Scientific project

Consequences of future climate change for marine forests gene pools

A project aimed at investigating the effects of climate change on key marine forest species, such as kelp, fucoids and cold-water corals.

Credits: Paul Levesley on unsplash

Climate change is driving the redistribution of marine biodiversity, altering the stability and functionality of marine ecosystems. Its impacts are particularly striking for marine forest species, the structural basis of coastal ecosystems, with cascading effects that reduce local biodiversity and disrupt ecosystem services. For the low dispersive and sessile marine forest species, the key to their persistence through changing climates may be held in their ability to adapt to new conditions. Evolutionary theory supports that populations with higher genetic diversity show higher adaptive capacities and plasticity, increasing their probabilities of persistence. Thus, identifying the drivers of genetic diversity and the populations holding higher diversity is crucial for conservation and effective management.

At the ecosystem level, species richness and endemism are fundamental metrics of biodiversity and are used as indicators of high conservation value. Yet, such biodiversity estimates and their drivers are limited for the marine environment and especially for marine forest species, precluding effective conservation and prioritization.

Understanding how biodiversity patterns, from genes to ecosystems, have been shaped through fluctuating past climates, can help us hindcast future patterns that can inform conservation strategies. This project aims to study the drivers of marine forest biodiversity, from genes to ecosystems, and provide stakeholders and scientists with quantitative measurements of present-day gene diversity, species richness and endemicity, as well as future estimates, in the form of climate change impact assessments.

The outcomes of our analyses will provide quantitative measures of marine forest biodiversity for the present day and the future, which could be used to guide political decisions for effective conservation and management measures.

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Jorge Assis [PhD, Associate Researcher]
Centre of Marine Sciences, University of Algarve [Faro, Portugal]
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