Distribution modelling of the benthic habitats within the Fair Isle Demonstration and Research Marine Protected Area

UHI Shetland in partnership with the Fair Isle DR MPA Executive Steering Group have released a report detailing preliminary findings from the Fair Isle Benthic Habitats Distribution Modelling research project. This report details predicted biotopes and Priority Marine Features potentially present within the Fair Isle DR MPA

The underwater habitats (biotopes) on the seabed around Fair Isle were identified as a research priority due to the limited knowledge that exists about them. Biotopes represent ecosystems where distinct groups of plants, animals and environmental factors interact within a shared space. To understand how much area and the precise location that biotopes inhabit we used models to predict where they might be. These modelled outputs will be used to guide future surveys, research effort and management decisions within the Fair Isle DR MPA.

The research covered in the report used Distribution Models to identify biotopes potentially found within the Fair Isle DR MPA. Distribution models are created by using marine environmental data such as depth, temperature and salinity to predict which biotopes may be present. The models also included biotopes of conservation importance, such as Priority Marine Features (PMFs).

Preliminary models have identified 16 potential biotopes within the Fair Isle DR MPA including 5 potential PMF biotopes. These findings will be ground-truthed using multi-beam system hydro-acoustic and drop-down video footage during boat surveys around Fair Isle this summer. This data will be used to create updated models which will be invaluable in identifying and confirming the biotopes and PMFs present within the Fair Isle DR MPA.

UHI Shetland’s Postgraduate Marine Scientist Tanya Riley said “I'm thrilled by the early insights our research has provided into the underwater world surrounding Fair Isle. By combining the distribution modelling techniques with in-the-field surveys, we hope to shed light on previously unmapped marine habitats and Priority Marine Features within the protected area. This collaborative effort marks an important step forward in our understanding and conservation of Fair Isle's rich marine biodiversity.”

This project is supported by the players of People’s Postcode Lottery through the National Trust for Scotland’s Love our Nature project.