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Thresholds in human exploitation of marine vertebrates

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - SeaChanges (Thresholds in human exploitation of marine vertebrates)

Reporting period: 2019-04-01 to 2021-03-31

Sustainability studies of Europe’s marine environment may have focused on geological and biological data, but they have not extensively integrated disciplines such as archaeology or the evidence this field can provide in understanding the past use of resources. The SeaChanges project involves experts in archaeology, zoology, marine ecology and conservation biology from seven leading institutions who will build a bridge between the archaeological and biological sciences to develop an interdisciplinary training platform. This will help researchers investigate the impact of humans on key European marine species through the millennia. SeaChanges will also improve the understanding of marine vertebrate populations and raise awareness of human impact on such species historically.

SeaChanges provides state-of-the-art training to forge a new generation of interdisciplinary researchers able to operate at the interface of archaeology and marine biology. The seas are crucial to European economy, identity, and food security, as recognised by H2020 Blue Growth. Marine resource use has influenced European societies for millennia, and we in turn have impacted the seas. The need for long-term perspectives to inform marine management is becoming clear, but disciplinary silos hold back integration of archaeological data/approaches to this end. SeaChanges brings together experts from 7 leading institutions in archaeology, zoology, marine ecology & conservation biology, united by our recognition of this gap. We will pool our disparate skills and experience in an integrated training programme, creating a new generation of researchers who from the outset of their careers have the interdisciplinary understanding & skills required fully to realise the potential of archaeological remains to a) understand past marine resource use, b) assess past impacts, and c) use these to inform the present.

SeaChanges will:
1) develop a truly interdisciplinary training platform, breaking down boundaries between archaeological & biological sciences.
2) improve understanding of the time depth of human use of and impact on key European marine species.
3) train a cohort of researchers who can communicate across disciplinary and sectoral boundaries, whose insights will drive the adoption of long-term perspectives into concepts of sustainable fishing.
4) increase cross-disciplinary and cross-sectoral awareness of the potential of long-term perspectives in marine ecology.
This is achieved via dedicated training in bioarchaeology, ecology, and communication, supporting a network of 15 complementary research projects that apply diverse methods to address both social and ecological themes, covering all of Europe's seas, key marine species, and timescales from decades to millennia.
Despite having funding confirmed later than most (after initially being on the reserve list), the programme swiftly established a strong infrastructure of key individuals to ensure it launched on time, with the vast majority of ESRs commencing, as planned, in Autumn 2019.

An ambitious and enthusiastic group of ESRs, a dedicated and experienced team of Supervisors and a strong, focused Management Team and Supervisory Board provide solid foundations for the SeaChanges Network which, despite the significant setbacks faced as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, is still on track to achieve its original objectives and is going from strength to strength.

The programme of training workshops was front-loaded to provide as much training and knowledge of research methods as possible, before sampling work and analysis took place. Four workshops were scheduled to take place in the first 2 years of the programme: one ran as planned, one was postponed twice and eventually ran online, one was cancelled and replaced with separate online training, and one has been postponed into the 2nd half of the programme. Every effort has been made to ensure the ESRs have been supported locally to address any gaps in knowledge to ensure their research could progress as planned.

The ESRs have made the most of local support, training and expertise, and have been extremely proactive in seeking out opportunities further afield to complement the training provided via the SeaChanges network. They have also been collaborating, both formally and informally, and despite only meeting face to face once at the Kick-Off meeting, have formed some strong professional and personal relationships. The ESRs have also been engaging with the partner network to access their materials, knowledge and support.

Secondments and research trips have also been significantly affected by Covid-19, with many date changes, some new secondments added and a couple cancelled completely. Samples and data have been obtained remotely where in-person secondments could not take place.

Individual projects are generally progressing well, with some hindered more significantly than others by the Covid-19 restrictions. ESRs, supported by their Supervisors, have reworked research timetables to try and address more desk based activities whilst travel and lab access was restricted, and in some cases had to rethink sample selection and data collection. In some extreme cases ESRs had to rethink or remove a research area as it became completely infeasible to progress in the timeframe. ESRs were asked to predict what, if any, extension to the project completion date they would require - on the whole an average of 3 months per project is required, with a few still planning to complete on time and some requiring up to 6, 9 or 10 months additional time.

The current SeaChanges programme end date is 31st March 2023; given the above, we are currently anticipating a request to extend the overall programme of somewhere between 3 and 6 months to ensure all projects are finished by the end of the programme.

With regards results, as the research has not progressed as quickly as anticipated, this area is still developing, however preliminary results and draft papers that are being generated are extremely encouraging. A couple of notable developments to date include:
- The production of the first published paper: Long Term Perspectives on Marine Vertebrates in the Eastern Mediterranean: Applications of Biomolecular Archaeology. (
- Imminent publication of a 2nd paper: Historical demographic processes dominate genetic variation in ancient Atlantic cod mitogenomes (
- Several other papers are currently under review or recently accepted.
- Development of a database of zooarchaeological records identified as Atlantic bluefin tuna, and establishing an online domain - which houses a database of records and is updatable by researchers;
- The development of a novel software program for genomic analysis that will allow researchers to use even extremely poor-quality genomic sequences, which should mitigate some of the waste in destructive analysis and open new avenues for research.
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