Maybe now this is my favourite country in the world!

2024 had barely begun when, on 9 January, the BBC announced that 2023 was officially the warmest year on record. A new daily global temperature record had been set on more than 200 days last year, according to analysis by the BBC of data gathered by the Copernicus Climate Change Service.

For Dr Fernando Rafael De Grande, like many other environmental scientists, this confirmation came as no surprise. Fernando has been studying the impact of warming temperature on Brazil’s delicate mangrove coastline for some time, but he spent 2023 working in Edinburgh with scientists from the Centre for Conservation and Restoration Science (CCRS) at Edinburgh Napier University.

‘The Centre is led by Professor Karen Diele at Edinburgh Napier, who also works and publishes on Brazil’s mangrove environment, so I have been familiar with her work for some time,’ explains Fernando, who studied his initial degree at São Paulo State University and is now a post-doc Research Fellow at the  Institute of Marine Science, Federal University of São Paulo (IMar/UNIFESP), Santos, Universidade Federal de São Paulo.

‘I was keen to expand my research, to take a more global approach – and wanted to improve my English – so I applied to the Brazilian government to sponsor an opportunity to work with Professor Diele here in Scotland.’ Edinburgh Napier’s international reputation for mangrove research was essential to satisfy the funding conditions set by the Brazilian government, which agreed to sponsor his fellowship.

For the past year, Fernando’s research at Napier has focussed on producing a meta-analysis and systematic literature review, to assess where and how much warmer temperatures will likely impact mangrove fauna production around the globe.

‘It is difficult to test the impact of temperature increase in the field’, he explains, ‘so I have collated published results from lab experiments from around the world, including many different species, and have found that, yes, increasing temperatures due to climate change can negatively affect mangrove fauna, which in turn could impact the mangrove forests themselves, given the animals’ important ecological roles. Many animal species included in our study grow and reproduce less under increased temperatures. This impact is expected to become particularly acute in the Indo-Pacific and western Pacific. I am now looking forward to soon submit the results of our work to a scientific journal for publication, together with Karen and my Brazilian supervisors.

Reflecting on his 12 months in Edinburgh, just before his return to Brazil on 13 January, Fernando said: ‘Karen’s team in the Centre have an international reputation for their work, and she has published globally significant research in many papers, so I have benefited directly from that [expertise]. Napier also has a good research infrastructure, nice labs and equipment for marine research, and I have been equally impressed by the other science labs at the university.

‘CCRS works as an interdisciplinary group, and that has been a totally new and very good experience for me. I have learned how to work in this type of research environment, with colleagues from diverse disciplines, doing and publishing valuable research together. Other Marine Biology students off Karen work in Scotland, and I have been able to interact with them and discuss our areas of individual research, and that too has been very interesting and productive.

‘My time here has also much improved my English, as I’d hoped. As an academic, I can read and write in English, but living here has greatly helped my conversational English.

‘For people from the tropics, like me, Scotland is very different and has a very beautiful landscape. I have loved Scotland, and the people in Edinburgh have been very friendly. It’s a beautiful city with wonderful architecture and the culture here is amazing. There are good free museums, and of course the castle at the centre of the city! It is very different from San Paulo.

‘I’ve also travelled around Scotland during my time here, to Fort William, Glasgow, Inverness, and St Andrews. Maybe now this is my favourite country in the world!

Although now returning to continue his postdoctoral research Fellowship in São Paulo, Fernando will continue to collaborate with CCRS into the future. He has already been invited to work on and co-author two papers with Karen and colleagues from the Centre and says ‘We already started to plan some exciting new joint research work here in Brazil also, and field work for this will already kick off in a few weeks.’

‘I am optimistic that I can apply our research when I return to Brazil, to improve mangrove management and conservation in this region of the world. Our research is relevant not only for Brazil, but also for other countries with mangrove environments.’

Funding was provided by a FAPESP research grant No. 2022/12556-2.

Research targets a cheap and fast method for rapid environmental assessment in coastal restoration

Mangroves protect the coastline. Here we can see old trees that protect the coast of Bunaken island in north Sulawesi, Indonesia.

Marco Fusi is a post-doctoral fellow in a research group led by Dr Karen Diele at Edinburgh Napier University. He completed his PhD at the University of Milan, studying mangroves and other coastal ecosystems around the Indian Ocean, in countries such as Sri Lanka, Seychelles, Kenya, Mozambique and South Africa.

Following his PhD, Marco has continued studying mangroves, with his post-doctoral fellowship research focusing on the Red Sea mangrove and seagrasses ecosystem.

Marco believes marine life is a natural laboratory, where environmental stressors shape and guide the evolution of life, especially in the light of the dramatic changes led by rapid global warming; and he has a strong passion towards his subject. His most current research project is the NERC project 2018-2021 – As Good as (G)old, which is led by Dr Karen Diele at Edinburgh Napier University.

The aim is to understand the ecological processes in coastal restoration. This will be achieved by comparing coastal areas in North Sulawesi, Indonesia that were previously exploited by intensive and unregulated shrimp farming activity, but which have now been restored to natural mangroves.

The project involves a diverse and multi-disciplinary team made up of scientists from both the UK and Indonesia who aim to understand the biological process that characterise restored mangroves in depth, in order to assess if they regain the full functionality of the natural mangrove.

Marco hopes the research project will deliver two major achievements. The first is to deliver a high impact case study on how the restoration process affects the ecological interaction amongst the species that live in the mangrove – from animals to bacteria.

The second major achievement would be to develop a cheap and fast method for rapid environmental assessment in coastal restoration.

The hope is to implement a conservation strategy that is able to monitor the health of the mangrove ecosystem to protect the sea and the people living nearby.

“Marine life is a natural laboratory where environmental stressors shape and guide the evolution of life, especially in the light of the dramatic changes led by rapid global warming.”

Left: Mangrove root create the right habitat to act as nursery habitat of fishes. In this picture you can see little cardinal fishes that find shelter among the mangrove roots.

Right: Mangrove root host a very diverse community of marine species. In this picture you can see a rich community of algae, sponges, tunicates that lives on a mangrove root. Bu creating structurally complex habitat they enhance the marine biodiversity.