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SALTFREE - Prediction of salinisation effects on coastal freshwater and soil ecosystems due to climate changes
Coordinator - Isabel Lopes
Programme - PTDC/AAC-CLI/111706/2009
Execution dates - 2011-04-04 - 2014-04-04 (36 Months)
Funding Entity - Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia
Funding for CESAM - 100.933 €
Total Funding - 160.255 €
Proponent Institution - Universidade de Aveiro
Participating Institutions
IMAR - Instituto do Mar (IMAR)
Departamento de Zoologia - Faculdade de Ciências e Tecnologia da Universidade de Coimbra

Projections on the impacts of global climate changes comprise, among others, awareness regarding sea level rise; the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) best estimate for global mean seal level rise is at least 40 cm over the next hundred years. Complementary to this rise, is likely the occurrence of floodings in coastal regions and of seawater intrusions into coastal aquifers due to increased evapotranspiration and lower groundwater recharge rates. Therefore, a gradual but severe salinisation of coastal freshwaters and soil ecosystems is most probably possible. Salinity can provoke adverse effects to freshwater and soil species, affecting their life histories and fitness, and firm correlations between increasing salinity and reductions in biodiversity have been reported. Despite the existing knowledge on the impacts of salinity on coastal ecosystems, considerable uncertainty still exists regarding the risks due to salinisation, mainly because: (i) data available is basically restricted to
freshwater and plant species, with most soil organisms being neglected, and to species autochthonous of particular regions (e.g. Australia, USA), and (ii) most studies focused on responses described on standard testing protocols, neglecting ecologically relevant responses, like avoidance and acclimation, that may greatly influence the resilience of ecosystems. If organisms avoid salinised environments before lethal or sublethal (e.g. growth, reproduction) effects are elicited, then, the use of data from standard bioassays will underestimate the risk. Actually, such risk uncertainty has been reported for a few organisms under chemical contamination. In turn, if organisms are capable of acclimation to low salinity levels, then, the use of data from standard bioassays will overestimate risk. As observed with a range of chemicals, the acclimation of organisms to a substance increases their ability to cope with higher levels of that stressor. Accordingly, the SALTFREE proposal aims at contributing to more comprehensively predict the effects of salinisation on coastal ecosystems by integrating the two previously identified knowledge gaps. Within this rationale, 4 specific objectives will be tackled in a stepwise approach to identify: (1) most sensitive ecological receptors for the freshwater and soil ecosystems by using a standard approach (performing standard assays); (2) ability of freshwater organisms to avoid gradually salinised ecosystems, to assess the possibility of risk underestimation when using solely standard protocols. This objective is not a pertinent issue for soil organisms, since the soil spatial heterogeneity disallows understanding whether this response is relevant for organisms; (3) ability of freshwater and soil organisms to acclimate to salinity, provoking an increased tolerance, and, thus, impart a level of resilience to
ecosystems; and (4) effects of salinisation for freshwater and soil communities under realistic exposure scenarios of salinisation (involving the possibility of avoidance and acclimation).

Members on this project


Isabel Lopes
Nelson Abrantes


CESAM Funding: