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Structure and dynamics of marine rocky benthic communities: Reactions and perspectives facing the global change

Final Report Summary - MAREA (Structure and dynamics of marine rocky benthic communities: Reactions and perspectives facing the global change)

Anthropogenic activities modify ecosystems worldwide, changing biological cycles, transforming the environment, and enhancing the mobility of biota. Coastal marine habitats are a main focus of attention because they harbour a high biological diversity, are among the most productive systems of the world and are affected by several anthropogenic impacts. The Mediterranean sublittoral coralligenous rocky benthic communities are highly sensitive to climate change and the spread of invasive species, among other disturbances. Currently, there is an increasing concern about the unexpected consequences on direct and potential combined effects of these disturbances. This scenario offers a wide horizon of research opportunities to understand and ameliorate ongoing threats to marine ecosystems.

Europe's marine biodiversity constitutes a vast but fragile resource of great cultural and economic importance to its people. Many marine species of the Mediterranean Sea are presently endangered and some are probably prone to extinction. The degradation of marine Mediterranean ecosystems began centuries ago, but there is no global summary of the magnitude of this change. This project aimed to analyse long-term trends on the high-diverse coralligenous communities. The highly-diverse coralligenous communities support social and economic development in several European regions. Therefore, their protection is an imperative socioeconomic and environmental need. Long-term trajectories of communities provide a powerful tool to explain global patterns and causes of ecosystem collapse, as well as to predict future ecosystem states, allowing managers to anticipate ecosystem decline through an understanding of the sequences of species and habitat loss.

The project focused on the reactions of the species and communities facing strong disturbances associated to global change. To do so, an approach including ecological field surveys (baseline data on community and population structure and dynamics), environmental data (temperature), and statistic analysis was developed.

Brief summary of the main activities carried out during the ERG:

- Several littoral scientific expeditions in the north westerrn Mediterranean Sea, covering more than 2 000 km, were carried out to obtain ecological data.
- Stays at international research centres: Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies (NY, USA). Topic: Course on likelihood methods in ecology, year: 2009. Delaware State University and North Carolina State University, Topic: Scientific discussion with researchers, year: 2009. University of Bologna (Italy), Topic: Course on detecting biological and environmental changes, year: 2008.
- Transfer of knowledge: (in course) Co-direction of PhD thesis (Barcelona University) with the title 'Biodiversity and conservation of coralligenous communities in the north western Mediterranean Sea'. Master student of marine sciences (Barcelona University). Title: Population dynamics of the soft coral Alcyonium acaule in the north western Mediterranean Sea, a five-year study (2009-2010).

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