I am a Beatriu de Pinós/ Marie Skłodowska-Curie COFUND postdoctoral fellow at the Institute of Marine Sciences (ICM-CSIC) of Barcelona. My work aims to better understand how marine organisms respond to past and present environmental changes. My research is thus multidisciplinary and lies at the interface between biodiversity, ecology and paleoecology.
Using ecological and paleoecological data to inform future marine conservation
Increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide as a result of human activities are driving rising temperatures, ocean acidification and consequent impacts on marine ecosystems. Understanding how marine organisms can cope with these environmental changes is essential for predicting the future of marine ecosystems. Marine calcifiers, organisms which build their skeletons from CaCO3, may be particularly sensitive to these threats. One of my current research aims to: 1) assess the effects of global changes on marine calcifiers and their associated microbiome and 2) use their fossil record to reconstruct natural and human-driven changes in coastal ecosystems. The final goal is to be able to better predict the future global change impacts on marine ecosystems and generate scientific research that can inform policy decisions. My work uses a variety of lab and field approaches integrating: (a) data from marine organisms (e.g. biological traits), (b) their associated microbiome, which have a strong influence on host physiology and ecological function and (c) geochemical and biological proxies (e.g. stable isotopes and fossil assemblages). One of my main study groups are bryozoans, which are still an overlooked group of aquatic invertebrates, despite being great model systems for understanding ecological and evolutionary processes. This is because they are: (a) diverse (>6000 species) & abundant worldwide, being present from the intertidal to the deep sea, (b) some of the most resilient foulers in the ocean, (c) producers of defensive skeletal structures and chemicals (potential drugs with pharmacological applications) against predation, diseases, and fouling and (d) natural archives of past environmental change as they are carbonate producers and thus well represented in the fossil record.
3D images of bryozoans to study morphological and structural changes. Credit: M. Cerdà and B. Figuerola.
Videos made from 3D images of the Mediterranean bryozoan species Myriapora truncata. Credit: B. Figuerola
"Anyone who starts to look at bryozoans will continue to do so, for their biology is full of interest and unsolved mysteries". J. Ryland.
Figuerola B*, Griffiths H, Krzeminska M,Piwoni-Piorewicz A, Iglikowska A, Kuklinski P. 2023. Temperature as a likely driver shaping global patterns in mineralogical composition in bryozoans: Implications for marine calcifiers under Global Change. Ecography 06381
Figuerola B*, Grossman EL, Lucey N, Leonard ND, O'Dea A. 2021. Millennial-scale change on a Caribbean reef system that experiences hypoxia. Ecography 44(9): 1270-1282
Figuerola B*, Hancock AM, Bax N, Cummings V, Downey R, Griffiths H, Smith J, Stark JS. 2021. A review and meta-analysis of potential impacts of ocean acidification on marine calcifiers from the Southern Ocean. Frontiers in Marine Science 8:58444
Brasier M, Barnes D, Bax N, Brandt A, Christianson A, Constable AJ, Downey R, Figuerola B, Griffiths H, Gutt J, Lockhart S, Morley SA, Post A, Van de Putte A, Saeedi H, Stark JS, Sumner M, Waller C. 2021. Responses of Southern Ocean seafloor habitats and communities to global environmental changes. Frontiers in Marine Science 8:622721
Pagès-Escolà M, Hereu B, Garrabou J, Montero-Serra I, Gori A, Gómez-Gras D, Figuerola B, Linares C. 2018. Divergent responses to warming between two common co-occurrent Mediterranean bryozoans. Scientific Reports 8:17455
Figuerola et al. 2023. Cover image of the journal. Click on the image to see the high resolution image.
Plastics as dispersal vectors of marine species
Plastic debris provides long-lasting substrates for a variety of species and can thus eventually alter marine ecosystems. Identifying these fouling organisms can provide valuable insights into the movement processes of plastics in the oceans, yet only a few studies have identified these organisms to the species level, and even less have characterized the plastics they were attached to. To address this gap in research, I started a new research line on this topic in collaboration with Dr Anna Sánchez from the University of Barcelona.
One of the identified species —the bryozoan Arbopercula tenella— is not native from the Mediterranean. Credit: E. di Martino
eggs attached to plastic, which is something that had never been reported before. Credit: A. Subías.
Kannan G, Mghili B, Di Martino E, Sanchez-Vidal A, Figuerola B*. 2023. Increasing Risk of Invasions by Organisms on Marine Debris in the Southeast Coast of India. SSRN http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4420197
Subías-Baratau A, Sanchez-Vidal A, Di Martino E, Figuerola B*. 2022. Marine biofouling organisms on beached, buoyant and benthic plastic debris in the Catalan Sea. Marine Pollution Bulletin 175: 113405
Taxonomy is essential for biodiversity conservation and management
The lack of expert-curated taxonomic and trait databases for most organisms, partly due to the “taxonomic impediment”, makes conservation and management of biodiversity challenging as this information is essential for predicting biodiversity responses to environment, which can serve to inform marine conservation policies. I provide my expertise as a bryozoologist in biodiversity studies and collaborative initiatives on building global and local expert-curated trait and molecular database.
SEM images of six selected bryozoan species studied from east Antarctica. Credit: B. Figuerola.
A new species of shrimp, Triacanthoneus blanca, named after me by Arthur Anker, a world-renowned expert on caridean shrimps. Click on the image to see more details about the article!
Orr RJS, Di Martino E, Ramsfjell M, Gordon DP, Berning B, Chowdhury I, Craig A, Cumming RL, Figuerola B, [24 other authors], Liow LH. 2022. Paleozoic origins of cheilostome bryozoans and parental care inferred by a new genome-skimmed phylogeny. Science Advances 8, eabm7452.
Avila C, Angulo-Preckler C, Martín-Martín RP, Figuerola B, Griffiths HJ, Waller CL. 2020. Invasive marine species discovered on non-native kelp rafts in the warmest Antarctic island. Scientific Reports 10: 1639.
Figuerola B*, Gordon DP, Cristobo J. 2018. New deep Cheilostomata (Bryozoa) species from the Southwestern Atlantic: shedding light in the dark. Zootaxa 4375 (2): 211-249.
Figuerola B*, Barnes DKA, Brickle P, Brewin PD. 2017. Bryozoan diversity around the Falkland and South Georgia Islands: Overcoming Antarctic barriers. Marine Environmental Research 126:81-94.