The Foundation for Baltic and East European Studies

Evolutionary adaptation to environmental disturbance in marine ecosystems: genetic ecotoxicology in the Baltic Sea

Field: Miljövetenskap
Project leader: Mats Grahn
Starting year: 2011
Project type: Project

The project will address the question of if and how biodiversity at the genetic level influence
the ability of species and ecosystems to respond to environmental disturbance (pollutants) in the Baltic Sea. Due to its large, heavily populated, industrialized and farmed drainage area, and its long water residence time, a complex mix of contaminants concentrate in the system. Anthropogenic contamination is strongly associated with reductions in the species richness and evenness of marine habitats and the Baltic Sea is considered to be one of the most polluted seas in the world. The Baltic Sea is also a marginal ecosystem with many unique evolutionary lineages, distinct from related North Sea populations, and constitutes important genetic resources that are vulnerable to environmental change. Therefore, the ecology of the Baltic Sea may be unusually sensitive to environmental perturbations.

This project will use a combination of experiments, field investigations of genetic variation, and controlled laboratory studies of two common Baltic Sea organisms, a fish the three-spined stickleback and a mollusc the Blue mussel. The group behind this application has extensive experience from the fields of molecular population genetics and aquatic ecotoxicology. A graduate student will be recruited to the project interested in exploring the boundary between molecular biology and environmental science. The knowledge obtained from this project will be important for increasing the scope of ecological risk assessment (ERA) to also include effects of evolutionary responses. The Comparative studies proposed here will therefore highlight the differences in response found in individuals, populations and communities in questions. Additionally to it we proposed to characterize the genetic basis for this variation in responses. We hence provide knowledge about the impact of genetic biodiversity and local adaptation on ERA with special emphasis on the Baltic Sea.