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© Kay Panten
Institute of

SF Sea Fisheries


Multiple Stressors on North Sea Life (MuSSeL)



Using high-resolution models, we aim to better understand the combined impacts of climate change and human uses on the southern North Sea. The MuSSeL project combines geophysical with novel theoretical models to identify hot spots of change.

Background and Objective

Seabed life in the southern North Sea is exposed to both geophysical changes and growing human activities. How climate change, fisheries and offshore wind farms affect the good ecological status of the seabed and the diversity and functioning of benthic communities, and which risks are associated with this, is so far largely unknown.

The MuSSeL project combines geophysical models with novel theoretical concepts and use scenarios to assess impacts for the past (1980), present and future (2050) and to identify hot spots of change. MuSSeL combines the expertise of research institutions and federal agencies to synthesise anthropogenic stressors such as nutrient inputs, chemical pollution, dredging, landfilling and bottom fishing.

Using high-resolution coupled modelling, we investigate climate-induced changes in marine physics, marine biogeochemistry and sediment transport for the southern North Sea. We follow how both sets of stressors affect changes in pelagic productivity, the composition of benthic organisms and the distribution of demersal fish.

The aim is to integrate the considered cause-effect relationships in an operational model framework. Thus, the effects of use scenarios and thus the risk of cumulative effects on specific ecosystem functions and processes can be assessed. We are specifically working on easy-to-use tools as decision support and advise potential users on their application.

Target Group

Science, Industry, Politics, Agencies, Nature conservation


At the Thünen Institute of Sea Fisheries, we are working on the application of trait-based methods to analyse and predict cumulative effects of different stressors on the status of benthic epifauna and demersal fish in the southern North Sea. Traits describe functional properties of species and serve as a proxy for their influence on ecosystem processes and ecosystem stability. Furthermore, we are developing an operational model that integrates modelled cause-effect relationships. Specifically, the goals of the Thünen Institute of Sea Fisheries include:

  1. to develop a concept for the assessment of cumulative effects on epifauna and demersal fish in the southern North Sea,
  2. to transfer the concept into an operational model for the spatio-temporal prediction of cumulative effects in relation to use scenarios,
  3. to define functional traits for epifauna and demersal fish with regard to relevant pressures and to analyse their spatio-temporal dynamics with regard to thresholds and tipping points, and
  4. to develop web-based decision-making tools and consolidate these by stakeholders.

Our Research Questions

  • Where are the tipping points of important environmental variables and stressors that have led to significant changes in functional aspects of the near-bottom fish community in the past?
  • How does a conceptual representation for the analysis of cumulative pressures look like?
  • What are the combined impacts and associated risks of future management scenarios on seabed ecological status and benthic communities?

Links and Downloads

Funding Body

  • Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF)
    (national, öffentlich)


11.2020 - 10.2023

More Information

Project funding number: Förderkennzeichen: 03F0862D
Project status: ongoing

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