European eel use of coastal grazing marshes: informing eel conservation

This project is available from the academic year 2022/23 onwards.

Theme: Biodiversity, Ecology & Conservation

Primary Supervisor:

Carl Sayer

Geography, UCL

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Secondary Supervisor:

Adam Piper

Behavioural and Population Ecology Theme, IOZ

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Project Description:

The European eel (Anguilla anguilla) has undergone a dramatic decline across the entirety of its range since the 1980s. Key contributors to this decline include infection by the swim-bladder parasite Anguillicola crassus, climate change and overfishing. Important additional factors are declines in habitat quality and the introduction, over many decades, of migration barriers and hence eel exclusion from potential habitats. As a result of these issues the eel is currently the focus of intense conservation efforts in Europe.

Coastal grazing marsh systems, consisting of networks of drainage ditches and often scrapes and pools associated with wading bird conservation, may be of especially high importance to the European eel, but currently, we know little regarding eel use of these habitats. The student will investigate the distribution of eels in grazing marsh and associated habitats in relation to local barriers (sluices and flaps), as well as changing habitat conditions linked to variations in water quality (salinity, nutrients), macrophyte structure and local grazing pressure. The study will combine eel, habitat and water quality surveys with telemetry (pit tagging and/or acoustic tagging) and elver trapping. There is high potential to study the Cley-Salthouse marshes on the North Norfolk Coast (eastern England) in addition to sites in the Thames system.

Policy Impact of Research:

The EU Eel Regulation (EC 2007) has obligated Member States to implement eel management plans (EMPs) to increase the biomass of eels leaving EU waters on their way to the spawning area. By increasing understanding of the importance of coastal grazing marshes and how to best to manage this habitat for eel, the project will feed into ongoing conservation efforts.

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