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Marine Biodiversity Exposed


Top European marine biodiversity experts in Lecce, Italy.

Marine biodiversity was ‘exposed’ on a number of different levels in Lecce, Italy 8th-11th May 2006, where MarBEF (Marine Biodiversity and Ecosystem Functioning) a European Network of Excellence held its third general assembly in a ‘conference style’ meeting. On the agenda were talks by members on their research varying from ‘The paradox of the plankton’ and ‘The role of native and/or invasive ecosystem engineers in explaining biodiversity’ through to ‘Marine Biological Valuation: an integrated view on nature’s intrinsic value‘.

Over 1600 new marine species a year.

Participants heard Phillipe Bouchet say how “the number of marine species can now be estimated to be as low as 230,000 species” (give or take 20,000 species) with over 1,600 marine species being discovered each year. A breakdown by taxa confirms and informs conventional wisdom. Crustaceans and molluscs together account for nearly half of the new species descriptions each year, which is expected, and there are five times as many fish described yearly as there are nematodes, which is unexpected.

Diatoms responsible for copepod abnormalities.

We heard how integration is the key to the success of the research projects within the network including ROSEMEB, a project involving 8 MarBEF institutes that is investigating the role of secondary products in ecosystem biodiversity. A recent study by ROSEMEB involving diatom-copepod interactions challenges the traditionally accepted fact that diatoms provide the bulk of the food that sustains the marine food chain to top consumers and fisheries. Adrianna Iarnora presented results showing how these small unicellular algae possess anti-mitotic properties (i.e. they can interfere with cell division) similar to the cytotic compounds isolated from numerous marine and terrestrial higher plants. In fact, when copepods, the principal predators of diatoms, are fed certain diatom diets, they produce abnormal eggs that either fail to develop to hatching or hatch into malformed nauplii that die soon afterwards.

Influential aliens.

Vadim Panov and Tamara Shiganova told of the patterns and consequences of alien species invasions in coastal ecosystems of European Russia. They revealed the importance of the connectivity of southern seas (Black, Azov and Caspian) with the northern (Black and white seas) via the complicated system of inland waterways, which represent the European “Northern Invasion Corridor”. Also, how the consequences of some keystone invasive species invasions for coastal systems can be severe, as demonstrated in the case of the invasion of the Atlantic ctenophore Mnemiopsis leidyi in the Black and Caspian Seas.

Future for marine biodiversity network debated.

A round table discussion on “Towards the conceptual unification of biodiversity and ecosystem functioning” rounded off 2 days of presentations with lively contributions from the floor. Participants over the course of the assembly heard over 30 talks on the three different research themes within MarBEF (Patterns in Biodiversity, Socio-economics of Biodiversity and Biodiversity and Ecosystem Functioning) followed by a poster session that incorporated over 40 posters. Executive and steering meetings were held either side of the presentations allowing for ease of management and planning for the year ahead. A successful and ‘effective’ assembly was the general consensus of the participants.

Roisin Nash | alfa
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