Helena Veríssimo

When did you first find out that you wanted to be scientist? I think I never consciously decided that science was my path, so it is difficult to pinpoint precisely the moment of my true wakening for science. To be a perpetual student and learning new things every day have always attracted me, so it just happened naturally!
Tell us something about your background and main research interests I am a benthic ecologist with a background on coastal and estuarine ecology. My research has concentrated on: use/development of Ecological Indicators to assess environmental quality; management of coastal and transitional systems; implementation of European Directives (WFD, MSFD). Currently, I have particular interest on the development of tools for assessing benthic function and the repercussions of human activities, natural variability and climate change for biodiversity and ecosystem function.
What do you like most about your work? It is exciting to have the opportunity of contributing to management and conservation of such valuable ecosystems, ensuring their long-term sustainability.
What is your role in DEVOTES project? I am contributing to develop Biological Traits Analysis (BTA) as a tool for assessing ecological function in marine ecosystems, exploring the applicability and advantages of this multi-traits approach over the traditional taxonomy-based descriptors commonly used. Recently, traits-based approaches have been considered as promising tools emerging for bio-monitoring but little is still known about how these approaches can be useful in marine ecological assessments and management, although they have been successfully and widely applied both in freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems. I’m really interested into exploring the relevance of BTA as a bio-monitoring tool for marine ecosystems at a European scale and taking into account different Biological Quality Elements.
How do you think your work in DEVOTES will contribute to the implementation of the EU marine strategy framework directive? The potential of traits-based approaches to form a new generation of bio-monitoring tools constitutes an important step regarding management and conservation of aquatic systems, and will allow managers to meet obligations of protecting ecosystem function as required by the MSFD. Considering that BTA can be more generic in terms of geographic application, showing high robustness with decreased taxonomic resolution and greater accuracy with less sampling effort, as well as providing advanced warning of disturbance to ecosystems, the development of these kind of tools may innovate future monitoring and management of marine ecosystems. Particularly advantageous when trying to assess and maintain ecosystem quality over broader spatial scales or in situations of limited availability of taxonomic information.
What´s the relevance for your institute and country to participate in DEVOTES? The work developed by IMAR in the scope of DEVOTES will improve our understanding regarding natural variability effects on various biological components functioning, as well as on effects of different anthropogenic impacts, and on the importance of species diversity for function. We will have the opportunity to contribute to the development of innovative assessment tools and benefit from the knowledge provided by the different work packages to improve our own monitoring and ecological assessment actions at regional level. Besides, the know how obtained will represent a scientific and technical added value with regard to Portuguese commitments in what concerns the implementation of the European Marine Strategy Directive at national level.
What´s your recommended reading list for someone wanting to know more about marine environment and DEVOTES topic? I suggest a visit to the IMAR (Institute of Marine Research) website (www1.ci.uc.pt/imar/unit/), one of the R&D units of the University of Coimbra, Portugal (www.uc.pt/en). In the website you can get relevant information concerning the research unit and be aware of the research activities carried out. You can also access to several scientific publications on marine and environmental sciences produced by our research team.