Carolina Madeira wins best PhD thesis award at FCUL

Carolina Madeira, researcher at MARE has won the best PhD thesis in Earth and Marine Sciences at the Faculty of Sciences from the University of Lisbon. Her thesis, titled “Evaluation of thermal stress in tropical marine organisms in the context of climate warming” was supervised by Prof. Henrique Cabral (FCUL), Prof. Mário Diniz (FCT-UNL) and by Dr. Catarina Vinagre, PI of the project WarmingWebs. The PhD thesis was developed within the scope of this project, which aimed at understanding the role of biodiversity, species thermal tolerance and food web structure in the response of marine ecosystems to climate change.


“My PhD focused on investigating the impact of gradual ocean warming and extreme temperature events, such as marine heat waves, in tropical and subtropical intertidal ecosystems. The main idea was to select several key species from these habitats and unravel their main response mechanisms to thermal stress at a molecular level, to understand which metabolic pathways were involved and how these affected animal growth and survival. I then used all these indicators to construct indexes of species thermal vulnerability that can be employed in routine environmental monitoring programs”, explained the researcher.


Although there are species already at risk of local extinction due to current temperature changes, there are also species with high thermal tolerances that can become invasive in future warming scenarios. Therefore, the identification of specific phenotypic and life history traits that determine susceptibility or resilience to environmental changes in these habitats is of crucial importance. By ranking species thermal vulnerability and mapping their geographic areas of occurrence, the researcher concluded that “there is a need to adequately manage micro-habitat heterogeneity and protect areas that can serve as a thermal refuge to intertidal species, so that the functional diversity of these ecosystems can be maintained”.


Carolina Madeira has already got plans for the future: “the next step will be to understand how these response mechanisms have evolved in the different animal groups by comparing several marine ecosystems. This is where the use of novel highthrouput technologies such as ecological genomics and transcriptomics, coupled with molecular phylogenetic approaches will bring major advancements in evolutionary physiology. We will be able to discover how general stress responses vs local adaptation responses to ocean warming have arised and use a systems-biology approach to develop predictive models of marine species vulnerability to climate change”.