Environmental health assessment of warming coastal ecosystems in the tropics – Application of integrative physiological indices

Carolina Madeira, Vanessa Mendonça, Miguel C. Leal, Augusto A.V. Flores, Henrique N. Cabral, Mário S. Diniz, Catarina Vinagre

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)


According to climate science, ocean warming is one of the current and future greatest threats to coastal ecosystems. Projection scenarios for the end of this century show that tropical intertidal ecosystems are particularly at risk. In this study we optimized and tested a holistic method for bio-monitoring present and projected thermal pressure in such ecosystems, in order to assess organism vulnerability to ocean warming. Several species representative of different animal groups (fish, crustaceans and gastropods) were collected from the field and subjected to an experimental trial for 28 days, testing two temperatures: control (present seawater summer temperature) and elevated temperature (+3 °C, projected seawater temperature anomaly for 2100). Muscle samples were collected weekly to quantify several biomarkers of: i) macromolecular damage (protein unfolding and denaturation, and lipid peroxidation), ii) reactive oxygen species (ROS) scavengers (antioxidant enzymes), and iii) body condition (energy reserves and body mass). These biomarkers were combined in integrated biomarker response (IBR) indices, either in three separate stress response categories (as previously defined) or in a unique combined analysis of overall physiological performance. Both approaches suggest that temperature affected IBRs, with increasing temperatures significantly impairing the overall health of individuals. Biomarkers of lower levels of biological organization indicated deleterious effects of temperature, whereas biomarkers of higher levels suggested maintenance of performance after chronic exposure. Overall indices combining the estimates of biomarkers across levels of biological organization are essential to predict the vulnerability of species, or populations, to climate warming. Such indices may assist managers and stakeholders in the establishment of monitoring programs and environmental policies toward the conservation of fragile coastal systems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)28-39
Number of pages12
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2018


  • Environmental health assessment
  • IBRs
  • Ocean warming
  • Physiological performance
  • Stress biomarkers
  • Tropical rocky reef


Dive into the research topics of 'Environmental health assessment of warming coastal ecosystems in the tropics – Application of integrative physiological indices'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this