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Centre for

Marine Biodiversity and Biotechnology

From the shoreline to the deep ocean, tackling issues from pure ecology
and physiology to aquaculture, marine spatial planning and conservation.

Rebecca Grieve

Rebecca's Project:The impact of hydrodynamic change associated with marine renewable installation on species of conservation importance

How marine renewable structures change the marine environment, both hydrologically and ecologically, is still relatively unknown as installation and development in this sector is still in its infancy.

Horse mussels (Modiolus modiolus) and the calcareous algae Maerl, are biogenic habitat engineers, because they provide refugia for other organisms and have a disproportionate impact on biodiversity relative to abundance. These biogenic habitats are recognised as OSPAR priority habitats and included in MPAs around Western Europe. Both occur in areas of moderate-strong tidal flow and low to moderate wave exposure in near shore coastal environments. The occurrence of such habitats is strongly influenced by hydrological conditions as these sessile organisms are reliant on adequate flow for food and nutrient supply amongst other physiological factors.

Understanding and answering the question of how the hydrodynamic change associated with marine renewable installation could impact species of conservation importance, both positively and negatively, is important in impending marine spatial planning and conservation commitments. Potentially, renewable structures may actually create new environmental niches for such habitats and in doing so enhance biodiversity.

Clarifying the environmental requirements of M. modiolus and Maerl, particularly their hydrological niche, will be researched. It is thought that marine renewable structures will significantly change surrounding hydrodynamics at both localised and large scales, from metres to kilometres. Understanding how energy extraction from tidal and wave marine renewable structures will change hydrological conditions is a major area in this research.

It is hoped that a combination of modelling techniques, including 3D flow and predictive habitat modelling, will identify where the installation of marine renewables could potentially create new environmental niches for M. modiolus and Maerl. The output should help to inform the most appropriate areas where the installation of marine renewables may enhance biodiversity and therefore help achieve several national, European and regional environmental and climate change targets.


Bill Sanderson (CMBB, Heriot-Watt University)


NERC studentship with Scottish Natural heritage as the case partner


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School of Life Sciences, WP3.04 Heriot-Watt University, Riccarton Campus, Edinburgh, EH14 4AS

Rebecca Grieve Maerl Comp