Francisco Nascimento, Dept of Ecology, Environment and Plant Sciences, Stockholm University
Francisco Nascimento, Dept of Ecology, Environment and Plant Sciences, Stockholm University

How would you describe the project in a few sentences?

The diversity of small eukaryotes has the potential to be an important resource for assessing benthic ecosystem health, but it has been largely unexplored due to a number of practical and taxonomic limitations encountered by ecologists and taxonomists when studying meiofauna. The use of second generation sequencing, together with taxonomic database reference libraries, create an unprecedented opportunity to overcome these limitations and significantly advance benthic diversity research and biomonitoring programmes.

What are your most important results, and for whom are they particularly useful?

The goals of this proposal are to: 1) apply metagenetics to the study of microbial eukaryotic diversity in the Baltic Sea sediments at an ecosystem scale; b) disentangle the biotic and abiotic factors controlling microbial eukaryotic diversity in the Baltic Sea; c) investigate its potential as a tool to evaluate Baltic benthic ecosystem health.

Thanks to the BEAM funding we were able to expand the number of stations sampled for sequencing. During the spring and early summer we collected samples from 46 stations along the Swedish coastline and from the Finnish Baltic Proper. In addition, this extra funding allowed us to analyse samples collected 4 year ago from the same stations to understand temporal variation in metazoan diversity patterns in Baltic sediments. We have now extracted DNA from all samples and are currently preparing Illumina libraries for all these samples. They will be sequenced soon, hopefully in December and after the necessary bioinformatic work we will be able report our results and how they relate to the aims.

How can it assist an ecosystem-based management of the marine environment?

This project has the potential to produce information of high relevance to the management of Baltic benthic ecosystems, in the light of both the EU Water Framework Directive and the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive, that require the assessment of the quality of benthic habitats. In the Baltic this is presently done using only macrofaunal assemblages where species richness is low especially in the low saline northern Baltic and in oxygen-deficient deeper areas. To include meiofaunal diversity in the assessment of benthic habitat quality status would provide useful information not only for basic science, but also to stakeholders such as HAV. In addition, this project has the potential to unmask the true diversity of benthic ecosystems, linking this research directly to one of Sweden’s environmental objectives “A Rich Diversity of Plant and Animal Life”.