Which factors determine the distribution and presence of benthic macrophytes at the bottom of the Mediterranean? How doenvironmental conditions and humans affect and regulate the distribution of various marine flora species? What conditions favor the expansion of Posidonia oceanica at certain areas of the seabed?
Answers to these questions are provided by an innovative study, just completed by the scientific team of the Democritus University of Thrace (DUTH) in the framework of the EU-funded ODYSSEA research project.
The DUTH team consists of Ph.D. candidate Dimitris Efrossynidis, Assistant Professor at the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Mr. Avi Arabatzis and Professor Georgios Sylaios of the Department of Environmental Engineering, who heads the ODYSSEA project..
The researchers applied artificial intelligence techniques and machine learning algorithms on big environmental databases to get answers to these questions. They used data from open, freely-available large databases, such as oceanographic and bathymetry data, marine bottom types and habitats and human impact data, indirectly expressed as distances from main ports, cities and rivers.
Altogether, 217 environmental parameters were used to unveil the factors regulating the presence/absenceinterplay and the distribution of various seagrass species in the seabed.
Research showed that all seagrass species do not thrive in the same manner or in the same areas. Eutrophication and salinity levels, especially in the winter months, presence of phosphates, water depth, distance from coastal settlements and rivers are the key factors regulating the presence or absence of seagrass in the Mediterranean Sea. Thus, some species (such as Cymodocea and Poseidonia) are favored in places with a relatively stable and slightly higher than average concentration of winter phytoplankton.
At the same time, others (such as Halophila) are resistant to high salinity values. For these reasons, species such as Halopila thrive in the coastal areas of the Eastern Mediterranean, such as Cyprus, the southern parts of Greece and Italy, where these conditions apply.
Areas with low pollution and clear waters have their own seagrass species (such as Cymodoceanodosa and Poseidoniaoceanica), just like those areas that are covered by water with higher turbidity (Zostera & Ruppia).
The importance of this interdisciplinary work, published in the latest issue of the prestigious international scientific journal Ecological Informatics, lies in the innovative use of artificial intelligence to improve understanding of seabed processes and the impact of human activities in the Mediterranean where the degradation of marine benthic flora is concomitant to the rapid urbanization of the coastal zone.