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A Deep Dive into Plankton Communities and Ecological Networks for Ecosystem Health Monitoring


Matteo Loschi, ESR in AtlantECO (OGS)

AtlantECO Early Stage Researcher Matteo Loschi and his colleagues have recently published an article to discuss the use of marine microbiome food webs to assess the whole ecosystem health. Here is a short summary of what they studied and concluded:


Plankton communities are the basis of marine food webs. They respond rapidly to changes in physico-chemical environmental factors and are therefore useful for monitoring the ecosystem health. Ecological networks provide a holistic view to understand what processes are involved in restructuring the community to cope with a source of stress. To realise ecological networks, a novel approach based on random sampling that integrated different types of data was developed in AtlantECO. This allowed 1000 different ecological networks to be created using the same data. It was applied to the plankton community of a well-known marine system that served as a test case: the Venice Lagoon in two different years, 2005 and 2007.

Favella ehrenbergii (© Alfred Beran, OGS, Trieste, Italy)

Strombididae, Evadne spp. and Podon spp. were the groups that showed the largest differences between the ecological networks of the two years. Despite the differences in the composition and abundance of the plankton groups between the two years, the main characteristics of the ecosystem were very similar, e.g. it showed high resilience and detritus was eaten more than the primary producers. These characteristics were determined by sediment resuspension due to the harvesting of Manila clams (Ruditapes philippinarum), which acted as a source of stress to the system.


Tintinnopsis tocantinensis, (© Alfred Beran, OGS, Trieste, Italy)

Due to sediment resuspension, bacteria were the most abundant group in the water column, followed by hetero-nanoflagellates, which were their main predators. Furthermore, in the water column, the primary production of groups that normally live on the bottom was three times higher than that of groups that lived in suspension. Other studies in the same years showed negative effects on the ecosystem due to sediment resuspension, e.g. a decrease in phytoplankton due to turbidity and a decrease in planktivorous fish abundance.


As the results of this study are consistent with those of other studies relying on non-plankton species, it could be concluded that the plankton communities can be useful for assessing the state of the whole ecosystem.

Cite the article: Loschi, M., D’Alelio, D., Camatti, E. et al. Planktonic ecological networks support quantification of changes in ecosystem health and functioning. Sci Rep13, 16683 (2023)

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