1. TAXONOMY AND BIODIVERSITY:
This research line focuses on the identification (Systematics), classification (Taxonomy) and geographic distribution (Faunistics and Biogeography) of marine fauna. Especial emphasis is placed on the species and groups of interest to fisheries. The main zoological groups studied are fish (both cartilaginous and bony fish), crustaceans (decapods, stomatopods, amphipods and other groups), and molluscs (cephalopods, bivalves and gastropods). This information constitutes the basis on which to build additional knowledge on the population interactions and biomass processes taking place in the marine environment. These studies are also necessary tools for the understanding of the species richness and diversity of particular environments, as well as to perform studies of phylogeny. Traditional morphological, morphometric and meristic approaches, as well as genetic tools are used to describe new species, assess phylogeny among species, describe population structure and genetic variability within species and improve the knowledge on their morphology through the ontogeny.
2. FIELD AND EXPERIMENTAL BIOLOGY OF MARINE ORGANISMS:
The research mainly focuses on studies that are conducted at different levels from the molecular and the individual to the ecosystem levels,.and from descriptive to functional analysis. Field studies are aimed at the understanding of the life history of species. The studies are addressed to the determination of basic biological parameters required for population dynamic models (eg. growth and mortality rates, size at first maturity, fecundity) and to understand biological processes involved in the relation between organisms and their environment (eg. development, physiological condition, behaviour, ecomorphology, maturity cycle, feeding). Experimental research includes the study of the endocrine and molecular basis of the mechanisms of sex determination and differentiation in fish, and the development of methods for their control for practical applications in aquaculture.
3. INTERACTIONS AMONG ENVIRONMENT, ORGANISMS AND MARINE COMMUNITIES:
The aim of this research is to understand the physical and biological processes that influence the dynamics of species, populations and communities at different spatial and temporal scales. Field work is conducted from the littoral zone to the deep-sea. The physical environment affects, among others, morphology, physiology or behaviour in organisms and induces changes on distribution, community structure or food webs. Genotype-environment interactions concerning particularly sex differentiation and precocious sexual maturity are studied in the laboratory under controlled conditions and using molecular and genomic approaches. Environmental variability and multispecific interactions also determine species development, recruitment success and production, and affect the habitat use by species during their life history stages. Research focuses on understanding the coupling between physical, chemical and biological parameters, and different ecosystem compartments, from low trophic levels (early life stages, zooplankton, macrobenthos) to top predators, with special emphasis on key fishing species).
4. ECOSYSTEM EFFECTS OF ANTHROPOGENIC IMPACTS AND CONSERVATION OF MARINE LIVING RESOURCES:
Human activities affect both species and marine habitats and produce dramatic ecosystem modifications in addition to those induced by the environment. The vulnerability of to anthropogenic impacts (i.e. fisheries, pollution, changes in coastal line morphology, dumping problems), are assessed at different levels of organisation, from the individual (eg. effect of pollutants on invertebrate and fish reproduction and metabolism) to the ecosystem (eg. seabed and ecosystem structure alterations). The topic develops new ecological approaches based on trophic fluxes and bio-economic models to evaluate marine living resources that complement the standard stock assessment methods by providing biological reference points. The research also focused on ecological indicators and pollution levels of the ecosystem impacts to estimate biodiversity changes, to protect marine communities and essential fish habitats, and to achieve sustainable fisheries. Furthermore, to reduce the physical effects on the seabed, minimise the discards and improve gear selectivity, the fishing impact on benthic communities and habitats are analysed, and new fishing techniques and technology are developed. The potential of marine protected areas as essential habitats for spawning and protection of threatened species, and aspects on biotechnologies for sustainable aquaculture are investigated as alternative tools to safeguard the marine ecosystem. A sound scientific understanding of anthropogenic impacts in both continental shelf and deep habitats should provide key tools for the sustainable management of the marine natural resources, necessary for their conservation.