Christopher Harley

Wall Scholar




Department of Zoology





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Christopher Harley

The Earth has entered a period of rapid and dramatic change. Global warming, ocean acidification and invasive species all threaten natural ecosystems and the benefits that they provide.

Through my research, I attempt to understand how various aspects of global change, alone and in combination, affect the ways in which species interact with one another and ultimately influence the distribution and abundance of marine plants and animals. To link patterns of change to underlying mechanisms, I combine highly controlled research in the laboratory with long-term monitoring and experiments in the field.

Primary Recipient Awards

Christopher Harley – Wall Scholars – 2016

During my time as a Wall Scholar, I will explore novel ways to communicate global change science to a diverse audience. First, I am developing visual representations of long-term change through the use of historical photographs. This is a continuation of an ongoing project, which has accumulated numerous historical photos and modern retakes of the same scene to demonstrate the shifting patterns of plants and animals on the shore. At somewhat shorter time scales, I am interested in illustrating change with the use of time-lapse video. Time-lapse video will help to she light on processes ranging from sea stars attacking mussels to seasonal and even inter-annual changes in the distribution of mussels on the shore.
Another interesting visual approach is the recreation of 3-D environments using still photos taken by a drone or even a smart phone. I plan to try doing this with a thermal imaging camera to show where and when plants and animals are at risk of getting too hot. Finally, I am working on turning data into sound files to provide an alternative to visual data presentations. So far, this has produced interesting renderings of tidal patterns. I now want to apply this technique to sea level rise, warming, and other aspects of climate change with the end goal of presenting the results in collaboration with environmentally-inspired artists.

Christopher Harley – Wall Scholars – 2015

During his time as a Wall Scholar, Dr. Harley is planning to work on at least two main themes. First, he is continuing to collaborate with participants from a recent Peter Wall Institute International Research Roundtable on the effects of multiple stressors. Ecologists have struggled to predict the outcomes of complex environmental changes because species’ responses to one stressor – like warming – may be enhanced, reduced, or even reversed by changes in other environmental variables. In fact, “unexpected” outcomes of multiple stressors arise far more commonly than simple cases where the effect of two stressors is the additive sum of each stressor operating alone. His research team is developing ecological and physiological theory with the goal of predicting when combined stressor effects would lead to ecological outcomes that would otherwise have been surprising.
Second, he will be exploring ways of helping the public to connect to climate change impacts via visual media. As a part of this, Dr. Harley will be seeking out historical photographs of shorelines around BC, and retaking the photos to show how the plants and animals have changed through time. He will also be collaborating with artists and other researchers in a discussion of our changing marine environment through the Oceans Project.

Christopher Harley – International Research Roundtables – 2013

Ocean Acidification: Global Implications for the Marine Environment
Principal Investigator(s): Dr. Christopher Harley, Department of Zoology, UBC.
Ocean acidification– the changes in ocean chemistry being driven by the burning of fossil fuels– has been described as global warming’s “evil twin.” Unlike global warming, which has analogs in the recent geologic past, ocean acidification will soon produce seawater that is more acidic than it has been for hundreds of millions of years. The rate of change is also unprecedented, and may outpace species’ abilities to adapt. Because of its extraordinary magnitude and global scale, ocean acidification is now believed to be the single greatest threat to marine ecosystems. The scientific community has only come to fully appreciate the magnitude of this threat in the past five to ten years. In that time, researchers have determined that acidification slows or prevents growth in animals with calcium carbonate skeletons (everything from corals to clams to sea urchins to sea angels) and increases growth in some marine plants.
To date, almost all of this work considers a single species at a time. In natural ecosystems, however, species interact by eating or out-competing one another, and what is bad (or good) for one species may be indirectly good (or bad) for other species. Without an ecosystem-level understanding, the results of studies on individual species cannot be used to predict which species will actually become more abundant, less abundant, or even extinct. This, of course, is exactly the type of information we need to manage our fisheries, conserve endangered species and ecosystems, and ensure food security and quality of life for the 41% of all humanity that lives within 100 km of the ocean. At present, ecosystem-level ocean acidification projects are being initiated in several habitats and geographic locations. Different groups also use different techniques, all of which have strengths and weaknesses. Although incremental progress is being made, overall progress of the field as a whole is hampered by insufficient communication and synthesis and by the lack of concerted, global-scale efforts towards high-priority research goals. The objectives of this Roundtable are to establish a global research network, to synthesize existing information and approaches to produce a set of general predictions, and to provide a blueprint for testing these key predictions.

Christopher Harley – Early Career Scholars – 2012