February 1st to 5th 2016
Olhão, Portugal
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Aims and Themes

Aims of the Conference

The Mares Conference is an international and open conference that will bring together marine researchers, scientists, educators, and policymakers from different levels and disciplines to address issues on marine ecosystems health and conservation.

The conference aims to be:

  • Dynamic: mixing oral presentations, scientific exhibitions and social activities to maximise interactions between the attendees, speakers and presenters.

  • Innovative: promoting digital media as a main intermediate for scientific communication.

  • Participative: attendees input will be encouraged in order to add value and interaction throughout the conference.

  • Interactive: providing an excellent opportunity for networking. The conference should bring in around 200 attendees, fostering discussion and interaction with experts in a relaxed atmosphere with dedicated time for networking.

  • Multigenerational: The target audience will be as broad as possible, from young scientists to senior researchers. The oral presentation schedule will be designed taking into account the speaker experience, and will aim to bring in for each thematic session several PhD students, postdocs and experts.

Themes of the Conference

Marine environments are generally considered as highly valuable and their health and conservation status are seen as key priorities. Marine wildlife and habitats are facing multiple threats ranging from eutrophication to overfishing and ocean acidification, all of which directly or indirectly affect the biodiversity of marine ecosystems. The Mares Conference aims to address the main issues of marine ecosystems health and conservation.

Six thematic subjects will be explored, these six themes are the fields developed within the MARES Joint Doctoral Programme:

1. Future oceans: temperature changes - hypoxia - acidification

Temperature increase, ocean acidification and expanding hypoxic zones in the ocean have the most prominent impacts on marine ecosystems health on the global scale. All three phenomena are at least partly related to the anthropogenic release of carbon dioxide and climate change. Changes in ocean temperature can lead to shifts in the distribution ranges of many marine species. Dramatic biogeographical shifts have already been documented for zooplankton communities in the Northeast Atlantic, where warm-water species have moved 1000 km further north over the past 40 years, whereas cold-water inhabitants have contracted their range. Recent results show that the reaction of marine ecosystems towards climate change, including ocean warming, acidification and expanding hypoxic zones, is often not linear but may occur in abrupt reorganisations of marine communities. It is now generally accepted that such regime shifts can transfer a marine ecosystem from one steady state to another as soon as certain thresholds of important key species are transgressed.

2. Understanding biodiversity effects on the functioning of marine ecosystems

During the last decades, it has become increasingly clear that the biodiversity of an ecosystem and its functional features are intricately linked. While before the emphasis mainly lay on trying to understand how environmental constraints maintain and regulate diversity, during the last years the focus has shifted to the reverse question, namely how does the biodiversity of an ecosystem affect its functioning? This paradigm shift was brought about by the alarming decline in global biodiversity caused by human activities. If altered diversity seriously impacts the basic functions of ecosystems, will this have serious consequences for the goods and services provided by ecosystems to humans? The objective of this theme is to further our understanding of how interactions between species, both within and between trophic levels, affect the key functions of marine benthic ecosystems, namely biomass production and nutrient regeneration, and how these biodiversity effects on ecosystem functioning can be influenced by anthropogenic activities (pollution, fisheries).

3. Biological invasions

Species, subspecies or lower taxa introduced outside their natural past or present range (or of their natural dispersal potential) are named non indigenous species (NIS). Due to the globalisation of human activities, intentional or unintentional introductions of marine species have become a priority issue for marine conservation. During the last century a consistent subset of NIS demonstrate their capability of spreading over a level that alters the invaded ecosystems. Invasive alien species (IAS) can have adverse effects on biological diversity, ecosystem functioning, socio-economic values and/or human health in invaded regions. Understanding biological invasions requires multidisciplinary expertise including taxonomy, molecular biology, biogeography, population ecology, ecological modeling and economics. There is a global need to train scientists in assessing key descriptors of biological invasions (i.e. abundance and distribution, vectors of introduction, impact on native communities and habitat, impact on ecosystem functioning and energy flow) and find management solutions to NIS introduction and IAS spread.

4. Natural resources: overexploitation, fisheries and aquaculture

Since the late 19th Century, the world fisheries catch has increased steadily, however, analysis of global trends of the most important marine stocks in the world shows that the majority are overexploited or depleted. New and constantly improving technology (synthetic fibres, electronics, remote sensing), along with overcapitalisation and subsidies are the driving forces behind the overexploitation of marine fisheries resources. The effects of overexploitation can be seen in the decreasing mean size, “fishing down the food chain” phenomenon as fisheries turn to species lower down the food chain as those higher up are depleted, loss of genetic variability, changes in community structure, loss of biodiversity and regime shifts. Aquaculture is already an important industry and is seen by some as a replacement for fisheries. However, commercial aquaculture also relies heavily on fisheries (by) catch for oils and fish meal, which puts further pressure on fish stocks. A range of different approaches are needed to better understand the interactions of fisheries (and aquaculture) with the marine environment and provide a scientific basis for the management of marine resources.

5. Ocean noise pollution

Anthropogenic sources of noise in the marine environment have increased in line with expansion in shipping, oil and gas exploration, infrastructure development, offshore renewable energy generation, naval sonar and research activities. These sound sources vary in intensity and frequency and can result in chronic and acute impacts on marine organisms. Marine fauna that use sound for social interactions may have inter- and intra-specific communication masked or impeded. In addition, organisms that use sound for foraging may suffer direct impacts through masking or indirect impacts through alteration in prey distribution or habitat loss.

6. Habitat loss, urban development, coastal infrastructures and marine spatial planning

The coastal zones are changing under pressure from a growing human population and the conversion of shoreline habitat to urban development. Marine landscapes have been globally altered by the introduction of a variety of human-made infrastructures such as breakwaters, artificial reefs, offshore platforms, wind farms and tidal gauges. While the conservation challenges associated with the expansion of human infrastructures are well understood in terrestrial systems, urban ecology has not been of as much focus in marine science and management. However, some of the most obvious and economically important negative effects on natural ecosystems are already being seen in the coastal zone. With the expansion of maritime activities and the increasing need of complying with international agreements on the protection of biodiversity there is also a growing interest in marine spatial planning as a tool to manage the use of marine systems.