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FUNCIONAL BIODIVERSITY

The overall objective of the Group is to assess the functional aspects of biodiversity, by integrating the molecular, cellular, individual, population, community and ecosystem levels of organization. Thus, main efforts are directed to:

- Attain knowledge on phylogenetic diversity in water microbial communities and its impact in ecosystem functioning. Studies are conducted to decipher the role of horizontal-gene transfer in shaping microbial communities in response to stressors and in the dissemination of virulence determinants.

- The isolation and characterization of thermotolerant and environmental bacteria with various biotechnological applications: i) synthesis of new peptide antimicrobial drugs and enzymes (proteases, lipases, etc); ii) resistance/degradation of antibiotics and xenobiotic compounds (TBT, Hg, Ar, Cu, etc); evaluation of genotoxic effects of several xenobiotic compounds in bioindicator species.

- The study the plant systematics and ecology from the flora of Portuguese, Iberian and CPLP (e.g. East-Timor’s) countries.

- Evaluate several ecological data – genetic, habitat, diet or population dynamics – on game and non-game species in Portugal, namely the ungulate species such as the wild boar (Sus scrofa), red deer (Cervus elaphus) and roe deer (Capreolus capreolus), and other vertebrates e.g., barn owls (Tyto alba), wild rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) or the common dolphin (Delphinus delphis), contributing to wildlife management and conservation in ecologically relevant areas such as: Serra da Lousã, Mata Nacional do Bussaco, Parque Natural de Montesinho, or Reserva Natural da Serra da Malcata.

- Acquire a deeper understanding on how natural and anthropogenic stressors, as well as their interaction, impairs biodiversity. Several species are used as model organisms: cladocerans (Daphnia magna) and zebrafish (Danio rerio) for freshwater, and isopodes (Porcellio dilatatus) for terrestrial-ecosystems.

Future Objectives

At the molecular level research will be aimed at (i) the characterization of mechanisms involved in the stress response, triggered by DNA or RNA mutations, exposure to drugs or other environmental factors, (ii) understanding how organisms tolerate and adapt to stressful conditions, its effects on the metabolism and physiology and its impact on evolution, and (iii) identifying genes, proteins and metabolites that can be used as molecular biomarkers of such responses.
One major objective will be to study microbial functions in ecosystems, mainly aquatic systems. Therefore, research on diversity of genes and species will be conducted through combinations of genomics and proteomics. Dissemination of virulence determinants will also be addressed.
Research will also continue with bacterial strains, with the development of a new peptide antiobiotics by genetic manipulation of the peptide synthetase PS89 of Bacillus licheniformis, the establishment of protocols for purification and application of enzymes produced by the thermotolerant Bacillus strain, and the elucidation of the mechanism of CR elements to mobilize antibiotic resistance genes in Gram negative bacteria.
Regarding planktonic organisms, questions involve the interactive dynamics of adult planktivorous fish, mammals, and fished invertebrates with plankton as well as the interactive dynamics of phytoplankton, bacteria, and zooplankton, will be studied.
In the area of plant systematics and ecology, research will continue on the revision of the genus Calendula for the Iberian Peninsula, and the study of the flora of East-Timor. Other possibilities of research will be explored, like the study of population dynamics of threatened plant species from the Serra do Açor mountain system, and the study of Northern Mozambique’s flora. Other projects include collaborative research in the theme of environmental friendly house projects.
Wildlife management and conservation studies will go on in Portuguese and Portuguese Speaking Countries’ ecologically important and protected areas, allowing the exploration of natural resources for hunting and for scientific and nature tourism, bearing in mind the reduction of conflicts in human activities (agriculture, forestry, traffic, etc.).
Ecotoxicological research will be aimed at understanding how chemicals (including metals, pharmaceuticals, pesticides, biocides or nanomaterials) and natural stressors (e.g. salinity, drought, temperature increase or UV-B exposure) affect biodiversity. For this purpose studies will include:
(i) prokaryotic and fungi models;
(ii) the development of a biosensor system to detect TBT in the environment and different methodologies to detect genotoxic effects of different contaminants in bioindicator species;
(iii) the evaluation of the effects of genetic erosion in the resilience of natural populations under natural and anthropogenic stressors;
(iv) the evaluation of the association between tradeoffs and resistance acquisition in populations of daphnids.

Research Labs

Functional Biodiversity (FB) RG is organized into 4 Research Labs: i) Functional Responses to Emerging Chemicals (FREC); ii) Biodiversity and Biomonitoring (BioBi); iii) Biochemistry and Physiology Laboratory (BcP); and iv) Conservation of Marine Vertebrates (CMV).


FREC Lab - FREC LAb is mainly focused on generating knew knowledge on the impacts of environmental perturbations (either occurring naturally or caused by anthropogenic activities) in the biological processes, functions and characteristics of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystem. This involves the use of organisms from different functional and trophic groups within a biomarker-based quantification and field based in situ approaches. Concomitantly, it is also aimed to develop tools to: (i) promote ecological relevancy in risk assessment and management processes, and, (ii) be applied in EU legislation (e.g. REACH, Water framework Directive). A multidisciplinary team of researchers constitutes FREC lab, with expertise in: ecological risk assessment, evolutionary ecotoxicology, biomonitoring, bioremediation, environmental education. The FREC Lab is coordinated by Amadeu Soares.


BioB Lab - The BioB Lab is focused on terrestrial ecosystems (agro-ecosystems and forestry) and aquatic ecosystems (freshwater and marine). The BioB Lab research team has background experience on wetlands ecology, analytical & environmental chemistry, biodiversity & entomology, botany & taxonomy, limnology and marine ecology. The research topics include environmental health, biodiversity, ecosystem functions and ecosystem services, following a multidisciplinary approach in a science-policy-stakeholders perspective, and in collaboration with other National and International research teams. The BioB Lab is coordinated by Ana Lillebø.


BcP Lab - Organisms have evolved unique strategies to cope with environmental challenges that affect their growth and survival. These range from morphological and physiological changes to biochemical alterations at the cellular level. The BcP Lab uses distinct species, including bacteria, freshwater microalgae, marine invertebrates and vertebrates (fish), to investigate how organisms respond to environmental stresses at different biological organization levels. The effects of these constraints are assessed using ecological (e.g. symbiosis, competition), physiological (larval development, respiration and clearance rates, regenerative capacity), biochemical (e.g. oxidative stress markers), and metabolomic (e.g. volatile metabolites) approaches in organisms exposed to single and combined exposures. In particular, we focuse on the effect of metals, contaminants of emerging concern (e.g., nanoparticles, pharmaceuticals, microplastics), phytocompounds and environmental factors related to climate changes (drought, salinity, temperature, pH) on organisms. These approaches may clarify the potential effects of different challenges on organisms as well as the mechanisms organisms may resort to tolerate the environmental conditions prevailing in a near future. The BcP Lab is coordinated by Etelvina Figueira.


CMV Lab - The CMV Lab is focused on understanding the impacts of human activities on cetaceans, seabirds and marine turtles mainly in Continental Portugal and on shorebirds (or waders) across the East Atlantic Flyway. To detect changes in marine animal parameters it is essential to establish baseline data from which change can be evaluated. The improvement of the stranding network, shorebird monitoring schemes, the Marine Animal Tissue Bank and the rehabilitation facilities at ECOMARE, allow for a in depth analysis of the human-marine animal interface. Emerging diseases related to anthropogenic sources, are being increasingly recorded in marine animals. As a whole, long-term research on these top predators produces data on prey abundance, habitat quality, disease/parasite prevalence, pollutants or other contemporary ecosystem threats such as marine biotoxins and litter. Currently, one of the major concerns of the CMV lab is the relation of pathologies and contaminants of concern in the marine environment and the need for new monitoring and assessment strategies, such as the use of molecular biomarkers. As one of the most important aspects of assessing marine megafauna populations, the CMV Lab monitors abundance and distribution of several cetacean, seabird and shorebird species through different census and modeling methodologies. Several sea turtle parameters are being monitored by strandings and loggerhead turtle displacements are being monitored with satellite tracking. Migratory shorebirds and their connectivity between breeding locations in the artic and non-breading areas in the temperate and tropical zones are being tracked with geolocators, PTT and GPS/GSM devices. As a whole, these data contributes to several European directives’ reporting requirements, allowing for cooperation between academic and resource management institutions, as well as other "Ocean Users". The CMV Lab monitoring programs allow for adaptive management by contributing to mitigating the impacts of relevant economic activities such as fishing, energy and resource exploitation. Collaborative work with fisheries aiming at the development and application of adaptive measures to reduce bycatch is on-going. The CMV Lab is coordinated by Catarina Eira.

Research Team