Areas of concentration and lines of research
The Doctorate and Master’s in Ecology aim to qualify students to develop scientific studies with full mastery of the conceptual and methodological tools in the area of concentration of Ecology. In addition, the pedagogical plan of the Ecology Graduate Program aims to train human resources through research and teaching, qualifying professionals to work in teaching Ecology at higher education level, in research, and as professionals specializing in Ecology.
Lines of research
In 2023, the PPG Ecology completed 15 years of activity. Following recommendations from the Biodiversity Committee’s evaluation process and internal discussions within the program, the reformulation of the lines of research was consolidated, moving from the previous organization by ecosystems (terrestrial or marine; more details in the History, below), to a new thematic organization also related to the different levels of ecological organization in four lines:
- Ecology of Organisms and Populations
- Ecology of Communities and Ecosystems
- Evolutionary Ecology, Macroecology and Biogeography
- Human Ecology, Biodiversity Management and Conservation
Since its inception, the main lines of research of the PPG Ecology have been influenced by the teaching staff already working in the Department of Ecology and Zoology (ECZ). In this way, the course has organically been structured into two main lines of research: Marine Ecosystems and Terrestrial Ecosystems.
The main objective of the Marine Ecosystems line of research is to understand ecological aspects of the marine environment and its interfaces on local, regional and global scales. The headquarters of the Ecology program are located in one of the most relevant areas of fisheries and important shipping ports in Brazil. It is also a region of intense tourism in the summer due to coastal attractions such as beaches and water sports. There are several marine protected areas in the region, including the Arvoredo Biological Reserve, where visitation is restricted. In this context, students in the Ecology program are able to develop work on a local, regional and global scale.
The marine ecosystem line of research is subdivided into five axes: (1) biodiversity and ecological indicators, (2) population ecology, (3) ecosystem ecology, (4) macroecology and biogeography, and (5) ethnoecology.
The marine biodiversity and ecological indicators axis is focused on evaluating the influence of different factors on the structure and dynamics of populations and communities, with the main objective of providing support to conservation and management strategies. Activities include studies to evaluate aspects of the physical environment, its interactions with the biota throughout time, and relations with climatic variables along the coast of Brazil, the pelagic oceanic environment and the oceanic islands in the southern Atlantic. Complementarily, biological diversity evaluations at the level of genes, organisms, populations, communities, and ecosystems are also carried out, as well as studies on functional diversity, reproductive and behavioral biology, chemical ecology, bioindicators, and invasive species.
The population ecology axis involves research on the ecology of fisheries and studies on marine populations, including birds and cetaceans.
The ecosystem ecology axis is focused on work that involves nutrient dynamics, energy flows, and trophic interactions on regional and global scales, including studies on mangroves and reef environments.
In the macroecology and biogeography axis, studies are focused on communities in reef and pelagic environments, covering research on planktonic, benthic and nektonic organisms.
Finally, the ethnoecology axis focuses on research that involves the human use of marine resources and cooperative interactions.
Therefore, biodiversity conservation is a relevant topic that drives studies on the effects of human action on species, populations, communities, and ecosystems. The southern limit of the transition between tropical and subtropical habitats lies on the coast of Santa Catarina, which implies a seasonal influence of waters of southern origin. This area of transition also contains the southern limit of mangrove occurrence on the South American coastline. In this context, studies on the integration and synthesis of environmental and ecological data are essential to the Ecology Program for describing the functionality of the coastal zone and the processes involved in its recent evolutionary history and oceanographic characterization.
The main objective of research on Terrestrial ecosystems is to contribute to the understanding of ecological bases for the conservation of biodiversity and natural resource management in tropical and subtropical ecosystems. This objective mainly covers four interrelated axes: (1) biodiversity and ecological indicators, (2) sustainable management of natural populations and interspecific ecological interactions, (3) ecology of biological invasions, and (4) human ecology.
The aim of the biodiversity and ecological indicators axis is to evaluate the influence of human action on the structure and dynamics of populations and communities and on ecosystem structure and functioning by generating comparative analyses of different taxonomic groups in degraded and conserved areas. In the process, patterns and processes associated with environmental degradation are registered and described. The analysis of groups relevant to ecosystem functions due to their active participation in complex ecological processes is an important approach in conservation and management programs.
The sustainable management of natural populations and interspecific ecological interactions axis is especially focused on the characterization, conservation, management and autecology of species that make up the Brazilian biodiversity. This axis includes studies on population and community structure as well as on the effects of animal richness in seed dispersal and predation, with emphasis on insect-plant interactions.
Studies on the ecology of biological invasions seek to understand the mechanisms involved in the invasion process. Combined investigations of key factors in this process – including ecological, social, and political factors – are developed, as well as evaluations of the effects of the management of biological invasions in communities and ecosystems. The main goal is to provide bases for ecological restoration.
Humans are an intrinsic part in the modification of population structures and community composition. The interdisciplinary approaches that favor the understanding of such actions are emphasized in the human ecology axis. Ethnoecology, ethnobotany, and historic ecology approaches are included in this axis with the objective of investigating and rescuing local ecological knowledge on natural resources. Studies with this approach also aim to understand factors associated with changes in biodiversity and agrobiodiversity, including losses and increases. The common focus in all these approaches is to contribute to the joint construction of guidelines for natural resource use, management, and conservation within protected areas and in general.
Freshwater ecosystems are included in this line of research. Studies on the distribution, abundance and interaction of aquatic organisms are covered, as well as aspects of the physical environment and its interactions with the biota in coastal lagoons, streams, reservoirs, mangroves and estuaries. These studies are mainly represented by evaluations of biological diversity, including reproductive and behavioral biology, bioindicators, nutrient dynamics, energy flows, and trophic interactions between aquatic species.
Research projects cover the intrinsic importance of biodiversity and issues related to the growing human threat to biodiversity. Different fields of science are involved in generating environmental assessments, remediation and biomonitoring. Freshwater habitats have been given special attention in recent years due to impacts of liquid waste disposal or hydropower plants in drainage basins, and human impacts on estuaries and lakes from liquid waste disposal and unlawful land occupation. Biological conservation is therefore a central topic in the research on effects of human activities on species, communities and ecosystems, as well as in the development of practical approaches aimed at preventing extinction at various levels of ecological organization and on spatial and temporal scales.