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MICROEPICS project, Protists in the Sierra de Guadarrama
The Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad (MINECO), through its State Program for the Promotion of Scientific and Technical Research Excellence, is funding from 2015 our four year project "Protist Biodiversity, Bioindication and Bioremediation in Protected Ecosystems of Granite Landscape. Towards a Conservation Strategy of Species”
Protists are organisms ubiquitous to all ecosystems. They are capable of rapid changes in response to environmental conditions (variation in pH, temperature, drastic decrease in dissolved oxygen, elevated discharge in nitrites, phosphates, etc.) and are thus excellent bioindicators. Additionally, they are the most important consumers of bacteria in the biosphere. Quantifying their effectiveness as predators of fecal bacteria may prove essential in preventing the collapse of the watercourse health. Therefore, they also may perform ecosystem-scale bioremediation.
The main objective of Microepics is to produce a catalog of protistan bioindicator and bioremediator species that can be harnessed for their Ecoservices in future environmental quality control strategies and for the bioconservation of habitats in the National Park. We will prioritize the communication of results to the park management through technical reports and regular meetings between the research team and the scientific managers of the park, which will address and coordinate avenues for the dissemination and exploitation of results.
Our initial study area is La Pedriza because:
a) Its special and varied granite geomorphology to that provides a variety of micro- and meso-scale niches, as yet unexplored, for the colonization of protist species (especially the wide range of natural granite basins or pilancones).
b) The recreational and seasonal use of the Manzanares River by visitors, which is ideal for the study of capacity of protists for the bioremediation of faecal bacteria and potentially pathogenic protists.
Protists can contribute to the geological processes that structure and model land surfaces and, in turn, this geomorphological evolution can define the environment for the development of specific species. A thorough understanding of the protist function requires an integrated view point that relates and determines their role in ecosystems with the geomorphological characteristics of the habitats in which they live. Microepics aims in the coming years to provide a multidisciplinary conservation study of the biological and geological heritage of our country.
Microepics research lines are:
To determine protist diversity in the aquatic and terrestrial habitats of La Pedriza adopting a multidimensional approach to characterize the morphological, genetic and physiological trophodynamics of protist species.
To reveal bioindicator species of the physical-chemical quality of the water and bioremediator species that can effectively eliminate bacteria and other pathogens from rivers and retained water (e.g. Pilancones), through the comparison of protist populations with biotic, abiotic and geomorphological data analyzed in seasonal sampling campaigns.
Create a descriptive online photo-catalog that includes standardized sampling protocols and analysis of protist species as simple, fast and economic indices of environmental quality. These species have potential application as ecosystem service providers (Ecoservices) in the areas of public health and bioconservation.
Microepics hopes to bring society closer to the world of protists. Our goal is encouraging the public to learn more about these microorganisms, their vital role for natural resources and the importance of preserving their habitats for the conservation of the trophic chain in the Parks ecosystems. Our communication campaign will include participation in the activities of the Community of Madrid Science Week, summer courses organized by universities, exhibitions and conferences in various social forums (exhibition halls, schools, cultural centers, environmental education centers and town halls, etc).