The Ligurian Sea and the National Biodiversity Future Centre (NBFC): Biodiversity Conservation in a Temperate Marine Environment under Threat

A special issue of Diversity (ISSN 1424-2818). This special issue belongs to the section "Marine Diversity".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 30 June 2024 | Viewed by 5813

Special Issue Editors


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Department of Earth, Environment and Life Sciences, University of Genoa, 16132 Genova, Italy
Interests: biodiversity; zoology; marine ecology; polar sciences
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Guest Editor
Dipartimento di Scienze della Terra dell’Ambiente e della Vita (DISTAV), Università di Genova, Corso Europa 26, 16132 Genova, Italy
Interests: cnidarians sponges; benthic zoology

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

The Italian National Recovery and Resilience Plan (2021–2027), is part of the NextGenerationEU—large-scale structural action undertaken to transform European countries into healthier and greener places and effectively protect and preserve the natural environment.

To this end, Italy established the National Biodiversity Future Centre (NBFC), a consortium of national universities, research centres, associations, private and societal stakeholders that will utilise modern technologies and frontier research to monitor, conserve and restore Italian biodiversity, enhancing the shift towards sustainable use of biodiversity-derived resources.

Within this context, the Ligurian Sea, a deep basin in the northernmost sector of the western Mediterranean which exhibits peculiar hydrodynamic and meteo-oceanographic features, has been identified by the NBFC as a key area of interest.

Although the Ligurian coastline is among the most urbanized and industrialized areas in the Italian peninsula, due to littoral urban development and harbour activities, it hosts a number of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) of high relevance, including the world-renowned Portofino Promontory MPA, a Specially Protected Area of Mediterranean Interest (SPAMI) since 2005 and a Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) site since 2007. The Ligurian Sea is also included in the Pelagos Sanctuary, an international ~25,500 km2 marine-protected area in the Mediterranean.

The huge amount of data focusing on marine communities and species of the Ligurian coasts offers enormous potential for understanding the effect of multiple stressors, as well as for the refinement of biodiversity conservation tools. This point is crucial since most existing MPAs were designed without considering the stressors of climate change and there is an urgent need to update current management strategies to allow a more adaptive approach.

With this Special Issue of Diversity, we aim to promote the publication and sharing of future-proof data for the National Biodiversity Future Centre (NBFC) focusing on the Ligurian Sea and on all aspects of marine biodiversity, from molecules, genes and populations, and scaling up, to species and communities.

We welcome contributions presenting recent advances in biodiversity, taxonomy and species conservation sharing the vision of NBFC goals. Contributions do not have to specifically refer to MPAs, provided the Ligurian Sea is considered, and may focus on all groups of organisms, not just key species.

Prof. Dr. Schiaparelli Stefano
Prof. Dr. Giorgio Bavestrello
Guest Editors

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Published Papers (6 papers)

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Research

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14 pages, 1474 KiB  
Article
A Beacon in the Dark: Grey Literature Data Mining and Machine Learning Enlightening Historical Plankton Seasonality Dynamics in the Ligurian Sea
by Alice Guzzi, Stefano Schiaparelli, Maria Balan and Marco Grillo
Diversity 2024, 16(3), 189; https://doi.org/10.3390/d16030189 - 21 Mar 2024
Viewed by 691
Abstract
The Mediterranean Sea, as one of the world’s most climate-sensitive regions, faces significant environmental changes due to rising temperatures. Zooplankton communities, particularly copepods, play a vital role in marine ecosystems, yet their distribution dynamics remain poorly understood, especially in the Ligurian Sea. Leveraging [...] Read more.
The Mediterranean Sea, as one of the world’s most climate-sensitive regions, faces significant environmental changes due to rising temperatures. Zooplankton communities, particularly copepods, play a vital role in marine ecosystems, yet their distribution dynamics remain poorly understood, especially in the Ligurian Sea. Leveraging open-source software and environmental data, this study adapted a methodology to model copepod distributions from 1985 to 1986 in the Portofino Promontory ecosystem using the Random Forest machine learning algorithm to produce the first abundance and distribution maps of the area. Five copepod genera were studied across different trophic guilds, revealing habitat preferences and ecological fluctuations throughout the seasons. The assessment of model accuracy through symmetric mean absolute percentage error (sMAPE) highlighted the variability in copepod dynamics influenced by environmental factors. While certain genera exhibited higher predictive accuracy during specific seasons, others posed challenges due to ecological complexities. This study underscores the importance of species-specific responses and environmental variability in predictive modeling. Moreover, this study represents the first attempt to model copepod distribution in the Ligurian Sea, shedding light on their ecological niches and historical spatial dynamics. The study adhered to FAIR principles, repurposing historical data to generate three-dimensional predictive maps, enhancing our understanding of copepod biodiversity. Future studies will focus on developing abundance distribution models using machine learning and artificial intelligence to predict copepod standing crop in the Ligurian Sea with greater precision. This integrated approach advances knowledge of copepod ecology in the Mediterranean and sets a precedent for integrating historical data with contemporary methodologies to elucidate marine ecosystem dynamics. Full article
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13 pages, 3228 KiB  
Article
Structure from Motion Photogrammetry as an Effective Nondestructive Technique to Monitor Morphological Plasticity in Benthic Organisms: The Case Study of Sarcotragus foetidus Schmidt, 1862 (Porifera, Demospongiae) in the Portofino MPA
by Torcuato Pulido Mantas, Camilla Roveta, Barbara Calcinai, Fabio Benelli, Martina Coppari, Cristina Gioia Di Camillo, Ubaldo Pantaleo, Stefania Puce and Carlo Cerrano
Diversity 2024, 16(3), 175; https://doi.org/10.3390/d16030175 - 08 Mar 2024
Viewed by 885
Abstract
Porifera are essential components of marine ecosystems, providing valuable ecological functions. Traditional approaches to estimating sponge growth and biomass are destructive and often not suitable for certain morphologies. The implementation of new innovative techniques and nondestructive methodologies have allowed for a more sustainable [...] Read more.
Porifera are essential components of marine ecosystems, providing valuable ecological functions. Traditional approaches to estimating sponge growth and biomass are destructive and often not suitable for certain morphologies. The implementation of new innovative techniques and nondestructive methodologies have allowed for a more sustainable approach. In this study, a population of Sarcotragus foetidus Schmidt, 1982 (Demospongiae, Dictyoceratida, Irciinidae), thriving inside the Portofino Marine Protected Area, was monitored using Structure from Motion photogrammetry over a period of 6 years, from September 2017 to October 2023. Of the 20 initial individuals, only 12 were still in place during the last monitoring, indicating 40% mortality. Through photogrammetry, the overall volume change and biomass production were estimated to be 9.24 ± 5.47% year−1 and 29.52 ± 27.93 g DW year−1, respectively, indicating a general decreasing trend between 2021 and 2023. Signs of necrosis were observed in some individuals, potentially related to the high temperature occurring during summer 2022 and 2023. Considering the current climate crisis, long-term monitoring efforts must be made to better understand the dynamics of this species, and photogrammetry has the potential to be a versatile monitoring tool that will contribute to the standardization of methodologies for sponge growth studies. Full article
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27 pages, 12644 KiB  
Article
High Megabenthic Complexity and Vulnerability of a Mesophotic Rocky Shoal Support Its Inclusion in a Mediterranean MPA
by Francesco Enrichetti, Giorgio Bavestrello, Valentina Cappanera, Mauro Mariotti, Francesco Massa, Lorenzo Merotto, Paolo Povero, Ilaria Rigo, Margherita Toma, Leonardo Tunesi, Paolo Vassallo, Sara Venturini and Marzia Bo
Diversity 2023, 15(8), 933; https://doi.org/10.3390/d15080933 - 16 Aug 2023
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 735
Abstract
The deep shoal of Punta del Faro (Ligurian Sea, Mediterranean Sea) is a mesophotic rocky elevation hosting complex animal forests threatened by fishing activities. To identify appropriate conservation measures and set a reference example for similar cases, we present a detailed characterization of [...] Read more.
The deep shoal of Punta del Faro (Ligurian Sea, Mediterranean Sea) is a mesophotic rocky elevation hosting complex animal forests threatened by fishing activities. To identify appropriate conservation measures and set a reference example for similar cases, we present a detailed characterization of its megabenthic communities and a quantification of the fishing pressure. The results highlight the high natural value of the area, presenting high biodiversity (111 megabenthic and demersal species) and diverse types of animal forest, predominantly dominated by cnidarians. The tridimensional seascape is among the most complex in the eastern Ligurian Sea, but the long-term evaluation of its environmental status suggested consistent affects due to the high abundance of lost fishing gear (0.65 items m−2) directly entangled with structuring cnidarians. The artisanal and recreational fishing pressure are currently moderate. However, the use of bottom-contact fishing gear causes significant modifications to the seafloor’s integrity. This study emphasizes the high conservation value and vulnerability of the shoal, highlighting the importance of its protection through its inclusion in the Portofino MPA, whose external perimeter is 200 m from the study area. A critical discussion of the advantages and disadvantages is provided with a map of the possible extension of the MPA boundaries. Full article
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Review

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19 pages, 6854 KiB  
Review
The Changing Biogeography of the Ligurian Sea: Seawater Warming and Further Records of Southern Species
by Annalisa Azzola, Carlo Nike Bianchi, Lorenzo Merotto, Alessandro Nota, Francesco Tiralongo, Carla Morri and Alice Oprandi
Diversity 2024, 16(3), 159; https://doi.org/10.3390/d16030159 - 04 Mar 2024
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1220
Abstract
Global warming is causing poleward expansion of species ranges. Temperate seas, in particular, are undergoing a process known as ‘tropicalisation’, i.e., the combination of sea-water warming and establishment of southern species. The Ligurian Sea is one of the coldest sectors of the Mediterranean [...] Read more.
Global warming is causing poleward expansion of species ranges. Temperate seas, in particular, are undergoing a process known as ‘tropicalisation’, i.e., the combination of sea-water warming and establishment of southern species. The Ligurian Sea is one of the coldest sectors of the Mediterranean and has thus been characterized by a dearth of warm-temperate species and a comparative abundance of cold-temperate species. This paper uses a time series of sea surface temperature (SST) and new records of thermophilic fish species to reconsider the biogeography of the Ligurian Sea. SST has risen by about 0.7 °C on average between 1948 and 2023, but two phases may be distinguished: a cool one (ended in the mid-1980s) and a warm one (still ongoing); the latter phase shows alternating periods of rapid warming and comparatively stationary temperature. The arrival of thermophilic species coincided with the periods of rapid warming; some of these species were established in the subsequent stationary periods. Heatwaves and climate-related diseases associated with the periods of rapid warming have caused mass mortalities of autochthonous species. Our knowledge on the biogeography of the Ligurian Sea was established during the cool phase; the present situation, however, calls for re-defining the chorological spectrum of the Ligurian Sea biota. Full article
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Other

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7 pages, 1766 KiB  
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Large-Scale Re-Implantation Efforts for Posidonia oceanica Restoration in the Ligurian Sea: Progress and Challenges
by Chiara Robello, Stefano Acunto, Laura Marianna Leone, Ilaria Mancini, Alice Oprandi and Monica Montefalcone
Diversity 2024, 16(4), 226; https://doi.org/10.3390/d16040226 - 09 Apr 2024
Viewed by 387
Abstract
The Ligurian Sea (NW Mediterranean) has been a focal point for numerous interventions aimed at restoring Posidonia oceanica meadows. The success of pioneer restoration actions in France during the 1970s stimulated similar initiatives across the Mediterranean Sea. Early attempts in the Ligurian Sea [...] Read more.
The Ligurian Sea (NW Mediterranean) has been a focal point for numerous interventions aimed at restoring Posidonia oceanica meadows. The success of pioneer restoration actions in France during the 1970s stimulated similar initiatives across the Mediterranean Sea. Early attempts in the Ligurian Sea were implemented in 1993 and 1996 on limited seabed areas (i.e., tens of square meters) at the two coastal sites of Sori and Rapallo (Liguria, NW Italy). No further initiatives have been reported for the Ligurian Sea until 2022. In that year, a large-scale restoration project, which uses biodegradable mats coupled with metal mesh, began in Liguria. Different levels of anthropogenic pressure and wave exposure characterize the three investigated locations: (1) Portofino, on the eastern Liguria and on the border with the Portofino Marine Protected Area; (2) Bergeggi in the central Liguria and within the Isola di Bergeggi Marine Protected Area; and (3) Sanremo in the western Liguria, without any formal protection. Despite recent setbacks caused by severe storms in late 2023, which particularly damaged the Portofino site, ongoing monitoring revealed promising survival rates. Most notably, the site in Bergeggi displayed a 90% survival rate in September 2023. Although challenges to restore P. oceanica beds persist, such as mitigating damages caused by unpredictable events, this extensive re-implantation initiative offers the opportunity to evaluate the effectiveness of new basin-scale restoration strategies. This approach marks an important step in the conservation of Posidonia oceanica habitat. Full article
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9 pages, 10709 KiB  
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A Tale of Two Sisters: The Southerner Pinna rudis Is Getting North after the Regional Extinction of the Congeneric P. nobilis (Mollusca: Bivalvia)
by Alice Oprandi, Stefano Aicardi, Annalisa Azzola, Fabio Benelli, Marco Bertolino, Carlo Nike Bianchi, Mariachiara Chiantore, Maria Paola Ferranti, Ilaria Mancini, Andrea Molinari, Carla Morri and Monica Montefalcone
Diversity 2024, 16(2), 120; https://doi.org/10.3390/d16020120 - 13 Feb 2024
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 961
Abstract
In the Mediterranean Sea, the bivalve genus Pinna is represented by two species: the endemic Pinna nobilis and the (sub)tropical Atlantic Pinna rudis. P. rudis is generally less common and mostly restricted to the warmer regions of the western Mediterranean. However, since [...] Read more.
In the Mediterranean Sea, the bivalve genus Pinna is represented by two species: the endemic Pinna nobilis and the (sub)tropical Atlantic Pinna rudis. P. rudis is generally less common and mostly restricted to the warmer regions of the western Mediterranean. However, since a mass mortality event, caused by a pathogen infection, has brought P. nobilis to the brink of extinction, records of P. rudis have increased in several Mediterranean regions, where it had not been previously observed. This paper reports on the presence of several P. rudis individuals in the Ligurian Sea, the northernmost reach of this species in the western Mediterranean. P. rudis has become increasingly common between 2021 and 2023, with a total of 28 new records from seven localities along the Ligurian coast. The size of the individuals and their estimated growth rate (3.6 cm·a−1) indicated that a recruitment event most likely took place in summer 2020, when P. nobilis was no longer present in the area. Our observations suggest that the recruitment success of P. rudis increased following the decline of P. nobilis. However, considering the thermophilic nature of P. rudis, in all likelihood, the ongoing water warming is playing a crucial role in the successful establishment of this species in the Ligurian Sea. A full understanding of the recent range expansion of P. rudis in the Mediterranean is far from being achieved, and whether P. rudis will be able to fulfil the ecological role of P. nobilis is difficult to predict. Large scale monitoring remains the only effective way to know about the future of Pinnids in the Mediterranean Sea. Full article
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