Marine Research Findings of the VECTORS Project

This website provides access to the research results of the VECTORS project, which can be used to support marine management decisions, policies and governance as well as future research and investment. VECTORS was a large scale project that brought together more than 200 expert researchers from 16 different countries. It examined the significant changes taking place in European seas, their causes, and the impacts they will have on society.

Citizen science on jellyfish blooms

Building comprehensive databases of species distribution and abundance, with large geographical and long historical coverage, is a problematic task due to funding limitations. Thanks to easy internet access and new tools for disseminating information (e.g. smartphones), volunteer monitoring by citizen scientists is now increasingly contributing to projects on environmental monitoring or conservation biology and ecology.

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Citizen science campaigns are now a valuable instrument supporting bioinvasion monitoring by providing a wealth of updated information on propagule dispersal, habitat invasibility, ecosystem pressures, and species interactions.

The advantages are represented by: a) public involvement in science, b) coverage of large areas almost indefinitely, c) minimal costs, d) large amount of data, e) easy documentation through pictures, f) if a species is recorded, it means that it occurs at a given place and at a given time, and g) if a species is not recorded when other species are recorded, chances are good that that species was really absent. Conversely, the disadvantages are: a) great efforts in mass media involvement, requiring good communication skills; b) non homogeneous data quality; c) unknown research effort: if no species are recorded, it does not mean they were really absent (negative data can be due to absence of observers); and d) records are mostly based on shoreline observations. As an example, VECTORS adopted a citizen science approach to the mapping of the presence of jellyfish in the Mediterranean Sea through several levels of outreach intervention.

A highly impacting poster (Fig. 1)  with the main members of the Mediterranean gelatinous plankton has been updated and distributed, with new graphics and artwork in respect to previous releases. All of the drawings have been done anew with digital art.

Special attention has been made to involve scientists who are not directly involved in jellyfish research but who then act in the same way as individual citizens. The appearances in the media and also in specialised scientific journals and monographs have attracted the attention of marine scientists who started to send records whenever they encountered jellyfish during their research in the field. This part of the programme is particularly useful to gather information from the open sea and also during the winter, when far fewer citizens visit the coast.

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Citizen science records provide a lot of rewarding feedback.

In 2009, the first appearance in the Western Mediterranean of the ctenophore Mnemiopsis leidyi and the cnidarian medusa Phyllorhiza punctata was documented and the expansion of their distribution was seen in following years. In 2011, the westernmost expansion of the Lessepsian immigrant Rhopilema nomadica was detected in Maltese waters, and in 2013 its occurrence in Tunisia. In 2013, the jellywatch citizen campaign allowed reporting of a massive thaliacean bloom (Salpa maxima) in the Southern Adriatic and a bloom of an undescribed species of Pelagia that suddenly appeared with a large population in the Northern Adriatic.

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Citizen science has proved crucial in covering a vast area over a long period of time.

Citizen science has enhanced the outreach of the project, allowed recording of the presence of massive proliferations of gelatinous plankters and even led to the discovery of a new species. The manpower available to any scientific project would never lead to such results. Of course scientists used this information to focus on special areas and species whenever they became aware of the occurrence of significant and interesting phenomena. The availability of records of unusual events such as salp proliferations will contribute to understand anomalies in marine community dynamics or even anomalies in the functioning of whole ecosystems.

Lead Author:

Stefano Piraino
(stefano.pnospam iraino@unisalento.it)
CONISMA
Date of research: January 2015

Related articles:

Genetic connectivity of Pelagia noctiluca populations

Growth model for jellyfish Pelagia noctiluca 

Jellyfish ecophysiology, ecology, biology and bioenergetics

Jellyfish outbreaks: economic results

Jellyfish vertical migration patterns

Molecular recognition of moon jellyfish

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This project has received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration under grant agreement no 266445
© Vectors 2015. Coordinated by Plymouth Marine Laboratory.