PALEOPARK – Seagrass palaeo-records as a tool for the evaluation, diagnosis and prognosis of the evolution of species, communities, and processes in Spanish insular National Parks


Change in the ecosystems occurs at multiple spatial and temporal scales. Discriminating between real state changes, cycles, and trends, is often difficult or not possible without the adequate time perspective. For this reason, long, detailed, and reliable series of data of relevant ecosystem functional and structural variables, are a central priority for natural reserves managers. Long-term series can be generated from monitoring programs or sought in human, biological, or geological records. Monitoring programs can provide detailed and high-quality information but because of their costly implementation they are often denied by the administrations or drastically limited to a few variables. When the right record is found, modern palaeo-reconstruction techniques can provide an extraordinary wealth of qualitative and quantitative information on environmental and biological features of the ecosystems along very long periods of time and with remarkable time resolution. High human population densities along the coasts of the world, are resulting in constant and intense impact on coastal environments. Paleo-reconstructions can provide valuable insights on these impacts and on the responses of the ecosystems. However, accurate paleo-records in exposed coastal environments are very rare, what has prevented this field of science to develop in such zones. Exceptionally, the endemic Mediterranean seagrass Posidonia oceanica has been found to be an accurate and patient observer of the past natural history of our coasts. Within its highly anoxic peat-like sedimentary deposits, the meadow stores information encompassing, at least, the last ca. 6000 years with a resolution ranging from 1 to 10 yr cm-1. The only other environments where appropriate paleo-records can be found are coastal lagoons. The sheltered condition of these systems, often colonized by species of the genus Zostera, allows the establishment of chronological coherent sedimentary records due to the relatively low hydrodynamism. The peat-like paleo-record formed by P. oceanica, has been found to hold a remarkable stock of carbon in the organic form. In a warming planet, the conservation and enhancement of efficient carbon sinks has become a priority as a help to offsetting the rise in atmospheric CO2. This project proposes 1. to take advantage of these palaeo-records as a tool to characterize the evolution, health state and prognosis, of species, communities, and processes in Spanish insular National Parks (Illas Atlánticas and Cabrera Archipelagos Maritime-Terrestrial National Parks), as driven by humanization and other major environmental stressors and 2. to assess and price the carbon stocks and fluxes associated to the P. oceanica sedimentary record. Both objectives use the same ‘object’ of study and share exactly the same methodology. The objectives will be achieved by the participation of an international consortium of a dozen of research groups that will study geological, chemical, micropaleontological, molecular, genetic, palinological, and isotopic proxies, together with archaeological and historical information. These proxies will provide the managers with information on background levels (pre-anthropic), disambiguation between human and natural derived impacts, identification of ecosystems change patterns (cycles, extreme events, and trends), or quantification of the effects of CO2 rise (sea surface warming and acidification), among many other features.

SZN role

Participant Institution for the analysis of fossil/sub-fossil DNA.


CSIC, Spain; University of Barcelona, Spain; Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona, Spain; University of Santiago de Compostela, Spain; University Politécnica de Cataluña, Spain; Brunel University, UK; SZN, Italy; University of Western Australia, Australia; NIOZ, The Netherlands; Institut Català d’Arqueologia Clàssic, Spain

Project lifetime


P. I.

Gabriele Procaccini
Project coordinator: Miguel Ángel Mateo Mínguez (CEAB-CSIC, Spain)

Funding Institution

Ministerio de Agricultura, Alimentacion y Medio Ambiente - Spain

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