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Network of Leading European AQUAtic MesoCOSM Facilities Connecting Mountains to Oceans from the Arctic to the Mediterranean

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - AQUACOSM (Network of Leading European AQUAtic MesoCOSM Facilities Connecting Mountains to Oceans from the Arctic to the Mediterranean)

Reporting period: 2020-01-01 to 2021-08-31

Aquatic ecosystems are under increasing pressure due to eutrophication, pollution, warming, droughts and other impacts due to the growing human population. We depend on aquatic systems for drinking water, food production, recreation and other ecosystem services. The threats to the world’s aquatic resources are obvious, but our knowledge is insufficient to produce accurate predictions to effectively manage and mitigate negative impacts on our future marine and freshwater ecosystems.
It is important to understand cause-effect relationships when assessing the consequences of environmental change to develop mitigation measures. At the ecosystem scale, cause-effect relationships are best studied experimentally in the field, using comparable units of enclosed water bodies that represent subsets of aquatic ecosystems, called mesocosms. Mesocosms combine the strength of modern experimental design and the realism offered by whole-lake experiments and field investigations.
AQUACOSM fill a global gap by creating a united freshwater and marine research infrastructure (RI) network of mesocosm facilities integrating 2 SMEs and 19 institutions running 37 mesocosm facilities from mountains to ocean sites, from the Mediterranean to the Arctic. This provides the international research community with a unique RI enabling leading research on aquatic ecology.
AQUACOSM made a significant impact on European aquatic ecology by offering close to 10000 Transnational Access days to infrastructures for external users around the world, training young scientists, creating new technical solutions, collecting and spreading information and increasing the interaction with industry, managers and the society at large.
AQUACOSM specific objectives were to:
• Strengthen the European network of mesocosm facilities as an integrated RI providing unique research opportunities for the international scientific community.
• Support European research communities by sharing existing networked facilities, and capacity building by education and developing Standard Operation Protocols.
• Enhance the Technology Readiness Levels (TRL) of mesocosm facilities by increasing the performance of sensors and mesocosm related technologies for sustainable long-term use.
• Improve the joint use of mesocosms within and outside the AQUACOSM consortium.
• Improve cooperation with other Research Infrastructures (RI) to foster synergies and propose a roadmap for European mesocosm RIs in dialogue with stakeholders.
• Seek long-term sustainability based on science priorities and economic innovation opportunities.
During the 56 months of the project, AQUACOSM has successfully:
• established the first European network of internationally leading mesocosm facilities integrating marine, brackish and freshwater sites
• created a web portal (www.aquacosm.eu) as a key tool for management and external information flow, i.e. as online portal for Transnational Access (TA) application and provision to the mesocosm facilities, data handling, announcements of collaborative activities, teaching, social networks and newsletters
• created an open-virtual global network portal for aquatic mesocosms: www.mesocosm.org
• opened its facilities for 171 TA projects with provision of 9761 person-days to participants from all continents, demonstrating that the AQUACOSM TA program attains recognition from the scientific community and as well as SMEs. Despite the pandemic restrictions, the TA program supported 45 TA projects in 2020 and 2021
• developed a Database Management Plan adhering to the H2020 Open Research Data Pilot, and Guidelines for database management, including controlled vocabulary and a Mesocosm Metadata Catalogue for TA users
• developed an online visualization tool of data from mesocosm experiments, depicting commonly measured parameters
• compiled a collection of comprehensive standard operating procedures (SOPs) on essential methodology in aquatic science, including assessments of microbial-, phyto-, and zooplankton, periphyton, chemistry, high frequency measurements, data collection, data quality and assurances and processing (available on www.aquacosm.eu)
• developed free-floating mesocosms (Aquacosms) that can withstand moderate wave and ice action. 12 units are available to the scientific community, including the follow-up project AQUACOSM-plus (2020-24). The Aquacosms offer cost-effective standardization, applicable for lakes, coastal systems, biotechnological testing, ecological engineering and winter experiments that is critical in a warming world
• designed and tested autonomous measuring systems AQUABOX and LAMP, which proved highly valuable in the pandemic period, allowing scientists to be remotely involved in future experiments
• conducted the first Joint Mesocosm Experiment (JOMEX) coordinating several partners and external participants investigating the effects of brownification along salinity gradients and latitudinal span from the Arctic to the Mediterranean
• educated students and general public on events, and early career researchers in summer schools
• published more than 50 scientific articles in peer-reviewed journals (www.aquacosm.eu/project-information/publications/)
The establishment of AQUACOSM in 2017 is the first close international collaboration between a range of freshwater and marine mesocosm facilities, previously operating independently. This collaboration resulted in the first cross salinity gradient comparative standardized experiments. The Joint Research Activities sparked international interest and thus established a momentum of collaboration that we anticipate to expand well beyond the AQUACOSM and the follow-up project, AQUACOSM-plus, specifically through the growing mesocosm.org network.
Building on the strongholds form the former different disciplines, AQUACOSM have created series of Best Practice documents promoting standardization between mesocosm facilities for data handling, analytical and experimental procedures. The collaboration also significantly improved the technical approaches, e.g. high-frequency in situ measurements. This proved particularly useful during the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing TA through remote access, thus moving present mesocosm science beyond the state of the art, while providing solutions to a global audience.
The AQUACOSM consortium include partners providing international access to mesocosms since decades, which may explain that it was possible to complete access for 171 projects with 9761 person-days despite that the COVID-19 pandemic made in-person TA provision very difficult. Thus, the AQUACOSM TA program stands out as a solid service to society, providing lasting networks for the next generation scientists and stakeholders preparing for a sustainable continuation of this novel cross-disciplinary field.
Map of the AQAUCSOM partner facilities