Impacts of climate change on European rocky intertidal ecosystems
The aim of this project is to use ecological, physiological and genetic approaches to objectively identify the origin and quantify the effects of thermal stress on intertidal organisms over a wide geographical range of more than 20 degrees of latitude.

This research focuses on the intertidal zone, a narrow band populated by species that, despite marine ancestry, are periodically exposed to stressful and variable terrestrial conditions during low tide. Because these organisms are largely sedentary and live close to their physiological limits, they are regarded as sensitive indicators of the effects of climate change on biogeography and biodiversity.

In this project, we are evaluating aspects of physiological performance (by coupling bio-mimicking sensors and molecular techniques) in ecological contexts, both in the laboratory and in the field. This project was born from collaboration between CIBIO (University of Porto, Portugal), University of South Carolina (USA) and University of Évora (Portugal).

Technical data
Time span: 2010-2013
Total funding: €164,403
Funding agency: Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia
PI: Fernando P. Lima

Supported graduate students
Rui Seabra Martinho. Analysis of the mechanistic link between micro-climate and macro-biogeographic patterns of intertidal rocky shore organisms. PhD in Biology, University of Porto.

Ana Filipa Gomes. Intertidal thermal stress: a multispecies approach. MsC in Recursos Biológicos Aquáticos, University of Porto.
The intertidal is ideal for studying the effects of climate change
Preparing the rock surface for deploying robolimpets, NW France
Rui Seabra's PhD is being supported by this project
Linking habitat heterogeneity with physiology and metapopulation structure to forecast effects of climate change on continental scales
The aim of this project is to develop robust methods for forecasting the effects of climate change across multiple key species and at continental scales. We are using a macro-biogeographic approach to understand how the distribution of macrohabitats determines metapopulation and metacommunity structure and change on continental scales. Then, we will validate multi-species models with historical biogeography, using historical oceanography to hindcast patterns of biodiversity in the coastal zone over 20 degrees of latitude during the past 50-150 years.

This project was born from collaboration between CIBIO (University of Porto, Portugal) and University of South Carolina (USA).

Technical data
Time span: 2012-2015
Total funding: €151,364
Funding agency: Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia
PI: Fernando P. Lima
The effects of heat stress are being evaluated on a variety of species
Mesocosms allow us to simulate any location on the European Coast
Robolimpets and biomimetic desiccation data loggers
Robolimpets are self-contained, rugged and miniaturized devices that can be easily and inexpensively built to mimic the thermal characteristics of intertidal organisms and record their thermal trajectories over a broad variety of temporal and spatial scales. They are biomimetic in the sense that they feature the thermal characteristics and visually resemble real organisms, thus being inconspicuous in the intertidal environment.

These devices consist of a lithium battery powering the circuit board from a DS1922L iButton, embedded in 3M Scotchcast 2130waterproof compound, inside an emptied real limpet shell. Two exposed wires penetrating the shell serve as contacts for logger programming and subsequent data retrieval. Robolimpets have been shown to match very tightly the temperature profiles of live animals in the field. The DS1922 iButton can be programmed to record up to 8192 readings at 0.5 °C (enough for more than 5 months with a sampling frequency of 30 min).The design of the robolimpets resulted from the collaboration with David Wethey (Univ. South Carolina, USA). For more information click HERE.

In collaboration with Nicholas Burnett (University of South Carolina), we have developed a new kind of robolimpet:  the biomimetic desiccation data logger - BDDL, designed to serve as a relative measure of potential desiccation stress that limpets are exposed to in a particular microclimate. BDDL can measure the frequency and relative magnitude of desiccation stress associated with wind and larger meteorological events as experienced by the study organism, in any possible microclimate. THIS manuscript provides more details.
Manufacturing roblimpets in the lab
Testing desiccation sensors and loggers at La Caridad, NW Spain
For intertidal organisms, side matters
Using robolimpets, we have examined the relative magnitudes of local-scale versus large-scale latitudinal patterns of intertidal body temperatures. In 2008 and 2009, loggers collected 30-minute resolution data on body temperatures at a variety of microhabitats on 13 rocky shores along the Atlantic coast of the Iberian Peninsula.

Data showed that during low tide, body temperatures of sun-exposed animals routinely reached much higher temperatures than their counterparts attached to north-facing, shaded surfaces. Sunny vs shaded differences were consistently larger than the variability associated with the seasons and with shore level.

These results are remarkable because they show that thermal differences between sunny and shaded microhabitats separated by only a few meters on a given shore are more different than average temperature differences from locations hundreds of Km apart. It has long been appreciated that there are strong physical gradients between the high and low tidemarks on shores, but differences between sunny and shaded microhabitats have been less well understood, and the data presented here indicated that they overwhelm differences between shore levels. To get a copy of the manuscript click HERE.
Robolimpet deployed in the high-intertidal
Downloading 6 months worth of data from a robolimpet
Worldwide analysis of three decades of coastal warming
In this project, me and David Wethey (University of South Carolina, USA), analyzed 30 years of AVHRR data (acquired from NOAA´s NCDC). This study reinforces the notion that coastal systems are among the marine ecosystems most exposed to recent increases in temperature which may affect their biodiversity and capacity in delivering important ecosystem services. We demonstrated that even though 71% of the world’s coastlines experienced significant increases in sea surface temperature, rates of coastal warming have been highly heterogeneous, both spatially and seasonally. We showed that 46% of the world’s coastlines have experienced a significant decrease in the frequency of extremely cold events, while extremely hot days are becoming more common in 38% of the area. Also, we demonstrated that the onset of the warm season is occurring significantly earlier in the year in 36% of the temperate coastal regions. Coupled with findings of increases in both temperature extremes at approximately one tenth of the world’s coastlines, these data contribute for the realization that global warming is more than a monotonic increase of average temperatures. For detailed information click HERE.
Map showing the magnitude of coastal SST changes since 1982
Modeling biogeographic shifts
In partnership with researchers from the University of Porto (Portugal), I have developed bioclimatic envelope models to study changes in the distribution of intertidal species. We have shown that these models can be used to gain insights into the relations between the distribution of species and the environment. For example, we have shown that there is a strong association between abundance of Patella rustica and sea surface temperature during its reproductive season, and forecasted an increase in the density of the populations in northern Portugal throughout the 21st century in response to the projected rise in temperature. To read this manuscript click HERE. Interestingly, we have also shown that even though the recent warming off the SW French coast has raised SSTs to levels high enough to support populations of the warm-water P. rustica there are other reasons preventing the expansion of this species from NE Spain (e.g., lack of habitat, dispersal limitations). To access the manuscript click HERE.

In a study led by Thomas J. Hilbish (University of South Carolina, USA), we analyzed the effect of the rapid sea surface warming within the English Channel over the dynamics of three French hybrid zones between the cold-temperature mussel Mytilus edulis and the sub-tropical M. galloprovincialis. We showed that two of the hybrid zones have not changed in either position or shape. The third hybrid zone however has shifted in the predicted direction, ~100 to 200 km eastward into the warming English Channel. In this case, biogeographic modeling had a central role in showing that this change was most likely related with changes in winter cold temperatures. This study also illustrated that hybrid zones can be used to conduct repeated tests of ecological response to climate change and can be valuable in sorting among prospective mechanistic hypotheses that underlie that change. To get a copy of the manuscript click HERE.
Patella rustica's expansion in S France is limited by lack of habitat
In the English Channel, Mytilus spp. are responding to warming
The paths of parallel evolution and their genetic crossroads
In this this project led by Rui Faria (CIBIO, Univ. of Porto, Portugal), my duty is to help on the environmental characterization in the field. This is a multidisciplinary project focusing on ecology, morphology, genomics, transcriptomics and modelling, with the aim of identifying and characterizing loci under disruptive selection among ecotypes of Littorina fabalis in different geographic regions. This work will shed light on the genetic mechanisms of ecotype evolution and more specifically, to understand if parallel divergent evolution evolves through the same genetic paths. In other words, how repeatable is ecotype evolution?
With Rui Faria and Stuart J. Baird, collecting L. fabalis in NW Spain
Scales of adaptation under different gene flow scenarios
This project is led by Pedro A. Ribeiro (Laboratório Associado ISR, Centro do IMAR da Universidade dos Açores, Portugal), and my role is to characterize the thermal environment in the field. This project will combine experimental methods and state-of-the-art molecular techniques to test if populations that are more connected by gene flow exhibit less genetic differentiation attributable to local adaptation, compared to more isolated populations. We expect to obtain novel insights into the processes by which species with broad geographical ranges can adapt to local environmental conditions, despite the homogenizing effects of gene flow.
We will study local adaptation along the European coast