Hypersaline lakes/lagoons play an important role in biospheric processes and are notable for the highest rates of organic matter and calcium carbonate deposition. Because they are natural carbon sinks, they efficiently counter the greenhouse effect. Mankind has been exploiting hypersaline lakes as a source of minerals, medicinal mud and various biological products. At the same time, it is a common policy to consider small hypersaline reservoirs as lifeless and useless in terms of ecology and economics, and to ignore them in policy for land use. Though investigations on hypersaline lakes are remarkably numerous, most of them are utilitarian in character. Few ecological investigations of these ecosystems have been comprehensive and scientifically rigorous and thorough. As a result, there is no reliable scientific basis on which to allow the sustainable use of these unique ecosystems. Unique features of hypersaline ecosystems are particularly their specific bioenergetics and carbon cycling. Their energy/carbon fluxes are so great that they are often considered to be 'natural bioreactors'.
The aim of this project is to quantify the total energy budget of such systems and to gain insight into the crucial coupling between the carbon and energy fluxes in them at different levels of biological organization, from cell to ecosystem. The particular tasks for fieldwork are: (i) to assess biodiversity, its formation patterns and maintenance mechanisms in Crimean and Italian hypersaline lakes; and (ii) to measure energy fluxes going through the ecosystems involving participation of macro- and microbiota. Complementary laboratory experiments will be performed to study (i) the bioenergetics of the key species of the micro- and macroorganisms employing both traditional and novel equipment and methods, particularly calorimetry with its unique feature of measuring instantaneous energy flows; and (ii) carbon cycling in terms of production and transformation of organic matter and calcium carbonate against a climatological background. The work will be published focusing on quantitative assessment of hypersaline basins functions of services and outlining the potential biotechnological uses of them. Special attention will be given to hypersaline hydrobionts producing unique organic substances potentially useful to man. This will give rise to proposals for new biotechnologies. A particular study will be made of the responses of the examined ecosystems to a variety of anthropogenic impacts, with special emphasis on changes in their biodiversity, food web structure, energy budget and consequences for their services. Central to the research will be a model of the functioning of hypersaline ecosystems that will be able to forecast potential changes emerging under the impact of recent climatic and anthropogenic factors. Measures will be proposed to provide sustainable exploitation of hypersaline basins contributing vitally to the European environmental strategy.
199034 St Petersburg