Ben Harvey


Research Interests

I am broadly interested in all aspects of marine ecology, particularly the role of environmental change on community structure and ecosystem functioning. My research has generally focussed on the effects of climate change on species physiology, population demographics, and community-level interactions. At present, I am using the CO2 seep system in Mikama Bay, Shikine Island, Japan to investigate the ecosystem-level, long-term effects of ocean acidification. Overall, my research has been interdisciplinary in nature, including manipulative experiments in aquarium mesocosms, in-situ experiments involving natural gradients (CO 2 seeps), laboratory-based work such as population genetics, meta-analytical approaches, and modelling approaches including dynamic energy budgets and structural equation modelling.

Consumer-resource dynamics under climate change

The target for much of climate change research is to establish explicit predictions regarding the population- and community-level effects of future climate change. Work associated with global warming in particular, suggests that the majority of local population extinctions are not entirely associated with physiological responses to elevated temperature, but instead primarily due to alterations in species interactions. Yet, the majority of climate change experiments to date have been relatively short-term, single species experiments and are therefore not easily extrapolated up to natural ecosystems. My research involves investigating how consumer-resource dynamics (including predator-prey, plant-herbivore and non-consumptive effects) will be influenced by future climate change. This will help achieve a more holistic picture of the response at the community and ecosystem levels, by providing an understanding of how factors at different levels of biological hierarchy will influence responses to climate change. Only then can we establish whether the future organisational structure of marine ecosystems will resemble the communities of today, and how the goods and services of future ecosystems will be affected.

Scaling from the individual to population-level processes

Despite evidence for the impacts of single stressors on individual species growing rapidly, research suggests that these climatic impacts will not necessarily translate directly into changes in distribution and abundance. Scaling up from individual to population-level responses will therefore require an appreciation of how climate change can not only influence the physiology of the individual, but also key demographic transitions affecting population dynamics. My research uses the natural CO 2 seeps in Vulcano (Italy) to investigate prolonged (multi-generational) chronic exposure of the predatory gastropod (Hexaplex trunculus) to ocean acidification. We investigate the energetic trade-offs in the physiology of the individual, and how this ultimately impacts their population structure using population genetics. This work highlights the need for a deeper understanding of the link between the individual and (often unknown) population demographics, which we suggest is vital for predicting and managing the consequences of climate change.

Dynamic energy budgets and individual-based modelling

I am also interested in utilising alternative approaches to scale up from the individual to population or community-level effects. Dynamic Energy Budget (DEB) theory is such an approach. It aims to understand the dynamics of biological systems by using a balance approach for mass and energy. When DEB theory is combined with individual-based modelling, it can be used to combine the life-history traits of the individual with population dynamics, including the interaction with environmental variables. This is important since trade-offs in the life-history traits (between growth or reproduction) will strongly influence their fitness, and ultimately population dynamics. Hence, my research aims to take the biological responses of the individual due to environmental change (such as the results from in vitro experiment work in aquarium mesocosms) and link those responses, utilising a mechanistic framework, to population-level consequences.