Mechanisms that regulate biological processes and ecology of plankton
Plankton has a pivotal role as climate regulator and is responsible of matter and energy transfers within the trophic web. Therefore understanding how plankton is responding to pressures from human activities and global change is of utmost importance.
The program “Mechanisms that regulate biological processes and ecology of plankton” aims at defining the biological traits and key processes of planktonic communities in relation to various abiotic and biotic stimuli.
One of the most pressing questions is how communities and ecosystems respond to human pressures and climate changes. In order to answer this question, it is absolutely necessary to take into consideration plankton, which has a pivotal role as climate regulator and is responsible for matter and energy transfers within the trophic web. As a consequence, plankton rules the whole functioning of marine ecosystems. Our predictive capabilities about the interaction between human pressures and plankton, including climate, depend upon the identification and understanding of abiotic and biotic processes. In addition, also the analysis of functional diversity within the plankton communities must be considered.
The acquisition of this information is well framed within the themes of Horizon 2020, protection of the marine environment as source of products, energy and biotechnologies as well as for the identification of tools for policy makers decisions. This project aims at characterizing the biological traits and the key processes of plankton communities, focusing on life cycles, and the responses to biotic and abiotic stimuli.
planktonThe complexity of the plankton system requires a deeply integrated approach and includes:
- experiments in the lab under controlled conditions,
- long-term observations,
- in situ experimentations, integrated by numerical modelling.
The multidisciplinarity, encompassing physical oceanography to molecular biology, together with the combination of different approaches, is the innovative aspect of the project. The gene expression in response to different stimuli will be investigated both in lab studies and in natural communities, and the results stemming from this will feed models to be used to simulate the adaptation of the organism to the stimulus.
The lab experiments will use diatoms, one of the most important algal groups, to the study of which the Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn of Naples (SZN) has greatly contributed in recent years. The investigation of the mechanisms regulating the cellular responses to some of the stimuli will use a cell and molecular perspective, laying the basis to frame the functional processes investigated within an ecological context. This project also consolidates the diatoms as a model system for functional studies, also through the characterization of new mutants with possible biotechnological applications.
Moreover, the project further develops the topic of the effects of secondary metabolites produced by diatoms on marine organisms also by integrating a molecular perspective.Temperature - Salinity - Chlorophyll Feeding experiments and incubations with compounds produced by diatoms will be instrumental to investigate their teratogenic effects on predators. At the same time, the role of diatom secondary metabolites in the interactions between plankton and bacteria will be investigated. And finally, model organisms such as tunicates and the sea urchin will be used to elucidate the molecular mechanisms elicited by these compounds.
The experiments in the lab will integrate the information from in situ distribution and functionalities of natural communities as related to biotic and abiotic forcings.
To this end, the project envisages the continuation of the long-term coastal sampling site (LTER-MC in the Gulf of Naples), which investigates at a decadal scale the plankton dynamics in the frame of internal evolution as well as in response to external forcings, including human impact
The research program, included in the three year research plan 2013-2015 of the Stazione Zoologica,has four macro objectives:
- Molecular mechanisms that regulate perception and response to environmental stimuli
- The role and impact of secondary metabolites in algal physiology of organisms and ecosystem functioning
- Long-term plankton responses to climatic and antropic forcings (LTER-plankton)
- Process studies on the functioning of plankton communities in marine ecosystems.