The University of Southampton is tasked with assessing the biodiversity of the soils and sediments across six different marsh and mudflat systems in Essex and Morecambe.
We have collected 1584 core samples during two intensive site visits across the winter and summer. We are currently working through these samples, teaspoon by teaspoon, identifying the invertebrate species that inhabit the area. Many of the invertebrates we are finding are small, but they are high in number and collectively contribute much to the structure and quality of the habitat. By mixing the sediments, they aerate the soil, stimulate the microbes that are responsible for the processing of organic material and enhance nutrient cycling. As different species bury to different depths and work the soils in different ways, maintaining the diversity of these organisms is important.
We will combine our measurements of below-ground species diversity with those of the other groups in our consortium who are assessing other aspects of diversity (microbes, plants, seaweeds, insects). This information will enable us to assess the role of biodiversity in maintaining important ecosystem processes and properties, ranging from nutrient cycling through to coastal protection and understand how and when biodiversity is important for maintaining the many benefits we derive from coastal systems. Over the next few months we will continue to identify and enumerate the species in our samples, before examining what the relative contribution of each species is in maintaining an integral ecosystem.