Impacts of environmental change on UK coastal ecology for nature based solutions


Nature-based solutions to natural hazards and environmental change offer the potential to protect, sustainably manage and restore natural or modified ecosystems while providing multiple other benefits for health, the economy and society. Although well-designed NbS can deliver multiple benefits for people and nature, attention typically focusses on terrestrial systems (e.g. tree planting for carbon sequestration). Coastal NbS, such as using tidal wetlands to attenuate storm surges, accommodate flooding and mediate greenhouse gas emissions, are emerging as traditional coastal engineering solutions tend to be expensive, temporary solutions that alter natural dynamics in ways that can exacerbate coastal hazards. Coastal flora and fauna provide significant coastal protection, cost savings, and biodiversity, but remain underexamined. Given their potential to provide a more sustainable and resilient long-term solution to coastal sustainability we need to understand the impacts of climate-driven changes and environmental forcing on these systems. This project will focus on understanding how coastal sediment-dwelling fauna and flora (e.g seagrasses) respond to environmental stressors and will assess the implications for supporting NbS strategies and enhancing coastal adaptation plans. Laboratory and field experiments combined with geomorphological assessments will examine the importance of sediment fauna and flora for coastal protection under varying environmental and climatic contexts.



A combination of laboratory and field experiments will be used to quantify how the presence/absence of key sediment-dwelling faunal species affects the development and structure of coastal seagrass and marsh communities. Using our state-of-the-art facilities and well-established experimental protocols, experiments will be conducted under different environmental (e.g. different warming and acidification scenarios) and biological contexts (incl. changes in floral and faunal diversity and community evenness) to determine how these interact to affect coastal ecosystem processes and the protection potential of UK seagrass communities. Experimental outcomes will be combined with existing data from the literature to assess the sediment stabilisation potential of seagrass and coastal marsh communities for maintaining UK coastlines.


University of Southampton

The INSPIRE DTP programme provides comprehensive personal and professional development training alongside extensive opportunities for students to expand their multi-disciplinary outlook through interactions with a wide network of academic, research and industrial/policy partners. The student will be registered at the University of Southampton and hosted within the School of Ocean and Earth Science. Specific training will include:

  1. laboratory-based experimental skills in marine ecology,
  2. experimental design and spatio-temporal data analysis techniques,
  3. use of technologies capable of non-invasive quantification of structures, including high-resolution computed tomography, aerial drones and lidar, acoustics and ground penetrating radar
  4. numerical modelling of flow dynamics
  5. image analysis


Eligibility & Funding Details: 
Please see for details.
Background Reading: 

Solan et al. (2020) Benthic-based contributions to climate change mitigation and adaptation. Phil Trans Roy Soc B 375: 20190107

De Los Santos et al. (2017) Short-term growth and biomechanical responses of the temperate seagrass Cymodocea nodosa to CO2 enrichment. Mar Ecol Progr Ser 572: 91-102

Lazarus et al. (2016) An evolving research agenda for human–coastal systems. Geomorphology 256: 81–90