Food-web approaches to assess the functional benthic ecosystem interactions for

Cofinanciado por:
Acronym | D4Ss
Project title | Food-web approaches to assess the functional benthic ecosystem interactions for
Project Code | ALT20-03-0145-FEDER-029400
Main objective | Reforçar a Investigação, o desenvolvimento tecnológico e a inovação

Region of intervention | Alentejo, Lisboa

Beneficiary entity |
  • Universidade de Évora(líder)
  • NOVA.ID.FCT - Associação para a Inovação e Desenvolvimento da FCT(parceiro)

Approval date | 20-06-2018
Start date | 18-10-2018
Date of the conclusion | 18-10-2021

Total eligible cost | 239735 €
European Union financial support | FEDER - 157938 €
National/regional public financial support | República Portuguesa - 81796 €


The Food Web descriptor D4 (MSFD) is highlight as the most difficult to implement. The extent to which sedimentary conditions shaped trophic interactions of marine benthic assemblages is a gap of the knowledge. We hypothesize the bottom-up differences of the sedimentary trophic status will shaped the food web structure of the benthic assemblages. The study areas will be in Sado estuary and adjacent Continental Shelf. The benthic-mediated effects and the trophic position variation of the macrobenthic and nematode on the energy transfer from the sediments to the higher trophic levels will be analysed using the ratios of stable isotopes of carbon and nitrogen. To assess the sediment trophic conditions will be analysed the biogeochemical parameters, levels of metallic, organic contaminants and the microbial communities by metagenomic sequencing.

This research is a driver to create a high specialization routines to monitoring the D4 and associated biodiversity descriptors of the MSFD.

Objectives, activities and expected/achieved results


Food web structure, energy and nutrient budgets are difficult to measure, in particular the trophic pathways via which primary production reaches higher trophic levels, which explain the D4- trophic webs is considered the most difficult descriptor to monitoring and assess. Novel techniques have been developed and are being used increasingly to trace carbon and nitrogen sources for benthos from different marine and estuarine habitats and energy flow through benthic food webs. Measurements of natural and enriched isotopic quotients (δ13C and δ15N), allow to pathways of trophic energy to be traced and quantified. The Laboratory Hercules (University of Évora) have analytical Infrastructure to establish the robust valuation methodological based on isotope ecology to analyse the energy flow through the benthic food webs (Saragoça et al., 2016). Benthic-mediated effects and the trophic position variation of the dominant nematodes of the assemblages on the transfer of the sediments trophic status to the higher trophic levels will be there analysed based on isotope ecology as driver to be turned into services that create quality jobs to monitoring and help address global societal challenges.


In summary the purpose of this project will be achieved by the following specific objectives:

·       To analyse the estuarine sediment biochemistry, namely granulometry, total sedimentary organic carbon (TOC), nitrogen (TN), heavy metals and metalloids and organochlorine pesticides.

To analyse the sediment microbiome through sequencing technologies and applicability of the metagenomic profiling to assessing microbial biodiversity.

To investigate food resources use and trophic position of macrobenthos and benthic nematodes in an estuarine and Continental Shelf food web under different sediment trophic status, using the natural abundance of stable carbon and nitrogen isotope.

To assess the benthic-mediated effects and the trophic position variation of the dominant macrobenthic and benthic nematodes of the assemblages under different sediments biogeochemical conditions status to the higher trophic levels.

To apply a analytical approach to  calculate “community-wide” measures of trophic structure using stable isotope representations of species niches.

To compare the functional interactions of the most abundant species of the benthic nematodes assemblages of the continental shelf and Sado estuary  (Southwest cost of Portugal)

To investigate the spatial diversity based on morphological taxonomic identification of the benthic nematode assemblages in continental shelf of the SW cost of Portugal.

To analyse and to integrate the data obtained to provide robust methodologies to assess GES for the specific descriptors D4- Food webs and associated descriptors of the “biodiversity theme” (D1, D6) of MSFD.

To develop actions that will assure the spread of the scientific outputs and knowledge transfer to society.


The following methodology will be achieved the goal major activities: . 

ACTIVITY 1.  Sampling collection for diversity analysis of marine and estuarine nematode assemblages (all objectives).

ACTIVITY 2. Sampling and sample treatment for benthic food web analysis (dual stable isotope analysis) (Objective 3, 4, 5, 6 and 8).

ACTIVITY 3. Habitat mapping of the continental shelf and analysis of the estuarine benthic nematode assemblages (Objective 7).

ACTIVITY 4 –Stable carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis: Food sources revelead by dual stable isotope signatures..

ACTIVITY 5 – Biogeochemistry of the sediment (Objective 1)

ACTIVITY 6 – Culture-independent characterization of the estuarine and marine environments: a metagenomic approach (Objective 2).

ACTIVITY 7: The integration and upscaling of results (Objective 3, 4, 5, 6 and 8).

ACTIVITY 8:  Scientific activity spreading actions and knowledge transfer (Objective 9).

These activities will be developed in the infrastructures from MARE-Universidade de Évora (UÉ), MARE- Universidade Nova de Lisboa (UNL), Nemalab (UÉ) and Hercules Laboratory (UÉ). The research infrastructure Hercules have all the instrumentation to perform the isotope ecology analysis, the NemaLab is the only  lab in Portugal focus in soil and aquatic nematodes research, it has all the molecular equipment and expertise for the analysis of the microbiome. The partner from MARE-UNL have analytical instrumentation for sediment analysis and long experience to develop studies in Sado estuary. The PI of the Minplat (Geoscience Department, UÉ) has a long experience in deep sea and continental shelf sampling cruises. These project will be advised by Tom Moens from University of Gent, Belgium, he is expertise on benthic food web based on isotope ecology. In last years the PI and the advisor have being develop joint research with 5 scientific papers published in international Journals (Q1) and 6 oral presentations in international meetings.   


This project has important societal challenges by providing high specialized laboratory routines (Hercules) and capacity to analyze and interpret coastal and marine ecosystem interactions focusing in D4. It can thus create jobs according the strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth, facilitating a “start-up” project. To this end the scientific team will develop actions to assure the spread of the scientific outputs and knowledge transfer to society with the main aims: i) to provide relevant scientific knowledge to achieve GES in the Portuguese marine and coastal waters; ii) increasing the Portuguese capacity for marine environmental monitoring; iii) to manage the marine environment in an integrated manner; iv) to provide tools for monitor and ensure the sustainable use of marine resources, and v) to develop high training specialists services in routine analyze.

The scientific outputs will be published in international per reviewed journals, scientific communications will present by the team in specialized international meetings and it will be created a web page of the project. It will be proposed Ph.D and Master thesis within a Doctoral and Master Program courses. A thematic workshop related with D4Ss will be integrated in the “International Conference of Meiofauna, University of Évora, 2019”. This conference will be organized by the PI and CoPI and scientists worldwide will the trophic processes and methodologies to assess D4. The final workshop of the Project to integrate and upscale data where all scientific team will participate, and the coordinators of the Public Administration officers involved in the implementation of monitoring programs of the WDF and MSFD of the Southwest Coast of Portugal: APA- Agência Portuguesa do Ambiente and DGRM- Direção Geral de Recursos Maritimos will be also invited to integrate the work plan.  Additionally base on this report it will  organized workshop sessions in the “Reserva Natural do Estuário do Sado (RNES)” and Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina (PNSACV).

The PI is member of “Conselho da Região Hidrográfica do Alentejo”, invited as “Individualidades de reconhecido mérito, prestígio académico ou profissional e trabalho de relevo desenvolvido na área dos recursos hídricos”. Taking in account this function, the PI and CoPI will work directly with the “Administração da Região Hidrográfica do Alentejo” in the implementation of the monitoring programme to assess GES to ensure the knowledge transfer acquired and provide services.

Since 2010 the PI has been collaborating with “Centro Ciência Viva de Estremoz” in the organization of field events in SW coast habitats involving high schools and society in science, e.g “Biology activities in Summer” focusing in the literacy about the Portuguese sea and its protection.