Biodiversity, ecology and biomonitoring of environmental quality

Molluschi terrestri: Monacha cartusiana

The Unit has a long tradition in the systematics and ecology of several groups of invertebrates and vertebrates, in investigating the role of climate and other environmental factors in determining the distribution and structure of biotic communities, and in using organisms and communities for detecting the ecological impacts caused by human activities. The research activities are aimed at the monitoring of natural resources, the ecosystem management in protected areas, including some ice-free areas of continental Antarctica, and, finally, at the identification of biosensors to detect pollutants and changes of environmental quality .

Among the main research themes:

  • Monitoring the deposition of contaminants in urban areas, by means of biosensors (higher plants, mosses and lichens, soil invertebrates), passive samplers and moss-bags.
  • Evaluation of the role of urban green areas in the mitigation of air pollution.
  • Studies on the animal communities in urban ecosystems, in order to identify potential biomarkers and assess the transfer of contaminants in food chains.
  • Research on the ecophysiology of Antarctic organisms, the community structure and functioning of terrestrial and lacustrine ecosystems of Victoria Land (continental Antarctica), and the possible responses of Antarctic biota to climate change and other environmental issues.
  • Biogeochemical cycles of trace elements in mining areas or areas with geochemical anomalies; transfer of potentially toxic metals in food webs; identification of plant species for bioremediation of contaminated sites.
  • Systematics, morphology, phylogeny and biogeography of molluscs, annelids and other groups of invertebrates and vertebrates.
  • Patterns of biodiversity and ecology of the soil faunal communities, with particular attention to molluscs and annelids.
  • Checklists of faunas of non-marine Mollusca and terrestrial Annelida and registers of alien species at the continental (EU Project Fauna Europaea) and national levels (Fauna of Italy).
  • Research on taxa of particular interest (key ecological taxa; endemic and/or endangered species; invasive aliens; etc.) occurring in Tuscany, for the purposes of protecting and enhancing habitats and biodiversity.
  • Historical development of methods and knowledge in zoology. Historical perception of biodiversity.
  • Preservation and promotion of natural history museum collections and science popularization.
Molluschi fossili: Aporrhais uttingeriana

Researches on biodiversity of soil communities and the biomonitoring and environmental fate of contaminants in urban ecosystems (PRIN projects and European FP7 ( are carried out in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Naples Federico II, University of Trieste, University of Salerno, University of Sannio, Universidade de Santiago de Compostela (USC) Spain, Universidade de la Coruña (UDC) Spain, University of Freiburg (Germany), Free University of Berlin (Germany), Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique ( Toulouse, France), Queen's University (Belfast, Ireland), University of Reading (UK).

Research on Antarctic ecosystems has been carried on for over two decades. Over the years, collaborations have been established with colleagues from several foreign universities (e.g. Colorado State University, USA; University of Waikato and University of Canterbury, New Zealand; Australian National University, Canberra, Australia; British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge, UK; Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, Ukraine).

Studies on the biogeochemical cycle of metals and the role of plants in phytoremediation processes are conducted mainly in the vast disused mining area of Rio Tinto (Spain), in collaboration with Spanish researchers at the University of Seville, at the Department of Environmental Geochemistry of CSIC in Granada, and the Department of Biotechnology of Plants of IRNAS-CSIC in Seville.

Studies on the biogeography of terrestrial and freshwater molluscs include a monitoring project of the non-marine Mollusca of the Tuscan archipelago, initiated in 2010 as a research contract agreement between the University of Siena and the Tuscan Archipelago National Park.

Monitoring research on animal species of conservation interest. Faunistic and biogeographical studies on invertebrates and vertebrates of southern Tuscany are mainly carried out within the frame of contracts from public administrations (Provincial Administration of Siena, Department Protected Areas) and environmental organizations (WWF Oasis, WWF Research and Projects).

Research on the phylogeny of Annelida takes place within a long-term collaboration with the University of Gothenburg. The Fauna Europaea project (2000-2013) is run by a network of specialists organized as a Society for the Management of Electronic Biodiversity Data (SMEBD) and coordinated by the University of Amsterdam.

Ongoing Research Projects
Toscana: giovane cervone

The elaboration and publication of results from both the PRIN project "2007", "Emission, transport, deposition and monitoring of contaminants from vehicular traffic. Effects on biodiversity and functioning of Mediterranean holm oak stands", and the project CGL2006-1481/BOS funded by the Ministerio de Educacion y Ciencia (Spain) on the environmental recovery of the abandoned mining area of Rio Tinto, are still in progress.

Current Projects:

PNRA (National Program for Research in Antarctica) Progr. 2009/A1.03: "Evolution and Biodiversity in the polar regions and climate change" (national coordinator R. Bargagli).

MOSSclone Monitoring Air Quality Using Moss ( - EU FP7 Project entitled "Creating and testing a method for controlling the air quality based on a new biotechnological tool. Use of a devitalized moss clone as passive contaminant sensor". The Project is carried out by a European research consortium between universities, research centers, and small and medium enterprises.


The Applied Ecology Laboratory is equipped with facilities for field work and several lab activities (sampling, extraction, identification and systematic research on annelids and other groups of soil fauna; monitoring of major gaseous pollutants; physico-chemical analysis of soils, sediments and water samples, study of the elemental composition and contaminants in environmental matrices by atomic absorption spectrophotometers, plasma emission spectrometry and gas chromatography).

The Laboratory of Faunistics and Malacology carries out activities related to the identification, preparation and storage of zoological material, both in fluid and dried. Specimens belonging to different groups (in particular molluscs, fish, amphibians and reptiles) are analyzed and determined to specific level, with the aid of a reference collection preserved in alcohol in special cabinets.

Tavola 1050 del Dizionario delle Scienze Naturali
  1. CARUSO T., GARLASCHELLI D., BARGAGLI R., CONVEY P. (2010) – Testing  metabolic scaling theory using intraspecific allometries in Antarctic microarthropods. Oikos 119:935-945.
  2. MONACI F., LEIDI E., MINGORANCE M.D., VALDES B., ROSSINI OLIVA S., BARGAGLI R. (2011) – Selective uptake of major and trace elements in Erica andevalensis, an endemic species to extreme habitats in the Iberian Pyrite Belt. Journal of Environmental Science 23:444-452.
  3. ADAMO P., GIORDANO S., SFORZA A., BARGAGLI R. (2011) – Implementation of airborne trace element monitoring with devitalized transplants of Hypnum cupressiforme Dedw.: Assessment of temporal trends and element contribution by vehicular traffic in Naples city. Environmental Pollution 159:1620-1628.
  4. CARUSO T., TROKHYMETS V., BARGAGLI R., CONVEY P. (2013) – Biotic interactions as a structuring force in soil communities: evidences from the micro-arthropods of an Antarctic moss model system. Oecologia 172:495-503.
  5. ROTA E., CARUSO T., MONACI F., BALDANTONI D., DE NICOLA F., IOVIENO P., BARGAGLI R. (2013) – Effects of soil pollutants, biogeochemistry and microbiology on the distribution of enchytraeid communities in urban and suburban holm oak stands. Environmental Pollution 179:268-276.
  6. ROTA E. (2013) – How many lookalikes has Marionina argentea (Michaelsen, 1889) (Annelida: Clitellata: Enchytraeidae)? Three new species described from morphological evidence. Zoologischer Anzeiger 252:123-137.
  7. FONTAINE B., VAN ACHTERBERG K., et al. (2012) – New species in the Old World: Europe as a frontier in biodiversity exploration, a test bed for 21st century taxonomy. PloS One 7:1–7.
  8. FIORENTINO V., MANGANELLI G., GIUSTI F., TIEDEMANN R., KETMAIER V. (2013) – A question of time: the land snail Murella muralis (Gastropoda: Helicidae) reveals constraints on past ecological speciation. Molecular Ecology 22:170– 186.
  9. COLONESE A.C., ZANCHETTA G., FALLICK A.E., MARTINI F., MANGANELLI G., DRYSDALE R.N. (2010) Stable isotope composition of Helix ligata (Müller, 1774) from Late Pleistocene-Holocene archaeological record from Grotta della Serratura (Southern Italy): palaeoclimatic implications. Global and Planetary Change 71:249 – 257.
  10. PIAZZINI S., LORI E., FAVILLI L., CIANFANELLI S., VANNI S., MANGANELLI G. (2010) A tropical fish community in thermal waters of southern Tuscany. Biological Invasions 12: 2959 – 2965.
Principal contact
Researchers involved
  • Folco Giusti
  • Leonardo Favilli
  • Federica Fantozzi (Postgraduate)
  • Emilia Rota (research collaborator)
  • Francesca Borghini (research collaborator)
  • Andrea Benocci (research collaborator)
  • Sandro Piazzini (research collaborator)