Research Profile | Julian Koplin | Marine Science & Climate Change

"Image analysis with ZooScan is an emerging trend and this study can guide other researchers in the application of this methodology throughout the whole Mediterranean."
17th November 2021
Julian Koplin, one of our Master in Marine Science and Climate Change students, spoke to us about his research project, creating the first baseline study of zooplankton distribution in the Bay of Gibraltar.

Describe your MSc project?

The aim of this study was to create the first baseline study of zooplankton distribution in the Bay of Gibraltar, while observing the tidal influences. Zooplankton can act as an indicator for good quality in marine waters, because they directly respond to variability in the environment. Monitoring the zooplankton community composition on a regular basis is therefore crucial for any country aiming to achieve and maintain good environmental status (GES) in their territorial waters under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD).

What type of research has it involved and what skills have you learned?

This research included a field study with zooplankton sampling and environmental measurements taken on two days in consideration of the tidal cycles. Determining the taxonomic composition of a zooplankton community traditionally with a microscope is labour and time intensive, therefore, the imaging system ZooScan was used to digitise the collected zooplankton samples. This process allows simultaneous analysis of multiple organisms in a sample and the taxonomic composition of the zooplankton community is automatically predicted based on deep-learning algorithms, saving time with identification. Through the measurement of length ratios, the metadata that is attached to single images can be used to determine abundances or biovolumes of samples and allows further analysis to interpret food web dynamics. Before, a critical literature review was conducted to identify gaps in knowledge and emerging trends in the study of zooplankton in the Mediterranean Sea region.

Were there any partners/stakeholders on your project?

Due to the nature of this research, the results will add to the monitoring efforts of the Department of the Environment, Sustainability, Climate Change and Heritage (DESCCH) to achieve and maintain good environment status. The department therefore acted as an important stakeholder for the study and provided support on many levels. The image analysis was conducted at the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research in Bremerhaven.

Why should the public know about this topic?

The Strait of Gibraltar is known as the gate between the North East Atlantic and the Mediterranean Sea with still expanding heavy marine traffic, utilising the port in the Bay of Gibraltar. This can lead to a heavily modified waterbody, with an increase of pollution and nutrient input potentially leading to an uncontrolled proliferation of microalgae; the climate crisis leads to warming waters and a species regime shift in the Mediterranean; through the ballast waters of shipping foreign species can be introduced into the Gibraltarian waters with wide ranging impacts on the ecosystem. Zooplankton has been essentially overlooked in monitoring efforts in the Bay of Gibraltar, although regular monitoring of their dynamics creates opportunities to detect those threats.

What is the wider impact of your research?

Gibraltar’s Marine Monitoring Programme for British Gibraltar Territorial Waters (BGTW) does not yet include regular zooplankton monitoring and is listed as “monitoring developments & gaps” in the “Marine Strategy Framework Directive – Updated monitoring programme for British Gibraltar Territorial Waters consolation report” released July 2021. Additionally, to presenting the first evidence on zooplankton composition in the Bay, this study gives recommendations on how to improve and conduct zooplankton monitoring studies in the Bay. Image analysis with ZooScan is an emerging trend and this study can guide other researchers in the application of this methodology throughout the whole Mediterranean. The Bay influences the dynamics of the Strait of Gibraltar and vice versa, as the gate between Mediterranean and Atlantic, the Strait has implications for all of the western Mediterranean ecosystem. Understanding how the zooplankton behaves within the Bay and how it might influence the dynamics in the Strait is therefore not just important on a local scale.
  • MSc

    Master in Marine Science & Climate Change

    Designed and delivered by expert academics and scientists, this full or part-time interdisciplinary programme blends theoretical study with practical, field-based work. You will cover specialist subject areas and gain the skills required to tackle the complex issues associated with the sustainable development of marine ecosystems.[...]

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