Black sea urchin with Thalassia hemprichii, a dominant seagrass of  Zanzibar Island

Impacts of Change on Ecosystem Functioning and Services

Programme Area I researches the fundamental processes that govern the functioning of tropical coastal social-ecological systems under varying conditions. It focuses on the services provided by these ecosystems and seeks to understand and model how they are affected by environmental change and anthropogenic pressure. Mangroves, seagrass meadows, coral reefs and estuaries serve as natural laboratories for investigating the effects of natural and anthropogenic change – both on a local and on a global scale – on ecosystem functioning.

Global warming, ocean acidification, increasing ultraviolet radiation, habitat destruction, resource overexploitation, eutrophication and pollution are considered major threats to these social-ecological systems. In order to better understand how these affect tropical organisms, their ecosystems, and the services they provide, Programme Area I focuses on the study of key organisms, their responses to environmental change and their interactions within the system; on the comparison of the structure and functioning of the different systems to gain insight into fundamental processes under changing conditions; and on the study of adaptation mechanisms with respect to physiology, growth and behaviour of relevant species.

Programme Area I also addresses the role of different coastal ecosystems as providers of services, and seeks to derive relevant information for the sustainable management of the resources they provide.