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Grey mullet as environmental indicators

An EU-funded initiative investigated the potential of grey mullet as environmental indicators. Project work contributed to efforts aimed at managing and protecting estuarine ecosystems.
Grey mullet as environmental indicators
Estuaries, deltas and lagoons are the point where the freshwater and marine environments meet, resulting in high levels of biodiversity. However, they are highly sensitive to climate change and human activity. Conservation of these vulnerable environments is one of mankind's biggest challenges. In order to achieve integrated management of these sites researchers must choose suitable indicators that can reflect the state of estuarine areas. Indicators sometimes involve the fish species living in estuarine ecosystems, although only a few can thrive in a wide diversity of habitats.

The 'Main uses of the grey mullet as indicator of littoral environmental changes' (MUGIL) project used grey mullet (Mugil cephalus) as part of an observation network for monitoring sites in Europe, Africa, Asia and America. They are found in almost all of the world's tropical and temperate coastal waters and can tolerate some pollution as well highly variable salinity levels. The fish also play an important role in fisheries, particularly in developing countries.

Grey mullet are a common species that can reproduce and grow under a wide range of conditions in different habitats; but the mechanisms involved are not well understood. Researchers observed the life history, trait variations and physiological responses to changing salinity and pollution levels in grey mullet populations.

The consortium set up a series of seminars and workshops that included the construction of a database for all relevant information. Other workshops involved understanding the species' life history and migration patterns as well as the standardisation of research methods. Current and past results from genetic studies and the best method for processing and studying samples were also investigated.

Results from the MUGIL initiative can help establish the use of grey mullet as living environmental indicators of the condition of estuarine ecosystems. The use of the species has the potential to help manage vulnerable coastal ecosystems and help mitigate any negative impacts.

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