conditions. In the North Sea for example, there has been northward movement of key ‘isotherms’ (lines on a map connecting points of the same temperature), as the water warms due to climate change (Beaugrand et al. 2009). With these isotherm movements there has been an increase in warmer-water affiliated copepod species as they expand their range into warming waters, and a decrease in colder-water species, as their range moves northwards chasing colder refuge. Phytoplankton have also shown range shifts, but the extent to which phytoplankton track the moving isotherms differs between groups of species, contributing to community reshuffling (Chivers et al. 2017). There have been also been parallel shifts in the abundance and distribution of species higher up the food web including in commercial fish. As such range shifts in plankton are important indicators that climate change is impacting food-webs and ecosystem functioning.

Calanus helgolandicus, a warmer-water copepod, is replacing C. finmarchicus, a colder-water copepod, as the North Sea warms.

In July 2019 we presented trends in plankton distributions found from the Continuous Plankton Recorder survey at ‘Species on the Move’, a conference series on range shift science, this year held in South Africa. A particular focus of the conference series is on the implications of range shifts for policy and management. We illustrated how the monitoring of plankton indicators is key for meeting regional and global biodiversity targets. We also highlighted however, that distributional shifts are not often explicitly managed under many policy frameworks, and that the relevance of range shifts is not always clear to policy makers for their day-to-day decision making. It is therefore vital that scientists frame evidence on species range shifts in a policy-relevant way to ensure effective communication, ultimately facilitating the adaptive management of marine ecosystems under a changing climate.

Jake, Plankton and Policy

Read more:

Bedford, J., Johns, D., Greenstreet, S., & McQuatters-Gollop, A. (2018). Plankton as prevailing conditions: a surveillance role for plankton indicators within the Marine Strategy Framework Directive. Marine Policy. 89:109-115.

Plankton on the move: implications for global biodiversity goals


Beaugrand G, Luczak C, Edwards M (2009) Rapid biogeographical plankton shifts in the North Atlantic Ocean. Global Change Biology 15:1790-1803

Chivers WJ, Walne AW, Hays GC (2017) Mismatch between marine plankton range movements and the velocity of climate change. Nature Communications 8:14434

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Why do we need a global plankton diversity monitoring programme?

When most people think of biodiversity they think of iconic habitats like rainforests and coral reefs. Much of the ocean’s biodiversity, however, is too small to see without a microscope. Plankton are one of the most diverse groups of organisms on the planet. Critically, they underpin the marine foodweb and produce 50% of global oxygen – one out of every two breaths we take is produced by marine plankton. Plankton also respond quickly to environmental change and they aren’t widely fished. These features make plankton ideal indicators for ecosystem assessments to inform decision-making. To use plankton to inform decisions, however, extensive data are required. The Continuous Plankton Recorder (CPR) survey is unique amongst marine biological datasets in that the North Atlantic survey spans nearly 90 years, with the CPR network now including surveys in the Southern Ocean, Australia, the North Pacific, and New Zealand. Although not quite global in scale (yet!), the CPR survey is world’s longest and most spatially-extensive marine ecological dataset.

Upper panel shows the CPR transect locations together with the year of inception of that local survey. Lower panel shows the combined total number of CPR samples that have had plankton counts determined (from Batten et al. 2019).

The CPR’s sampling and analysis methodologies have changed very little in the past 8 decades which is one of the reasons for its success. Long time-series datasets, particularly those that sample at the spatial scale of the CPR, are incredibly rare in the marine environment but are critical to enabling us to detect responses to human pressures, including climate change. Though the CPR itself hasn’t changed, the applications of the survey’s data have multiplied from investigating local and regional scale change in plankton as food for fish to examining climate-driven changes at a basin scale (for examples see Table 1 in Batten et al. 2019 – or my CV which is filled with publications using this unique dataset!). CPR data can also be used in synergy with other datasets, such as satellite data, and CPRs themselves can be instrumented with sensors to simultaneously collect oceanographic data while still collecting plankton samples. These coincident datasets strengthen our ability to understand change in plankton and the foodweb at multiple scales.

CPRs ready for deployment

The CPR survey has co-evolved with policy drivers, and data from the CPR survey have been particularly successful at informing policy, in the UK, EU, and internationally. CPR data and science have contributed to ecosystem state assessments in the UK, USA, Canada and Australia. At the European level, two indicators for the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive were developed based on CPR data. The extensive spatial scale, multi-decadal time-series, and taxonomic richness of the CPR survey have placed CPR science at the forefront of evidence provision for high-level policy and management advice. Data and research from the survey have informed high profile and strategic global marine assessments such as the IPCC status reports and the United Nations World Ocean Assessment. These international assessments are key to raising the profile of marine ecosystem change and are widely read by those on both sides of the science-policy interface.

Further opportunities exist for CPR data to contribute to global policy mechanisms such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) post-2020 global biodiversity framework, and the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity Beyond Boundaries of National Jurisdiction (BBNJ). For SDG14: Life Below Water, CPR data can provide scientific evidence useful in development of global indicators to report the achievement for the Goal 14.1 on pollution, 14.2 on ecosystem-based approaches, 14.3 on ocean acidification, and 14.5 on marine protected areas. Such indicators could be developed and assessed at the regional or basin scale and reported through national mechanisms, enabling direct comparability between seas and national waters and allowing examination of change in a global context. Plankton information including the CPR data are currently not used in the global indicator suites of the current CBD framework or Aichi Targets despite the fact that the CPR’s scientific quality and data coverage could actually exceed the requirement of these indicators (Chiba et al., 2018). It is clear there is still work we can do, and additional applications of the CPR to policy.

SDG14 – all about the ocean

I am proud to have worked at the CPR survey for 8 years, and although I’m now at the University of Plymouth, I’m definitely a friend of the CPR and work closely with the team. This is an important and unique dataset that is unparalleled in enabling us to understand ocean change. The data and science arising are therefore critical to informing the robust evidence base we need to make good decisions about how we manage the marine environment. As we approach the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030) the importance of expanding the CPR’s global monitoring programme is greater than ever.

Abigail, Plankton and Policy

Read more:

Batten, S.D., Abu-Alhaija, R., Chiba, S., Edwards, M., Graham, G., Jyothibabu, R., Kitchener, J.A., Koubbi, P., McQuatters-Gollop, A., Muxagata, E., Ostle, C., Richardson, A.J., Robinson, K.V., Takahashi, K.T., Verheye, H.M. and Wilson, W., (2019). A Global Plankton Diversity Monitoring Program. Frontiers in Marine Science:

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Communicating science to policy: Parliamentary POSTnotes

The transfer of science from academia into policy is a challenge that is lamented at science and policy workshops, conferences, and meetings. In the UK we are actually improving this knowledge transfer process through joint science-policy working groups, co-production of papers and proposals, and formal knowledge exchange opportunities, such as the Defra and NERC fellowships that I hold. One of my favourite mechanisms for ensuring science is presented to policy-makers in a targeted and timely way is through the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology POSTnote series. POSTnotes are short, focused, scientific syntheses on a current or upcoming topic of policy importance. Each POSTnote is written and coordinated by a PhD student who speaks to 30-50 expert stakeholders, and thoroughly reviews the literature, to construct a short, 4-page briefing critically reviewing the state of the art of the subject, challenges and opportunities around the topic, and, future societal implications. POSTnotes are succinct enough to read quickly and so clearly written that the reader can easily understand the content, making them an effective tool to communicate science to decision-makers. In fact, I am such a fan that I even have my masters students write POSTnotes for one of their assessments!

I have recently contributed to my second POSTnote (the first was about UK Fisheries Management) and am really excited about the end product. This POSTnote, entitled Climate Change and Fisheries, was authored by James Stewart of University of Exeter and Dr Jonathan Wentworth (POST Environment Advisor), and examines the implications of climate change on UK fisheries. Some brief highlights include:

  • Climate change, including ocean acidification, is driving changes in fisheries habitats as well alterations to the distribution, abundance, and health of commercial fish
  • Climate change effects can be exacerbated by other human pressures, such as eutrophication and habitat loss
  • Fisheries will need to adapt to climate change, but this is challenging since the impacts of climate change on the fisheries themselves are not well understood
  • Achieving sustainable management of fisheries is key to preventing overfishing and ensuring healthy stocks

You can find out more about POSTnotes and how to get involved by following them on Twitter at @POST_UK.

Abigail, Plankton and Policy

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Putting the science in science-policy


Achieving Good Environmental Status most definitely requires science-policy collaboration. At the OSPAR level, for marine biodiversity, this collaboration happens through ICG-COBAM (the Intersessional Correspondence Group on Coordinated Biodiversity Assessment and Monitoring). Our delivery of the 2017 Intermediate Assessment, the first ever holistic assessment of marine biodiversity at the OSPAR scale, is a testament to the success of science-policy collaboration. However, as we approach our next assessment (the 2023 Quality Status Report), it has become clear to the scientists that we just need more time to talk science. At the normal COBAM meetings, which are a mixture of scientist and policy-makers, the focus is on meeting deadlines and policy delivery, which are both important, but don’t help progress the scientific aspects of indicator development and interpretation.

A gratuitous shot of the Eiffel Tower.

In response to this, in June 2019 the COBAM ecosystem component leads convened, for the first time, a SUPER (Assessing Biodiversity Status Under Pressure: towards an Ecosystem Resilience approach) COBAM workshop. This workshop had a clear focus on the science we needed to achieve in order to deliver the 2023 QSR. Unlike most COBAM meetings this workshop was purely technical and targeted cross cutting issues common to all of the ecosystem components such as threshold setting, integration, and how to best use limited resources.

The SUPER COBAM workshop was a huge success, attended by 40 technical experts across pelagic habitats, benthic habitats, food webs, birds, and mammals. It was refreshing and fun for all of us to talk science together for five days and we left the workshop stimulated and looking forward to the challenges coming up with the 2023 QSR assessment. Thank you to our colleague, Laurent Guerin, from the amazing Muséum national d’histoire naturelle for organising and hosting such and productive week!

The museum had an oceans exhibit which featured plankton!

Abigail, Plankton and Policy

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Funded PhD research studentship!

Come do a PhD with the Plankton team at University of Plymouth!

Applications are invited for a three and a half years PhD studentship. The studentship will start on 1 October 2019.

Director of Studies: Professor Philip (Chris) Reid

Second Supervisor: Dr Abigail McQuatters-Gollop

Additional supervisors: 

  • Professor Gregory Beaugrand, CNRS, Wimeroux, France
  • Dr Eric Gobberville, Sorbonne Université, France

Project description

Rationale: The studentship will research how the development and propagation of warm sea surface temperature anomalies from tropical seas towards the poles contributes to rapidly rising global temperature with consequent risks to marine ecosystems, fisheries and sea level rise, and with downstream effects on polar seas, society, the global economy and the insurance industry. This joint project between the Marine Biological Association (MBA) – Continuous Plankton Recorder Survey and the University of Plymouth is funded by the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences as part of AXA XL’s Ocean Risk Scholarships to examine and quantify risks to ecosystems, businesses and people from the changes taking place in the ocean.

Scientific context: The Earth is taking in more energy as heat than is reflected back into space with ~93% taken up by the ocean; a rapidly increasing uptake with large consequences for the atmosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere and biosphere, including the occurrence of extreme events. Extreme weather was one of the three top risks in the Global Risks Report 2018 of the World Economic Forum. The report followed the most intense month on record for extreme weather events (September 2017) and the most expensive US hurricane season since 2005. Also in 2017 large wildfires in the USA, Chile and Portugal, after a major El Niño, led to casualties and large economic costs. The term ‘ecological Armageddon’ was used in the same year by researchers to highlight the scale of global biodiversity loss and its consequences for fishery resources and agricultural systems. There is an urgent need to assess the broader implications of ocean warming and improve understanding of processes to better mitigate and manage change and evaluate possible future impacts on the insurance market.

Main objectives: The successful student will:

• 1. Update Reid and Beaugrand (2012) for the whole ocean, including its western boundary current ‘heat motorways’ and response to the 2014/16 El Niño, as an introduction to the manipulation and statistical analysis of large gridded datasets.

• 2. Examine non-linear step-like changes over time in regional and global temperatures and explore mechanisms and consequences of these shifts, such as trophodynamic changes and impacts on exploited resources.

• 3. Evaluate possible links to increases in extreme events and natural disasters using e.g. the OFDA/CRED International Disaster Database.

• 4. Utilise the Argo database that enables a 3D view of the changing status of upper ocean temperature, salinity and water circulation to investigate risks associated with the accelerated growth in ocean heat content from ~1990.

Links to risk and the insurance industry

Risk is the chance of something harmful or unexpected happening – in the case of this project from the speed and severity of rising temperature. The project will be of benefit to insurers through improved understanding of processes and planning for future ocean risk. AXA XL will act as a risk supervisor providing opportunities for the student to work with industry professionals on the translation of regional consequences of ocean warming to a risk scale relevant to the insurance industry.

Training, research facilities and working environment

Hosted jointly by the MBA and the University of Plymouth the student will be primarily based at the superbly located and friendly MBA Laboratory. Both institutions have excellent computing and other facilities. Training in the use of a high-level programming language such as Matlab and compatible database programs will be provided and are essential for the success of the research. A wide range of standard and innovative statistical techniques and data processing tools will be available. Networking with other graduates in the MBA and University will be encouraged. Opportunities to help with lecturing, practicals and assessment and to gain experience in science-policy issues and analysis techniques will be available with training in risk analysis techniques and the science-policy interface.

Selection criteria

Applicants should have (at least) a first or upper second class honours degree in an appropriate subject and preferably a relevant MSc or MRes qualification. A high degree of computer literacy is required preferably with experience of Matlab programming and working with Matlab and/or R statistical packages.


The studentship is supported for three and a half years and includes full home/EU tuition fees plus a stipend of £14,553 per annum. The studentship will only fully fund those applicants who are eligible for home/EU fees. Applicants normally required to cover overseas fees will have to cover the difference between the home/EU and the overseas tuition fee rates (approximately £12,285 per annum).

Further information

If you wish to discuss this project further informally, please contact Philip (Chris) Reid at McQuatters-Gollop, Gregory Beaugrand at or Eric Gobberville at However, applications must be made in accordance with the details shown below.

General information about applying for a research degree at the University is available at:

Please apply via the online application form.

Please mark it FAO Aimee McNeillie, clearly stating that you are applying for a PhD studentship within the School of Biological and Marine Sciences. Please attach a covering letter detailing your suitability for the studentship, a CV and two academic references.

For more information on the admissions process, please contact Aimee McNeillie.

The closing date for applications is 12 noon, Monday 22 July 2019. 

Shortlisted candidates will be invited for interview within two weeks of the closing dates.  Applicants who have not received an offer by 30 July 2019 should consider their application has been unsuccessful.


Desbruyères D. et al. 2017. Journal of Climate, 30, 1985-1997, doi: 10.1175/jcli-d-16-0396.1.

Reid, P. C. 2016. In Explaining ocean warming:causes, scale, effects and consequences, pp. 17-45. Ed. by D. Laffoley, and J. M. Baxter. IUCN (see: doi: 10.2305/IUCN.CH.2016.08.en).

Reid, P. C. and Beaugrand, G. 2012. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, 92: 1435-1450, doi:10.1017/S0025315412000549.

Wijffels, S. et al. 2016. Nature Climate Change, 6: 116-118, doi: 10.1038/nclimate2924.

Beaugrand et al. 2019 Nature Climate Change, 9: 237-243, doi: 10.1038/s41558-019-0420-1.

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Senior Policy Fellow: I’m now a (part-time) civil servant (advisor)!

In fall of 2018 Defra (UK Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs) advertised for a Senior Policy Fellow – Marine to work with Prof Ian Boyd (Chief Scientific Advisor) and his team to develop a systems approach to thinking about marine evidence. I applied for the position and have been awarded the fellowship! For two days per week I’ll be seconded into Defra, though I will still be based here at the University of Plymouth. The systems research programme is new and innovative and aims to drive the development and use of quality science to shape key Defra policies and the fellowship is both prestigious and influential. This is a particularly exciting time to be involved as the work that we will be doing will help to shape the UK’s environmental management after we leave the EU.

Only a true policy nerd is this excited to be at the House of Commons!

My fellowship, therefore, is all about increasing our capacity to make good decisions about how we manage the environment. I’ll be working with Defra colleagues but also further developing partnerships outside the civil service with the goal of increasing the scientific evidence base available for decision making. There is a lot of great science happening in the UK that just doesn’t get into the decision making process, but there are also research gaps that we need to fill to make good decisions. I will work to facilitate the transfer of science into evidence for decision making and also to identify research gaps along with opportunities to fill these gaps. I will learn loads, too, as I gain further experience in marine fisheries, pollution, and invasive species, in addition to my expertise in biodiversity science and policy.

I’m particularly interested in getting to better understand the internal workings of the civil service. I’ve worked closely with civil servants and policy makers for 10 years on evidence provision, but always from the academic side, rather than from the policy side. I am looking forward to learning more about how the civil service works, what happens to science as it becomes evidence, how the Defra prioritises its work, and how different bits of government join up.

I am really excited about the amazing high-level opportunity to be embedded in Defra and can’t wait to get started!

Abigail, Plankton and Policy

Posted in Brexit, Knowledge Exchange, Marine Conservation, Policy | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments