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Department of Geography


A hierarchical approach to the examination of the relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem service flows across coastal margins (CBESS)

The Coastal Biodiversity & Ecosystem Service Sustainability (CBESS) initiative sits within the six-year (2011-2017) NERC BESS research programme which will answer fundamental questions about the functional role of biodiversity in key ecosystem processes, the delivery of ecosystem processes at the landscape scale and how these are likely to change in an uncertain future. Other key ecosystems being investigated by the BESS consortium are Lowland Agricultural, Upland River and Urban. Cambridge Coastal Research Unit (CCRU)’s involvement with this large-scale project represents an opportunity for extensive interdisciplinary collaboration with a variety of leading researchers resulting in outcomes which will support the effective management of coastal ecosystems across the UK and globally.

The fundamental aim of the CBESS project is to establish links between biodiversity and ecosystem service provision from salt marshes and intertidal sediments over different scales of measurement. CBESS adopts an integrated hierarchical approach to quantify the linkages between biodiversity stocks (microbial, macroflora, invertebrate meio- and macrofauna, avifauna), multiple ecosystem functions, and flows of key ecosystem services (Provisioning: agricultural meat production, Regulating: coastal protection and greenhouse gas exchange, Supporting: nutrient cycling and structural habitat provisioning, and Cultural: recreation) up to landscape scales in complex, but ecologically and socio-economically critical transitional coastal landscapes.


CCRU is a global leader in the monitoring and modelling of wave energy dissipation by intertidal wetlands and is a central contributor to the consortium of 14 established and 9 early career researchers, from 7 academic institutions with 9 government and non-governmental partners. CCRU’s specific contribution will be a two year study of relationships between saltmarsh biodiversity, structure and composition and the services provided in terms of regulation of incident wave energy at six UK sites, three on the Essex coast and three in Morecambe Bay. Wave transformation over unvegetated and vegetated intertidal surfaces, as well as across a range of transition zones between these two types of surfaces, will be recorded at each of these six sites. The effect of vegetation-specific friction on wave propagation across the surface will be quantified. The varied range of vegetation canopies at the different sites will allow a comparison of such friction geographically and in relation to ecological structure and diversity measures..

The findings will be integrated with those of other consortium partners to produce a much needed landscape-scale understanding of the links between the functions that these systems provide (ecosystem service flows) and the organisms that help provide these services (biodiversity stocks).


None yet from this project.

Relevant publications/background

  • Möller, I, Spencer, T., French, J.R., Leggett, D., and Dixon, M. (1999) Wave transformation over salt marshes: A field and numerical modelling study from North Norfolk, England. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science, 49, 411-426.
  • Möller, I., Spencer, T., French, J.R., Leggett, D.J., Dixon, M. (2001) ‘The sea-defence value of salt marshes – a review in the light of field evidence from North Norfolk’. Journal of the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management 15, 109-116.
  • Möller, I., Spencer, T., and Rawson, J. (2002) Spatial and temporal variability of wave attenuation over a UK East-coast saltmarsh. Proceedings of the 38th International Conference on Coastal Engineering, Cardiff, July 2002. London: Thomas Telford Publishing, 362.
  • Möller, I. and Spencer, T. (2002) Wave dissipation over macro-tidal saltmarshes: Effects of marsh edge typology and vegetation change. Journal of Coastal Research SI36, 506-521.
  • Möller, I. (2006) Quantifying saltmarsh vegetation and its effect on wave height dissipation: results from a UK East coast saltmarsh. Journal of Estuarine, Coastal, and Shelf Sciences, 69(3-4), 337-351.
  • Feagin, RA, Irish, J.L., Möller, I, Williams, A.M.,Colon-Rivera,R.J., and Mousavi, M.E. (2010). Short communication: Engineering properties of wetland plants with application to wave attenuation. Coastal Enginering,58(3), 252-255.


CBESS partners