Outputs and Projects: Research Topics

Anthropogenic Pressures in Coastal Oceanic Ecosystems

Sampling microplastics Cachalote MARE- Madeira

Most of the world’s population lives within 100km of the ocean, and nearly 75% of all large cities are located on the coast. However, for centuries, this human dependence on ocean and coastal ecosystems has resulted in the gradual modification of these ecosystems through direct and indirect pressures. In particular, island ecosystems are often biodiversity hotspots that are acutely sensitive to disturbances and are experiencing rapid increases in tourism and other key anthropogenic pressures including biological invasions, marine debris, coastal development, marine pollution, and climate change, all of which have diverse and significant consequences on biodiversity.

MARE-Madeira is focused on documenting the interactions among multiple anthropogenic pressures and their impacts on oceanic island coastal ecosystems, using Madeira and Macaronesia as a model system. For this purpose, MARE-Madeira researchers are examining historical data, conducting field experiments and mesocosm trials, implementing long-term monitoring, and engaging with citizens and stakeholders.

 

Marine Technology and Artificial Intelligence

Ecology studies and monitoring of marine habitats greatly rely on qualitative and quantitative data collection on the biological diversity and organisms’ abundance over gradients of different environmental conditions and factors. To great extent, these have been hampered by limited capabilities in data collection and in data processing, but the rise of Artificial Intelligence, digital massification, and increasingly easier access to hardware development and cheaper technologies have opened the door to the development of customizable sensors, survey technology, and Artificial Intelligence assisted processing.

MARE-Madeira is invested in developing methodological tools, sensors with data logging capabilities, remote sensing protocols, mobile apps, and optimized automated classification of imagery and other data. Research is focused on providing new tools and functional workflows with multiple applications in marine ecology and biology studies in islands, ranging from bathymetric mapping and litter detection from aerial imagery to submersible robots, multi-sensors, and data loggers or custom Baited Remote Underwater Video Systems and automated image classification workflows.

 

Marine Megafauna Behavior, Physiology and Ecology

Cachalote MARE- Madeira

Marine megafauna plays crucial ecosystem services in maintaining their structure and functioning. It comprises animals from several taxonomic groups (e.g., mammals, fishes, reptiles), in which most species are top predators. In addition, many of these species are threatened due to their exposure to varying levels of human-induced pressures that can include overfishing, pollution, marine traffic, marine litter, and climate change.

On the other hand, oceanic insular environments such as those surrounding Madeira and the Macaronesian archipelagos benefit from island mass effect processes, aggregating high diversity points for marine megafauna. However, studies in such remote habitats face numerous challenges and are unbalanced when compared to coastal habitats.

MARE-Madeira seeks to contribute to advances in the knowledge of factors and processes affecting marine megafauna, with a special focus on island ecosystems. Using the proximity of the open sea off the coast of the islands of Madeira as an in situ laboratory, and with the Macaronesia and the North Atlantic as a background integrative ‘scenario’, MARE-Madeira relies on a multi-disciplinary approach covering biotelemetry, biogeochemistry, acoustics, genomics, ecotoxicology, technology or ecological modeling to address forefront issues related with food-web, movement, functional ecology, sociality, environmental change, and anthropogenic pressures on marine megafauna.

 

Ecosystem Based Approach on Plankton and Benthic Ecology

Jellyfish - MARE-Madeira

Plankton and benthic organisms are influenced by a combination of physical, chemical, and biological components, which have a direct influence on their ecology. Modification(s) in morphological, life history, behavioral, and/or physiological traits of species or functional group(s) might drive cascade effects in organism interactions, biogeochemical cycle, and eventually at the level of the entire ecosystem

In the context of anthropogenic pressures increasing and climate changes, a holistic approach is primordial for monitoring and investigating the complex effects and interactions of the different components on plankton and benthic organism ecology. 

MARE-Madeira seeks, through field survey, experiments, and modeling, to understand how plankton and benthic communities of the insular system react to multiple abiotic (e.g. climate change, microplastic, land influxes,…) and biotic (e.g. NIS, predation,…) stressors, as well as how the changes in those communities impact the ecosystem structure and functioning.

 

Experimental Marine Ecology

MOSS - MARE Madeira

Studying the complex relations between marine biota and the environmental variables is a primary requirement for ecosystem management and conservation, especially in vulnerable insular systems characterized by isolation and a high level of endemisms. 

To address part of these issues, the scientific approach of MARE-Madeira combines field surveys and manipulation experiments, interplaying between biological invasions, climate change, and stress ecology.

Aquatic mesocosms are designed to evaluate how organisms or communities might react to environmental change through controlled manipulation of environmental variables, acting as a link between field surveys and highly controlled laboratory experiments, since they take into account relevant aspects from the real world, without losing the advantage of reliable reference conditions and replication.

In this context, the mesocosm system MOSS (Marine Organisms Stress Simulator) set up at the MARE-Madeira facility at Quinta do Lorde Marina, is designed to test key questions in marine ecology and biology using continuous flow-through seawater. The MOSS infrastructure includes 6 pre-treated tanks (400 L) and 8 mesocosm units (500 L) allowing to develop of several experiments simultaneously with the potential to manipulate a range of environmental factors (including light, nutrients, pH (CO2), temperature), and perform thermal tolerance trials, stress ecology trials, or community-ecosystem ecology trials.

MARE-Madeira also has a small sampling laboratory with several stereomicroscopes and a variety of field and technical equipment that allow performing experimental studies in the field.

 

Citizen Science, Restoration and Conservation

Seagrass - MARE Madeira

Around the Globe, public involvement and citizen engagement are increasingly becoming an important source of data, providing valuable information for scientific uses with low dedicated effort and costs. MARE-Madeira citizen science initiatives emerge from collaborations between researchers of different fields of science, stakeholders, and interested members of the local community. Through these collaborations, volunteers have been helping in mapping litter and fauna, assisting researchers to uncover geographic distribution patterns and correlations with multiple factors. Simultaneously, public engagement effectively contributes to raising awareness of marine conservation issues and to the importance of marine-related research.

Presently, MARE-Madeira is also developing multiple projects and initiatives that are designed to promote and enhance the protection and restoration of coastal habitats in the region. These efforts include innovative community-based spatial management, restoration, and conservation projects aiming to regenerate lost seagrass meadows and macroalgal forests in Madeira.