BMP Interview #6: Elena Maggi

Here we are with Elena Maggi, post-doctoral fellow at the Department of Biology of the University of Pisa:

Q: How did your involvement in the topic of light pollution start?

A: My first “encounter” with the topic of light pollution research was in Rome, Italy, in September 2015. This was during the joint conference of the European Ecological Federation (EEF) and the Italian Society of Ecology (SItE), that included a whole session dedicated to this topic, with very interesting presentations showcasing research mostly on terrestrial habitats.
At the same time, the light pollution maps presented clearly showed a strong impact on coastal areas. Since my research is focused on the ecology of rocky shore assemblages, I asked myself: why did no-one ever considered the possible effects of this source of stress on marine coastal organisms?

Elena Maggi (left) with Chiara Mintrone (right), in their experimental site in 2015-2016.

I immediately discussed the issue with some colleagues at the conference, and they welcomed my idea of starting to work on this topic. I eventually came to learn of the Buiometria partecipativa, which led to a formal collaboration with and to set up our first manipulative experiments on the effects night light pollution on rocky shore intertidal organisms in Italy. I must admit that the “nocturnal” approach to data collection has been a way to appreciate even more my research activity, and an opportunity to collect observations from a new viewpoint, i.e. that of nocturnal life of coastal organisms. We should not forget that observation is at the foundation of the experimental approach!

Q: Your University of recently started a funded project to study light pollution effects in the field of ecology: could you describe the working group and the objectives of this project?

A: The project is called “Emerging impacts: effects of night light pollution on coastal biodiversity and ecosystem functioning” and it is funded by the University of Pisa.
The working group is composed by researchers and professors from the Department of Biology, studying marine ecology (Prof. L. Benedetti-Cecchi, Prof. F. Bulleri), genetics (Prof. R. Scarpato), botanics (Dott. A. Andreucci), plant physiology (Prof. F. Licausi) and ethology (Dott. D. Giunchi).
The project started in April 2017 and will have a duration of two years. It has three main goals:

  1. identify a relationship between biodiversity and night light pollution on coastal habitats;
  2. quantify the effects of night light pollution on biodiversity through manipulative experiments in the field and under laboratory conditions;
  3. identify possible interactions between light pollution and other sources of stress (e.g. UV radiations and warming of shallow sea water).

For this purpose, we envisage monitoring activities of coastal organisms at sites characterized by varying degrees of light pollution, as well as manipulative experiments in the field and in the laboratory. In particular, experiments will focus on effects of light pollution on algae and invertebrates inhabiting rocky shores, seagrass (Posidonia oceanica), freshwater microalgae, yeasts and coastal birds (e.g. seagull). The overarching aim of the project is that of unveiling processes and molecular, physiological or ecological mechanisms behind the effects of light pollution, as a tool to identify local actions able to minimize the effects of light pollution, as well as possible synergies with other sources of stress, which are more difficult to manage.

Q: What activities have you planned for this Summer?
A: We will focus on monitoring, in collaboration with the Biometeorology Institute of the National Research Council and the BuioMetria Partecipativa project. With these partners we have planned a Summer campaign focusing on measurements taken along the Tuscan coast combining citizen science observations. I will be one of the citizens, but -most of all- we have some students from the master in Marine Biology from the University of Pisa who volunteered after attending a seminar we organised on May 16. Also, monitoring of marine biodiversity will be conducted at some of the sites where the levels of light pollution have been evaluated. With the July new Moon we expect to collect a first batch of Posidonia oceanica samples in locations characterized by varying levels of night lighting. These samples will be subject to our initial molecular analyses within our University project. The data collected during the Summer will represent a quantitative baseline for the experiments which will follow, in the field and in our lab.