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International chair in Evolutionary Marine Ecology

The Response of Marine Organisms to Planetary Change

Flavia Nunes, coming from the University of Geneva (UNIGE), is the first holder of an international LabexMER research chair, dedicated to Evolutionary Marine Ecology.

This chair aims to study the response of marine organisms to planetary change.

Anthropogenic activity has lead to environmental change on a planetary scale at unprecedented rates.  Increasing temperatures in the lower atmosphere and the oceans, pollution in the air, waterways and the ground, as well as acidification of the sea are examples of how human activities are consistently linked to global change.  The environment and ecosystems have a certain capacity to buffer or adapt to some of these changes, but there are limits to how much the earth and oceans can absorb, or to what extent organisms can migrate, acclimate or adapt.  The research goals of our lab is to understand how marine organisms are affected by changes in the marine environment at the molecular level in order to effectively make predictions about how organisms are likely to respond to ongoing and future changes, and how to best intervene via conservation measures.

    Gene expression change during development of marine organisms

    Many marine organisms develop as larvae in the water column, oftentimes with a long pelagic larval stage.  Larvae are directly exposed to the environment, and are highly susceptible to changing conditions.  Development is a crucial time in an organism’s life.  Even modest modifications to the developmental program of an organism could have profound effects. Understanding the impact of environment on development is of utmost importance.  A wide range of response to environmental change has been observed in different lineages of marine organisms.  One of our goals is to examine the molecular mechanisms that render some lineages more resilient or sensitive to environmental stressors.

    Response of Sabellaria reefs to environmental change across its distributional range

    The honeycomb worm, Sabellaria alveolata, is an ecosystem engineer responsible for the construction of some of the most extensive biogenic reefs in the temperate coast of Europe.  Dense aggregations of this tube-worm generate three-dimensional complexity, supporting higher biodiversity than adjacent habitats.   Populations of this species are genetically divergent and span a range of contrasting environments across its distributional range.  In order to understand the range of response of genetically divergent populations to environmental change, laboratory and field experiments will be conducted to observe how individuals from different locations are able to cope with thermal stress, hypoxia and acidification.



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