MareChiara - Long Term Ecological Research
MareChiara - Long term ecological research (MC-LTER)
Long term series of data are a powerful tool to trace changes in natural populations. At the Stazione Zoologica, the station MC (MareChiara) is sampled since 1984 with the overall goal of studying plankton variability in response to environmental forcing. Station MC is located two miles off the city of Naples, over a depth of 75 m, in an area that is representative of coastal conditions. In fact, plankton at MC is affected by terrestrial inputs at a lower extent as compared to more inshore waters, whereas it often reflects the influence of oligotrophic Tyrrhenian waters in the Gulf.
Environmental parameters (T, S, O2, nutrients, Chl, HPLC pigments) and plankton communities (phytoplankton, microzooplankton, mesozooplankton) are sampled at weekly frequency since 1995, whereas from 1984 to 1991 sampling was biweekly. The series had a major interruption from1992 through 1994. This investigation is conducted jointly by the Department of Plankton Ecology and Evolution, the Service for Taxonomy and Identification of Marine Phytoplankton and the Office for Management and Ecology of Coastal Areas, the latter also taking care of the sampling on the SZN research vessel Vettoria (photo below).
Planktonic species are identified with traditional methods often complemented by electron microscopy and in some cases by molecular tools. Phytoplankton species collected at MC are often grown in the lab, to be used in experiments or undergo detailed analyses which, for example, have led to the description of about 15 new microalgal species.
Over the years, the basic set of data gathered regularly at MC has also been used to address specific scientific questions by complementing routine analyses with additional research and laboratory experiments. These special investigations have addressed, among other topics, the role of viruses in the demise of algal blooms, the rate of dinoflagellate cyst production over the seasons and, more recently, the rhythm of sexual reproduction in selected diatom species and grazing of meso- and microzooplankton.
The MC data set represents one of the few time series on planktonic organisms available in the Mediterranean Sea, and it is certainly one of the longest. Efforts to analyse regularities and trends have started over the last years, and are receiving more impulse recently, within national research projects and international collaborations, in line with the growing attention to the possible impact of climate change on marine ecosystems. MC is part of the International network Long Term Ecological Research, I-LTER, within its national and European section.