Project coordinator: Patricija Mozetič, PhD
Duration: 1.1.2020 - 31.12.2025
The authors acknowledge the financial support from the Slovenian Research Agency (research core funding No. P1-0237).
Healthy, productive, and resilient oceans and seas significantly contribute to the prosperity of society. Changing oceans are characteristic of the Anthropocene era that poses poorly known risks to ecosystem services. Climate change, combined with other anthropogenic pressures (i.e. pollution, eutrophication, urbanisation, bioinvasion, fisheries) have multifaceted impacts on marine coastal ecosystems like the northern Adriatic, where those impacts couple with the intrinsic natural variability.
Both structural and functional elements of biodiversity play a fundamental role in maintaining and deﬁning healthy marine systems. So, the central goal of the interdisciplinary programme 'Coastal Sea Research' is to provide a deeper understanding of the biodiversity and its underlying mechanisms of the northern Adriatic ecosystem. This will be achieved through:
i) advanced studies across all organisational levels – from genes to entire ecosystems spanning both the pelagic and benthic realms;
ii) identifying the drivers of change affecting the marine environment and biodiversity;
iii) addressing societal needs that in balance with nature conservation safeguard healthy seas.
In particular, we aim to further our understanding of the functional ecology of phytoplankton based on the functional traits and genetic characteristics of ecologically important species. We will study the diversity and biochemical aspects of microbial networks and their interactions with other organisms, organic matter, and artificial substrates. Besides, we will investigate the impacts of recurrent jellyfish blooms on the pelagic ecosystem, paying particular attention to non-native and invasive species. We will continue long-term surveys of coastal fish assemblages, the benthic flora and fauna, mesopredators, and habitats along the Slovenian coast. Topicalization, bioinvasion, coral bleaching, and the regression of benthic vegetation related to different stressors are additional topics this study will cover. Genomic analyses will yield the composition of communities, as well as trophic, symbiotic, and phylogenetic relationships. We will also consider the impacts of climate change and local urban and economic development scenarios (in particular maritime traffic). Both natural and anthropogenic inputs from the atmosphere, rivers, and human activities will be analysed to gauge their impact on the biogeochemical cycles. Plastic pollution and other emerging contaminants will also be considered. We will explore the biotechnological potential of jellyfish organic mass, microorganisms, and healing mud from marine and extreme hypersaline environments. By testing methods for seafood traceability, we aim to foster the safe trading of marine products.
The outcome of the programme will provide a solid knowledge base that can serve as the foundation for a future scientist – decision-maker partnerships and will contribute to the ocean literacy of society through several outreach activities.
Significance for the development of science and Slovenia
Through the interdisciplinary approach to develop scientifically based solutions, we aim to address important socio-economic issues that are subject to global or regional/local environmental perturbations.
This research programme will provide observations of a changing level of biodiversity in the northern Adriatic across a range of scales that range from genes to ecosystems to supply information on the functional biodiversity. Our work on plankton, coastal fish, benthic communities and habitats will yield several Essential Biodiversity Variables such as genetic diversity, species distribution, population abundance and structure, functional traits, taxonomic diversity and interactions, secondary production of selected functional groups, disturbance regime, and habitat structure. Through genomics, we intend to uncover community compositions as well as trophic, symbiotic, and phylogenetic relationships. Methods based on HTS sequencing generate large amounts of data that will be managed using advanced bioinformatics approaches. Inventories of marine microbiomes, plankton, and the benthos, from omics results, will be deposited in publicly accessible databases and shared among the European research infrastructures and projects where we take part (LifeWatch and Assemble Plus). Culture collections of selected microalgae and microbes will be maintained to ensure validated local strains for their physiological and biotechnological exploration. The outcome of the programme will provide a significant advancement of the state-of-the-art in a variety of fields, particularly concerning the marine plastics problem, including the detection, chemical identification, and ecological impacts of plastics. The biotechnological potential of the jellyfish-microbiome that causes microorganisms to synthesise enzymes and other compounds is largely unexploited and may lead to unforeseeable biological, medical, or pharmaceutical applications. Our work will also lead to new insights on how to use empirical data in ecological and oceanographic models to yield possible warning systems for coastal zones and projections for future climatic scenarios.
One of the main challenges currently faced by Slovenian society about its marine environment and ecosystems is to find a balance between economic prosperity and the preservation of higher ecosystem services on a relatively short coastline along the edge of a small and vulnerable marine basin. There are existing guidelines set forth to achieve this balance, both on a global (Sustainable Development Goals, in particular, SDG14 and the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, 2021-2030), European (Blue Growth strategy, Marine Strategy Directive and other directives), and national level (Slovenian Development Strategy 2030 and Slovenian Smart Specialisation Strategy – S4). As scientists, we should strive to support their application and implementation through research and fostering science–stakeholder partnerships. Scientific progress in the fields of aquaculture and biotechnology will create possibilities to facilitate Blue Growth. Our programme directly contributes to the stated goals for achieving Blue Growth, provides additional know-how and improved access to information about the sea, contributes to risk assessment and security, and it is in line with several national research priorities, regional strategies and conventions (BlueMed, EUSAIR, Barcelona Convention).