How does climate change impact our coastal ecosystems?

Written by Giorgia Palladino, Research Fellow, Department of Pharmacy and Biotechnology, University of Bologna, as part of the CIRCLES project
As we are in the middle of summer now, more and more people are enjoying the coast sides, the nice breeze, and beautiful beaches across Europe. Beneath the surface of this idyllic scene lies a hidden world teeming with life—microbes. These microscopic organisms play a vital role in the delicate balance of coastal ecosystems. However, the impact of climate change, coupled with increasing human activities, poses a threat to this underwater wonderland.
A recent study that I conducted together with my colleagues at the University of Bologna has delved into the intriguing world of microbes and their response to the combined pressures of human influence and environmental changes. By focusing on the Anemonia viridis-associated microbiota, we have shed light on how climate change can disrupt the harmony of our coastal ecosystems.

Unravelling the Microbial Secrets with expeditions in Italy and Spain

We have embarked on two very interesting expeditions, one off the coast of Riccione in Italy’s Center Mediterranean and the other at Cap de Creus in Spain’s Northwestern Mediterranean. These locations are popular tourist destinations that experience varying levels of human impact. The aim was to understand how A. viridis and its associated microbial community responded to the stressors imposed by human activities and environmental changes.

©Expeditions to explore Anemonia viridis-associated microbiota, University of Bologna

Our discoveries

Our study revealed that the A. viridis-associated microbiota possesses a remarkable ability to adapt to the challenges posed by both human influence and the changing environment. Just like chameleons, these microbial communities showed a significant degree of plasticity, adjusting their composition to mirror the variations in the surrounding seawater. It’s almost as if they have a close connection with their watery environment, carefully selecting symbiotic partners for their survival.
However, there were fewer positive discoveries beneath the waves. In the highly impacted Cap de Creus site, the A. viridis-associated microbiota displayed an alarming lack of structure, resulting in a state known as dysbiosis. It’s as if the delicate balance of the microbial community had been disrupted. This raised important questions about the resilience of A. viridis and its associated microbiome in the face of climate change and human activities.

Implications for our coasts

Rising ocean temperatures, acidification, altered nutrient availability, sea level rise, erosion, and changes in salinity and ocean currents are just some of the challenges that coastal ecosystems face. These changes disrupt the delicate balance of microbial communities that reside in the water column and sediments, as well as those associated with host organisms. The consequences ripple throughout the ecosystem, affecting nutrient cycles, primary production, and the overall health and functioning of coastal habitats.
Our study reminds us of the vulnerability of our coastal ecosystems and the urgent need for action. We must adopt sustainable management practices to protect these underwater marvels. Preserving the integrity of coastal ecosystems and their microbial communities is not only crucial for the survival of A. viridis but also for the well-being of the entire ecosystem and the countless organisms that depend on it.

Unlocking Nature's Resilience

Understanding the factors behind dysbiosis and unravelling the resilience mechanisms of microbial communities is key to developing effective conservation strategies. We need to act now to safeguard the future of our coastal wonderlands. By addressing climate change and reducing human impacts, we can help restore the balance and ensure the long-term health and resilience of these vital ecosystems.
So, the next time you find yourself standing on that picturesque sandy beach, take a moment to appreciate the hidden world beneath the waves that play an essential role in maintaining the delicate harmony of our coastal ecosystems.

Protecting and restoring coastal ecosystems

Our study on the response of the A. viridis-associated microbiota to combined anthropogenic stressors brings us closer to understanding the impacts of climate change on coastal ecosystems. Through captivating research, it reveals the adaptability of microbial communities while highlighting the risks of dysbiosis under intense human influence.
It is essential that we engage in sustainable management practices to protect and restore coastal ecosystems. We will further explore the intricate relationships between climate change, human activities, and coastal microbial communities, to help guide us towards effective conservation strategies for these vibrant underwater worlds.