Fair Isle Benthic Species Distribution Modelling

Tim Merrick @ Focal Plane Photo

Benthic habitats and species are an important feature of any marine environment and is recognised as a priority research area within the Fair Isle DRMPA programme. There is very little known about the Fair Isle’s benthic habitats and is thus hard to quantify levels of appropriate marine management. 

The aims of this research project are to investigate benthic species and habitats and their distributions within the Fair Isle DR MPA to deliver the first detailed picture on predicted biotope and species presence around Fair Isle; and provide a baseline to plan and appraise future research and management. The Fair Isle Benthic Species Distribution Modelling is delivered in partnership with the DR MPA Steering Group and lead by Shetland UHI.

A desk-based analysis of available marine environmental data, marine biotopes and species information within the Fair Isle DR MPA, its surrounding waters, and marine records around Shetland will be performed to identify marine data. Information from this Work Stream which will directly feed into the Habitat Distribution Modelling.

Habitat Distribution Modelling (HDMs) that predict potentially suitable habitat are based on presence data and environmental factors (for example, bathymetry). Biotopes and environmental variables identified during desk-based analysis will be used to create a series of predicted distribution of potentially suitable biotope habitats. HDMs will also concentrate on marine habitats of conservation interest (e.g., habitat Priority Marine Features, PMFs).

A hydro-acoustic survey will then be performed to map the nearshore coastal waters around Fair Isle and will partly be influenced by the desk-based analysis. Targeted area coverage survey using a hull mounted multibeam (WASSP WMB-160F) will be used. The multibeam system outputs detailed bathymetry information and backscatter data which can be used in the creation of habitat maps. The outputted information will be ground-truthed through a series of Drop-Down Video (DDV) drifts using a C-Technics camera system comprising a CT3023 SLV full HD video camera. If possible and time allowing, a lander will be used to capture footage of mobile species in the waters around Fair Isle.

Species Distribution Modelling (SDMs) and updated HDMs will concentrate on mobile marine species of biological interest to the DR MPA (e.g., species contributing to important foraging habitats of birds and cetaceans) and time allowing those of commercial interest (e.g., fisheries). Biotope-coded DDVs will also be inputted to update the HDMs.

This project is funded by players of People’s Postcode Lottery through the National Trust for Scotland’s Love our Nature project.

A squat lobster (Galathea strigosa) and a closed beadlet anemone (Actinia equina) on a typical boulder cave floor

A squat lobster (Galathea strigosa) and a closed beadlet anemone (Actinia equina) on a typical boulder cave floor. © Graham Saunders

A squat lobster (Galathea strigosa) and a closed beadlet anemone (Actinia equina) on a typical boulder cave floor

Dhelia Anemone. © Graham Saunders

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