Ecology of the coastal zone plants

The plant communities in coastal zones constitute important ecosystems with multiple ecological functions.

They:

  • are very productive
  • contribute to increasing coastal biodiversity
  • act as natural coastal protection
  • act as buffer for the exchange of nutrients from land to sea
  • influence carbon dynamics

Well-functioning plant communities in coastal zones are a sign of good ecological quality. The plant communities are, however, sensitive to human impacts in the form of nutrient loading, fishing pressure and physical impacts on the coastline and sea bed such as construction works, fishing with scraping equipment and anchoring. It is therefore necessary to protect the plant communities through sustainable development of the coastal zone.

Our research centres on the factors regulating the distribution, biomass and growth of coastal zone plants, the ecological functions played by the plant communities and how the plant communities can be used as indicators of ecological quality. Our research forms the basis for evaluating how best to preserve and re-establish well-functioning plant communities.

Our research is closely coupled with the marine monitoring programme. The extensive data sets from the 1980s and onwards, gathered within the framework of the programme, allow identification and modelling of interactions between water quality and plant response at both a spatial and a temporal scale through statistical analyses. In order to regulate various impacts on nature on an informed basis, it is important to be able to predict how nature responds to these influences, and our research is necessary to render such ecological predictions possible. Using advanced statistical methods, we seek to quantify the uncertainty of our models so that our predictions about the effects on plant communities under given impact scenarios are accompanied by an estimation of the uncertainty related to the predictions.

Furthermore, we work experimentally and test the response of plants to changes in growth conditions along natural gradients in the field and simulated gradients in the laboratory.

Our research is undertaken in collaboration with colleagues at AU, colleagues from other Danish universities, governmental institutions and private companies and through a large and inspiring international network, involving exchange of experiences and actual collaborative projects (see survey of projects). The research within this area also overlaps with other departmental research areas such as “algae as a resource” and “arctic ecology”.