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Anchialine caves to understand evolutionary processes

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ANCAVE (Anchialine caves to understand evolutionary processes)

Reporting period: 2017-11-01 to 2019-10-31

The goal of this project was to use animal communities inhabiting land-locked water bodies with marine origin (called anchialine environments) as a model to investigate evolutionary patterns and processes in island-like marine habitats. Anchialine environments are comparable to islands for terrestrial habitats, providing independent replicates of comparable evolutionary processes and are known to harbour high endemism, species with unique set of features, and old animal lineages interpreted as living fossils.
The overall objectives of ANCAVE was to test empirical observations on peculiarities of animals living in anchialine systems, analysing them with macroecological and phylogenetic approaches in the field of evolutionary ecology, comparative evolution and island biogeography.
The first part of the project included a description of the patterns of distribution, improving our knowledge on which species live in anchialine systems and which peculiar features they have. For this part, several papers were published, describing new species for science of annelids, kinorhynchs, nematodes, and crustaceans, and identifying the potential processes driving the genetic spatial structure of an anchialine cave annelid in the Great Bahama Bank.
Moving at the community level, we analysed the potential drivers of species composition and biogeographic features in different anchialine caves, including those of Los Cerebros and Atlantida in Lanzarote in the Canary Islands.
Regarding the evolutionary aspects, we focused on annelids, and we investigated the general phylogeny and evolutionary trajectories of a genus of scaleless scale worms, the anophthalmia and elongation of body appendages in cave scale worms, and the evolution of cave suspension feeding in a family of annelids.
The results of the project were exploited to create awareness on the unique ecological systems of anchialine caves, with interviews with local radios at press conferences, publication of books and chapters on book for tourists and stakeholders involved in such habitats. The dissemination strategies for the scientific communities included the organisation of a workshop on anchialine microscopic animals, and of a whole meeting on anchialine systems, which attracted several participants from all over the world.
The progress so far revealed a much higher diversity in these habitats, and the current compilation of a worldwide reference database on anchialine fauna will represent a relevant stepping-stone in the field. The database currently has about 120,000 records, and we expect it to reach 150,000 when completed.
In addition to the massive activity of compiling the database, for each group of species present in the dataset, multilocus phylogenies are being obtained, in order to address ecological and evolutionary questions on anchialine systems at the largest scale.
The socio-economic impact of these results are clearly visible in the implementation of protection strategies in the Global UNESCO Geopark in Lanzarote and the Chinijo Islands, which now uses as a mascot for merchandising a puppet of the endemic crab living in the anchialine systems of the island.
Particular emphasis has been placed in the dissemination of the results of ANCAVE, both to the general public and amongst research peers. The results were showcased in two international conference: the 24th International Conference of Subterranean Biology (Aveiro, Portugal), with one oral communication and a poster, as well the 4th International Symposium for Anchialine Ecosystems, organized by the researcher in Lanzarote, with nine communications. Additionally, the researcher has been invited to give seminars, sometimes as part of workshops, at the University of Basel (Switzerland), the University of Belfast (United Kingdom), Moscow State University (Russia), Federal University of Parana (Brazil), and University of the Azores (Portugal), where part of the results of the project were presented to colleagues, university students, and the general public.
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