Connectivity of larval stages of sedentary marine communities between hard substrates and offshore structures in the North Sea

Johan van der Molen, Luz María García-García, Paul Whomersley, Alexander Callaway, Paulette E. Posen, Kieran Hyder

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Man-made structures including rigs, pipelines, cables, renewable energy devices, and ship wrecks, offer hard substrate in the largely soft-sediment environment of the North Sea. These structures become colonised by sedentary organisms and non-migratory reef fish, and form local ecosystems that attract larger predators including seals, birds, and fish. It is possible that these structures form a system of interconnected reef environments through the planktonic dispersal of the pelagic stages of organisms by ocean currents. Changes to the overall arrangement of hard substrate areas through removal or addition of individual man-made structures will affect the interconnectivity and could impact on the ecosystem. Here, we assessed the connectivity of sectors with oil and gas structures, wind farms, wrecks, and natural hard substrate, using a model that simulates the drift of planktonic stages of seven organisms with sedentary adult stages associated with hard substrate, applied to the period 2001–2010. Connectivity was assessed using a classification system designed to address the function of sectors in the network. Results showed a relatively stable overall spatial distribution of sector function but with distinct variations between species and years. The results are discussed in the context of decommissioning of oil and gas infrastructure in the North Sea.
Original languageEnglish
Article number14772
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 3 Oct 2018

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