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CODE 98248
  • 5 cfu during the 2nd year of 10720 ENVIRONMENTAL ENGINEERING (LM-35) - GENOVA
    LANGUAGE English
  • SEMESTER 1° Semester
    MODULES This unit is a module of:



    Introduce students to the fundamental aspects of marine biodiversity management and conservation, with specific focus on biodiversity definition and measurement, ecosystem status evaluation, biodiversity maintenance and restoration of marine resources


    The teaching provides the elements for defining, measuring, and analysing biodiversity in the marine environment, offering an overview on its complexity. It aims at explaining how marine biodiversity must be managed and conserved, how biodiversity can be assessed and measured, also using ecological indices, and how biodiversity and marine resources can be mainteined and restored, also through the marine spatial planning. The hotspots of marine biodiversity are discussed, with a specific focus on the priority habitats listed in the European Directives, such as seagrass meadows, lagoons and estuaries, rocky reefs, submerged marine caves, and deep habitats.

    In particular the teaching illustrates: i) the various definitions and concepts of biodiversity; ii) the study methods and the tools used in the field to measure biodiversity; iii) the strategies for biodiversity conservation; iv) the importance of marine environmental monitoring and ecosystem status evaluation.


    The teaching consists of lectures and exercises done during classes.
    Lectures in the classroom are delivered through multimedia presentations. As there is no reference text adopted for this course, attendance in the classroom is strongly recommended. The student can make use of the material available on Aulaweb.
    As some exercises are carried out regularly in the classroom for the application of the acquired knowledge, attendance at lectures and exercises is strongly recommended. The exercises may also constitute a self-assessment test.


    The program of the teaching includes:

    1. Introduction. Biodiversity hotspots. Classification of nature. Divergence between marine and terrestrial biodiversity. The magnitude of marine biodiversity. Global patterns and predictors of marine biodiversity. The Census of Marine Life and the International Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS) database. The latitudinal gradient of missing species richness.

    2. Concept and definitions of biodiversity. Genes, species, communities; taxonomy and ecology. Taxonomic diversity; concept of taxocenosis. Taxonomic sufficiency and taxonomic distinctness. Functional diversity. Other kind of diversity (biochemical, trophic, genetic). Natural resources and ecosystem services.

    3. Historical aspects of biodiversity: European explorers and the paradigm of high tropical diversity. Hypothesis on the causes of marine diversity. Concept of ecological niche. Species coexistence; resource partitioning; role of predators. Factors that favour diversity: temporal stability; climate constancy; production; competition; spatial heterogeneity; circular chain; compensatory mortality; fixed lottery; intermediate disturbance. Ecology of the equilibrium and ecology of disturbance.

    4. Hypotheses on the role of biodiversity in the functioning of ecosystems: stability; the positive relationship between ecosystem functioning and biodiversity; redundancy; functional classifications and biological traits, key species; idiosyncrasy and importance of historical factors. Succession theory and population dynamic models. Concepts of stability, resistance, resilience, hysteresis.

    5. Measurement of diversity (with calculation procedures): specific richness (Margalef index D), dominance (Simpson index λ), diversity s. str. (Shannon index H’), evenness (Pielou index J). Inventory of diversity (of point, α, β, γ, ε), concept of intra- and among habitats diversity. Area-species curve (or sampling effort - species) and meaning of parameters c, z and S. Examples of sampling procedures and cases of study.

    6. Conservation of marine biodiversity. Global climate change. Greenhouse effect. Global warming and prediction models. Sea level rise. Ocean acidification. Definition of Anthropocene. The limits of development. The history of Pasqua Island as a paradigm. Human-nature relationships. Threats to biodiversity and habitat loss. Overfishing and the tragedy of the commons. Commercial whaling. Marine debris. Alien species. Eutrophication. Marine disease. Global ecological footprint and calculation method. Ecological principles for environmental sustainability.

    7. Protection of species (concept of sympathy) vs protection of habitats (concept of utility). From species to an ecosystem approach. Flag species and Walt-Disney effect. Concept of key species and its evolution (keystone species; key species; foundation species or structuring species; focal species). The IUCN Red List: endangered species, threatened species, endemic species. Vulnerability. Rarity. Extinctions. Examples of marine extinctions and near extinctions. Causes of marine extinctions. The sixth extinction and the biodiversity crisis. Population decline and recovery. Conserving marine biodiversity. Agenda 21, the need for conservation and the role of science in sustainable development. Convention on Biological Diversity. Biodiversity Strategy 2011-2020 and Aichi targets. Agenda 2030 and sustainable development goals. International regulations and Directives. The role of Marine Protected Areas. Restoration of marine habitats and recovery trend of populations. Importance of monitoring programs.

    8. Characterization and evaluation of the state of marine ecosystems: semiotics and environmental diagnostics. Bionomic approach. Concept of biocoenosis (Möbius). Identification criteria for biocoenosis. Physiognomic criterion. Constancy-dominance criterion. Fidelity criterion. Operative definitions of biocoenosis, community and assemblage. Systemic meaning vs statistical meaning. Definition of community and habitat. Identification of assemblages units. Definition of typologies: Nouveau Manuel (and subsequent updates to the Endoume school), EuNIS (European Nature Information System) and UNEP/MAP-RAC/SPA (Regional Activity Center for Specially Protected Areas) classifications. Reference habitats and marine cartography. Marine habitats of conservation interest in the European Union. The Habitat notebooks of the Ministry of the Environment and the Protection of the Territory and the Sea, and other reference publications. European Directives: Habitat (1992), Water Framework (2000), Marine Strategy Framework (2008). Ecosystem-based management. Concept of Good Environmental Status (GES) and seafloor integrity. Importance of biogenic reefs. Indicators of stress in the marine benthos: compliance and early warning indicators.

    9. Biological indicators and ecological indices. Criteria for defining the state of ecosystems (ecosystem status assessment): expert judgment, biotic indexes, comparison with reference communities. The problem of sliding baseline syndrome. Ecotoxicology. Biomarker concept. Sentinel organisms. Opportunistic species, indicator species and techniques based on community structure: SAB model (species, abundance, and biomass) and graphic-distributive methods. Ecological indices: metrics, combined indices, aggregation methods, and the choice of reference condition using pristine areas (or protected areas), historical data, models. The problem of data quality in time series. Importance of the objectives: recovery, maintenance, directional trend. Environmental Quality Ratio (EQR) concept. Indices adopted by ISPRA and regional environmental agencies: M-AMBI (Multivariate - Azti Marine Biotic Index), BITS (Benthic Index based on Taxonomic Sufficiency), PREI (Posidonia Rapid Easy Index), CARLIT (CARtography of LITtoral and upper-sublittoral benthic communities). Examples of other indices not adopted by Italian legislation. Indices for the ecological evaluation of coralligenous and mesophotic reefs: ESCA, COARSE, MACS, MAES. Indices for coral reefs (CCI) and submerged marine caves (EBQI).

    10. Seagrasses and the Mediterranean Posidonia oceanica meadows. Recall on the importance of marine phanerogams and species present in the Mediterranean. Dynamics of Posidonia meadows and causes of its regression. Restoration of meadows. Levels of investigation: plant, meadow, associated community, seascape. Biometric measures and derived phenological indices. Sexual reproduction. Rhizome baring. Types of limits: shaded, sharp, eroded; normal limits and regressive limits. Coverage and shoot density. Main grazers and epiphytes. State of Ligurian meadows. Concepts of conservation, fragmentation, substitution and phase shift, and related synthetic seascape indices.

    11. Rocky reefs. Definition. Spatial zoning: sectors, sets, zones. Supralittoral, mediolittoral (upper horizon, lower horizon), infralittoral fringe. Tide pools and rock pools. Infralittoral: upper, middle, lower. Photophilic algae assemblages. Zoocyanellate and zooxanthellate organisms (Combo). Barren grounds. Circalittoral: precoralligenous and coralligenous. Bioconstructors and bio-destroyers. Importance of filter feeders. Different environmental roles of basal, intermediate and upper layers in the coralligenous. Offshore coralligenous reefs.

    12. Submerged or semi-submerged marine caves. Definitions. Geological features and origin. Bio-ecological characteristics: flora and fauna aspects (composition of communities, disappearance of plants, dominance of sessile fauna, role of vagile fauna); evolutionary aspects (colonization of the caves, cryptic or batiphile species and secondary troglobosis, marginal or anchialine caves); biocenotic aspects (type and distribution of different assemblages, semi-dark or GSO caves and dark caves or GO); ecological aspects (environmental parameters and community structure, light, hydrodynamism, hydrological confinement, trophic depletion). Cultural and scientific characters: charm, mystery and myth; affinities and parallelisms between underwater caves and deep environments.


    The adoption of a reference text is not envisaged. Available (downloadable from Aulaweb) a copy of the presentations used during classes, other material and scientific articles for further information. The teaching material is therefore made up of personal notes and the material available on Aulaweb.


    Exam Board

    BRUNO FABIANO (President)





    MONICA MONTEFALCONE (President Substitute)



    Classes will start in the week between 4-8 October 2021. Please refer to the AulaWeb specific teaching for any updates and changes in the calendar of the classes.

    Class schedule

    All class schedules are posted on the EasyAcademy portal.



    The final evaluation is made by an oral exam.

    The exam will start with the exposition of a scientific article provided in the material for further study on Aulaweb (preferably exposed with a short digital presentation, e.g. in power point or similar), and will continue with other 2/3 questions asked by the teacher on topics covered during classes.

    2 exams will be available in the winter session (January-February) and 4 exams in the summer session (June, July, and September)


    Details on how to prepare the exam and the degree of knowledge required for each topic will be provided at the beginning of the course and confirmed during the classes. The oral exam will mainly focus on the topics covered during the lectures and will aim to assess the achievement of the appropriate level of knowledge. The ability to present the topics clearly and using a correct and scientific terminology will also be evaluated. The oral exam starts from the critical report on a scientific article (among those provided and available on Aulaweb) to evaluate the ability to understand a scientific text dealing with marine biodiversity management and conservation and to elaborate the information based on the knowledge of the subjects, and on the ability to link the various topics for the application aspects. The completeness and correctness of the exercises proposed during classes will also be positively evaluated to those who will have done and will take them during the exam.

    Exam schedule

    Date Time Location Type Notes
    17/01/2022 09:00 GENOVA Orale
    02/02/2022 09:00 GENOVA Orale
    16/02/2022 09:00 GENOVA Orale
    23/06/2022 09:00 GENOVA Orale
    13/07/2022 09:00 GENOVA Orale
    02/09/2022 09:00 GENOVA Orale
    15/09/2022 09:00 GENOVA Orale


    Regular attendance to classes is strongly recommended as a reference text is not used for this course. Furthermore, in the classroom, practical exercises will be carried out to verify the understanding of the concepts and topics explained during classes.