Welcome to the inaugural edition of our EuroMarine Researchers in the Spotlight series, where we engage in captivating conversations with prominent researchers within our network.

The topic of successfully monitoring marine biodiversity is gaining ever more attention. How can we use DNA metabarcoding for this purpose? We sat down with Federica Costantini, Associate Professor at the University of Bologna and researcher in marine ecology. She led the CoMBoMed workshop - Census of Marine Mediterranean Benthic biodiversity: an integrative metabarcoding approach, and we talked to her about her experience as a Foresight Workshop lead for EuroMarine.

The workshop aimed to create a comprehensive Mediterranean macrobenthic inventory database that integrates existing barcoding databases and biodiversity databases.

The primary objective of CoMBoMed was to foster a European working group that could combine molecular species identification (through barcoding) with morphological identification to develop a comprehensive Mediterranean macrobenthic inventory database. This database would integrate and improve existing universal barcoding databases (e.g., BOLD-System, Genbank) and biodiversity databases (e.g., World Register of Marine Species - WoRMS, Ocean Biogeographic Information System - OBIS).

Timeline: The workshop (Foresight Workshop - FWS) was held over four days in February 2019. This event was hosted by the University of Bologna at the Centro Interdipartimentale di Ricerca per le Scienze Ambientali di Ravenna, Italy.

Participants: CoMBoMed was a collaborative effort involving co-proposers from several EuroMarine Full Member organizations across different countries. The co-proposers brought diverse expertise in marine biology, genetics, taxonomy, and conservation.

Expected Outcomes: The expected outcomes of CoMBoMed included the publication of a scientific paper, the organization of an event for World Biodiversity Day 2019 aimed at raising awareness about marine biodiversity, the development of a hands-on integrative benthic taxonomy summer school, and the drafting of a joint Horizon 2020 proposal focused on training the next generation of taxonomic and barcoding experts for marine biodiversity monitoring.

Budget: The budget for CoMBoMed included expenses for travel, accommodation, food, and consumable materials for organizing outreach activities. EuroMarine was requested to provide 7500 Euros in funding, with additional co-funding from the SEAMoBB Consortium.


Federica is an Associate Professor at the University of Bologna and conducts her research in marine ecology. Her research interests focus on the study and conservation of marine biodiversity using taxonomy approaches and molecular techniques. Her research goal is to strengthen research at the interface between ecology, management, and environmental conservation to ensure that knowledge of marine processes and anthropogenic impacts is disseminated throughout society and gains an increasing role in decision-making processes.

She participates in several national and European research projects and is the author of many publications in international scientific journals. She has also taken part in many international and national conferences and leads the Ecological and Environmental Genetics Laboratory of the Department of Biological, Geological, and Environmental Sciences.

EuroMarine: Could you briefly introduce the research topic that your Foresight Workshop focused on and describe its significance in the field of marine science?

Biodiversity protection is now recognized as a planetary challenge. Mediterranean marine benthic communities, such as biogenic reefs, are one of the most threatened habitats owing primarily to human disturbances. As these systems come under increasing human pressures, the need for spatial and temporal monitoring of the species composition of these threatened communities becomes paramount.

CoMBoMed aimed to foster a new European working group able to combine molecular species identification (through barcoding) with morphological identification to develop an exhaustive Mediterranean macrobenthic inventory database that could integrate and improve the universal barcoding databases (e.g., BOLD-System, Genbank) and the biodiversity and biogeographic databases (e.g., World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS); Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS)).

EuroMarine: How did the Foresight Workshop contribute to the evolution and advancement of your research topic? Did it help identify new directions, methodologies, or emerging issues that were previously overlooked?

The CoMBoMed Foresight Workshop played a pivotal role in promoting the necessity of conducting taxonomic investigations on often overlooked species to expand local barcoding databases. As an outcome of the workshop, a paper has been published in this specific direction. Titled 'Are well-studied marine biodiversity hotspots still blackspots for animal barcoding?' (Mugnai, F., Meglécz, E., Abbiati, M., Bavestrello, G., Bertasi, F., Bo, M., ... & Costantini, F., 2021) and published in Global Ecology and Conservation, Volume 32, under the reference 'e01909.

EuroMarine: What were the main outcomes or key findings that emerged from your Foresight Workshop? How did these outcomes shape your research trajectory or provide new insights into the topic?

One of the primary outcomes centered on citizen science initiatives aimed at enhancing the awareness of young individuals regarding the significance of conserving marine biodiversity. The concluding segment of CoMBoMed was, in fact, dedicated to orchestrating outreach programs that focus on raising awareness about marine biodiversity conservation.

Specifically, the working group made the decision to create a pamphlet and a straightforward survey related to marine biodiversity, targeting two or three elementary schools in each participating country. This survey was scheduled for May 22nd, coinciding with the International Day for Biological Diversity. All materials have been translated into Italian, French, Spanish, Belgian, Norwegian, and English. Following its completion, researchers have analyzed the gathered data and assessed its potential for publication.

EuroMarine: Did your Foresight Workshop lead to any follow-up actions or collaborations? Have you applied for additional funding to further develop your research? If yes, could you describe the subsequent projects or initiatives that resulted from the workshop?

We submitted an application for the H2020-MSCA-ITN-2019 Innovative Training Networks call, and although our ranking was exceptionally high, we were unfortunately not successful in securing the funding. Subsequently, we published a paper titled 'Are well-studied marine biodiversity hotspots still blackspots for animal barcoding?' (Mugnai, F., Meglécz, E., Abbiati, M., Bavestrello, G., Bertasi, F., Bo, M., ... & Costantini, F.) in the Global Ecology and Conservation journal in 2021.

EuroMarine: Have you published a peer-reviewed article, or any other form of scientific publication based on the research discussed in the Foresight Workshop? If so, could you provide some details about the publication and its impact on the field?

We published the paper "Mugnai, F., Meglécz, E., Abbiati, M., Bavestrello, G., Bertasi, F., Bo, M., ... & Costantini, F. (2021). Are well-studied marine biodiversity hotspots still blackspots for animal barcoding?. Global Ecology and Conservation, 32, e01909)" The paper from 2022 up to now was cited more than 20 times.

EuroMarine: Have you presented your research findings to policy makers or other stakeholders in the marine science community? If yes, how did the Foresight Workshop contribute to the development of your research into actionable insights for policy or decision-making?

We shared our research with elementary schools across various European countries by conducting a survey that was designed during the Foresight Workshop. Currently, we are in the process of analyzing the survey results, and we anticipate publishing the data in the near future.

EuroMarine: Looking back, how would you assess the overall impact of the Foresight Workshop on your research and career? Did it open up new opportunities, enhance your visibility, or lead to further collaborations beyond the initial workshop?

Reflecting on it, I would evaluate the Foresight Workshop as having a positive impact on both my research and career. It opened up new opportunities, facilitated fresh collaborations, and increased my visibility within my department and among fellow researchers engaged in similar areas of study.

EuroMarine: What advice or suggestions would you give to future Foresight Workshop leads in terms of maximizing the benefits and outcomes of the workshop?

For future Foresight Workshop leads, I would recommend organizing the workshop with a clear understanding of upcoming European funding opportunities.

Additionally, sharing the outcomes of the Foresight Workshop at both national and international conferences can greatly benefit the visibility of your work. While Foresight Workshops may initially be topic-specific, fostering a multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary environment among participants can expand the reach of your findings to a wider audience.