Adaptive responses to environmental variability, climate changes and anthropic impacts
Understanding how organisms composing communities and ecosystems are responding and will respond to the increasing pressure exerted on them by climatic changes and human activity has dramatic implications for the human species and is a challenge for the advancement of knowledge.
The research program “Environmental variability, climatic changes and anthropic impacts: adaptive response in benthic species, communities and benthic systems” aims at analyzing how populations, communities and marine ecosystems respond to different pressures by using a multi disciplinary approach.
A key question posed by stakeholders and widespread among scientists is how organisms composing communities and ecosystems are responding and will respond to the increasing pressure exerted on them by climatic changes and human activity.
Benthic organisms (complex of aquatic organisms that live on the bottom of the sea or a lake), taken both individually and at higher organization levels (populations, community, ecosystems), are subject to the influence of specific environmental forcing acting deeply on the physiology of individual species as well as on population structures and ecological dynamics within communities and systems.
At every hierarchical level of complexity, responses are produced aimed at stabilizing the occurrence of organisms and of their associations in an ecological context. However, the ever-increasing environmental variation on a global scale often exceeds the reaction capacity of individual species, the homeostatic control and the resilience of whole communities, leading to dramatic changes in the very structure of ecological systems.
Also direct human-induced impacts, such as the release of toxic pollutants, endanger marine ecosystems. One example is the effect of a number of xenobiotics which, by interfering with the hormonal activity of animals, act as endocrine destroyers, with damaging effects on the reproductive processes of organisms.
The present project aims at analyzing the response of organisms at various organization level to:
- a number of key environmental factors, such as temperature and CO2 concentration (producing ocean acidification), which are rapidly evolving on a global scale,
- a number of environmental variables acting on a local scale,
- a number of polluting agents.
The variety of approaches, both classical and innovative ones, conducted in the field, in mesocosms and in the laboratory, are strong points of the project and are fundamental for the early detection of alterations occurring at different levels of complexity.
Outcomes of the research, consistently with Horizon 2020 provisions, can be the production of accurate predictions of the effects of major environmental factors and of the impact of global changes in temperature and gas exchanges but also to provide a framework for the formulation of beneficial management practices which may mitigate the pressure on key coastal systems.
The research program, which is included in the three year research plan 2013-2015 of the Zoological Station, has 5 macro objectives:
- Adaptive response and functional processes in plant species and communities along environmental gradients
- Plant-Animal interactions and functional adaptations related to ecological factors and climate changes (acidification, temperature, alien species)
- Response to environmental stress: involvement of nitric oxide
- Phylogeny and comparative phylogeography of benthic invertebrates: acidification and its effects on local populations
- Impact of xenobiotics on the reproduction of marine invertebrates.