2024 World Seagrass Conference & 15th International Seagrass Biology Workshop

Opening Plenary

Salvatore aricò PHD

Salvatore Aricò
PhD, CEO, International Science Council

Salvatore Aricò was appointed Chief Executive Officer of the International Science Council in January 2023. Previously he led the ocean science portfolio at the UN Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, was executive secretary of the UN Secretary-General’s scientific advisory board, senior science officer at UNESCO, senior research fellow at the United Nations University, chief of programme at the Convention on Biological Diversity and researcher at the University of Delaware. A biologist and oceanographer by training, he has (co)authored close to 100 scientific and technical publications and has been involved in journals’ editorial committees / acted as book editor. His current academic engagements include affiliate professor at the Parthenope University of Naples and the International Institute of Diplomacy and Sustainability at UCSI University in Malaysia, and the supervision of graduate students.

Keynote abstract
Salvatore Aricò, Phd, CEO, International Science Council

Seagrass science in an international cooperation and policy context:
A game-changer opportunity not to miss

Themes Plenary

Theme 1
Thorsten Reusch

Thorsten Reusch
GEOMAR Helmholtz-Centre for Ocean Research Kiel and Kiel University, Germany

Thorsten Reusch is a professor of Marine Ecology at Kiel University, heading the Marine Ecology Division at GEOMAR Kiel since 2012. After completing his doctoral thesis in 1994 at Kiel University, he spent time abroad as postdoctoral researcher in San Diego and Groningen, before becoming a group leader at the Max-Planck-Institute for Evolutionary Biology in 1999. After being appointed as professor for Plant Evolutionary Ecology at University Münster (Germany) he is now back in Kiel since 2008. His main research interests are the adaptation of marine life to natural and human perturbations, and active habitat restoration of coastal benthic communities. These questions are addressed within an eco-evolutionary framework, and increasingly in combination with marine genomics. The model species are usually both ecologically important and amenable to experimentation, and include seagrasses, fishes, bivalves, comb jellies and phytoplankton.

Keynote abstract
Thorsten Reusch, GEOMAR Kiel, Germany

A return to the sea – adaptations of seagrasses across scales

This keynote will give an overview on the breathtaking range of adaptations of seagrasses that were required to successfully return to the stressful ocean environment, but also to increasing levels of stress related to global change. Much can be learned from omic-guided approaches. For example, gene losses and gene family expansions facilitate light harvesting, hypoxic metabolism and salt tolerance across all three seagrass lineages. Population-genomic approaches permit an assessment of historical demography driven by glacial bottlenecks, allow the reconstruction of refugia, and permit the analysis genome-phenotype associations. Transcriptome profiling allows the detection of seagrass stress markers and priming effects. As clonal species, seagrasses are also ecellent examples as to how clones can diversify phenotypically through within-clone genetic and epigenetic evolution. Coupling these processes with purely ecological approaches is imperative as a basis for evolution-guided restoration measures in a rapidly changing ocean environment.

Theme 2
Jay Stachowicz

John J Stachowicz (Jay)
Professor, Department of Evolution and Ecology
University of California Davis (USA)

Jay Stachowicz is a community ecologist focused on causes and consequences of patterns of species and genetic diversity in nature and how variation in biodiversity affects the functioning of entire ecosystems.  He earned a bachelor’s degree at Dartmouth College in Biology and a Ph.D. in Marine Sciences at the University of North Carolina and joined the faculty at UC Davis in 2000. His research falls into three, increasingly inter-related areas.  First, he applies the approaches of community ecology to understanding the distribution of functional and genetic variation in foundation species. Second, he uses comparative experimental approaches to investigate biogeographic scale patterns and processes in species interactions and community assembly.  Finally, he works to improve our understanding of the fundamental role of mutualism and facilitation in community ecology.  He integrates these three formerly separate areas of inquiry through a focus on eelgrass (Zostera marina) to develop an integrated understanding from genes to communities. This collaborative work is facilitated through the Zostera Experimental Network, a network of more than 40 scientists on 5 coastlines focused on eelgrass ecology, evolution and genetics which he co-leads. He is a Fellow of the Ecological Society of America (ESA) and the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences (AAAS). He is passionate about undergraduate teaching, graduate mentoring, and the development of undergraduate biology curriculum.  He currently serves at the Interim Director of the UC Davis Coastal and Marine Sciences Institute.

Keynote abstract
John J. Stachowicz, University of California, Davis USA

Darwin’s Entangled Bank: interactions among seagrass, its associated animals, and the microbiome in a changing ocean.

Seagrasses are ecosystem engineers, but this engineering function depends on plant morphological and physiological traits, which vary among individuals and populations and with environmental change. In this talk, I will assess how genetically based and plastic variation in seagrass traits affect the diversity, composition and functioning of their associated communities. Global and local variation in seagrass form leads to predictable changes in epifaunal communities, but what are the consequences of this variation for seagrass ecosystems?  Growing understanding of the role of the seagrass microbiome is revolutionizing our understanding of seagrass stress tolerance and disease ecology, but how much of plant adaptation and plasticity is microbially-based?  How does the seagrass microbiome influence the better-known interactions between seagrasses and macrofauna?  Integrating community and microbial ecology with our emerging understanding of seagrass trait, genetic and functional diversity can address these questions and enhance conservation and restoration of seagrass ecosystems in a changing world.

Theme 3
Jacqueline Uku

Jacqueline Uku
Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute
Mombasa, KENYA

Dr. Jacqueline Uku is a seagrass scientist and conservation leader and has worked in this field for 30 years. She is based at the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute, Mombasa, Kenya. She worked extensively with coastal communities during the Kenya Coastal Development Project as the Project Leader and had an opportunity to contribute to experimental seagrass restoration activities under this project.  Nationally, she has contributed to the development of the National Environmental Policy as a member of the National Steering Committee.

She is the recent past President of the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association (WIOMSA) and she is currently serving as the National Coordinator for Marine Spatial Planning in Kenya. Jacqueline also chairs the Africa Ocean Decade Taskforce under IOC-UNESCO and is a member of the Ocean Literacy Expert group. Her recent research focus has been the assessment of seagrass blue carbon as a source of benefits to coastal communities as well as the use of Environmental DNA for biodiversity assessments. She also continues to support the enhancement of awareness of ocean issues through engagement in ocean literacy activities.

Keynote Abstract
Jacqueline Uku, Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute, Mombasa, KENYA

Seagrass conservation, management and citizen science

The degradation of seagrass meadows is prevalent in the Western Indian Ocean (WIO) region due to fishing impacts, anchor damage, sea urchin herbivory, extreme events such as cyclones and floods, and anthropogenic factors such as pollution and sediment inflows. In response to seagrass habitat degradation, there have been numerous efforts to advance the restoration of seagrass beds in several countries in the region. This presentation will focus on experimental restoration efforts in three countries of the WIO: Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique. The conservation challenges and lessons learned will be elaborated as well as the integration of communities in citizen science initiatives.