Research Group

Deep-Sea Biodiversity and Conservation

Our research focuses on the understanding of diversity, distribution and connectivity patterns of deep-sea species and habitats, and how ecological and evolutionary processes, as well as anthropogenic pressures underpin such patterns.

We combine various knowledge systems and disciplines from both the natural and social sciences and humanities (biology, ecology, law of the sea), and integrate various methods from ocean exploration using advanced technology (e.g. ROVs, sensors), through to eDNA metabarcoding, and ecological modelling.
Our study areas comprise the deep temperate and (sub-)tropical Atlantic, although some studies have a global scope. We focus on sponges (phylum Porifera) and corals (phylum cnidaria), and the habitats they form, i.e. sponge grounds, coral gardens, and seapen fields along continental margins as well as on offshore seamounts and mid-ocean ridges.
We are also committed to advance the science-policy-society interface, working with local communities to integrate their knowledge and perceptions on marine biodiversity into decision-making; as well as developing tools and transferring knowledge to support the implementation of agreements and instruments for sustainable management, conservation and restoration of deep-sea habitats.
In 2023, we founded the DEEP-biobank, a biobank of deep-sea marine resources aimed at supporting fundamental research and innovation in the blue biotech sector. The DEEP-biobank is composed of a vast collection of deep-sea sponges and corals of the deep Atlantic Ocean, and aims to provide services (identification and characterization), and samples in various forms (biomass, DNA and biomaterials).

Principal Investigator

Team Leader

I am an Assistant Researcher and leader of the Deep-Sea Biodiversity and Conservation Research Team (DEEP) at CIIMAR – University of Porto (Portugal), and an invited Associate Professor in Deep-Sea Biology at the Department of Biological Sciences of the University of Bergen (Norway). I hold a PhD in Biology (2009, University of Amsterdam) and a degree in Marine Biology (2003, University of the Azores). My research focuses on the understanding of basin-scale diversity, biogeographic, and connectivity patterns of deep-sea vulnerable marine species and habitats (e.g. sponge grounds, cold-water coral gardens), using a combination of disciplines (taxonomy, systematics, ecology and genetics), and exploration and sampling tools (remotely operated vehicles, towed cameras). I also strive to advance the science-policy-society interface, working with local communities to integrate their knowledge and perceptions on marine biodiversity into decision-making; as well as developing tools and transferring knowledge to support the implementation of agreements and instruments for sustainable management, conservation, and restoration of deep-sea habitats. Over the years, I have trained and mentored over 30 students from BSc to PhD levels in the fields of sponge taxonomy, systematics, phylogenetics, and population genomics. I co-coordinated the H2020 SponGES project, and currently coordinate the DEEPbaseline project, an awardee of the Ocean Conservation Fund, and the SponBIODIV project funded in scope of the European Biodiversity partnership (Biodiversa+). I collaborate with a vast network of scientists from around the globe, as well as with local fishing communities.


Research Projects








Group members

PhD student

Alejandra graduated as a biologist in Guatemala in 2019. In 2021, she completed an Erasmus Mundus joint Master’s Degree in Marine Environment and Resources at the Universities of Southampton (United Kingdom), the Basque Country (Spain) and Liege (Belgium). During her MSc, she became interested in deep-sea ecology, particularly in benthic ecosystems susceptible to anthropogenic activities. Currently, she is a PhD candidate at University of Porto and a laCaixa INPhINIT fellow. Her research combines the use of environmental DNA (eDNA) and video annotation techniques to study the occurrence of deep-sea corals and sponges known to form Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems (VME) in the Atlantic Ocean.

PhD student

Ana Soares is a marine biologist with a BSc in Aquatic Sciences (2019) at the University of Porto and a master’s degree in Applied Marine Biology (2021) from University of Aveiro. Her research is focused on developing a baseline of fishers’ local ecological knowledge and scientific knowledge to support mapping and conservation of deep-sea vulnerable marine ecosystems in Portugal mainland.

Research Grant

Andreu holds a PhD in Marine Science (2022) from the Institute of Marine Sciences in Barcelona (Spain). His main line of research focuses on the ecology, conservation, and restoration of benthic ecosystems, particularly of sponge habitats. Specifically, his investigation focuses on the usage of ROV and other non-invasive techniques to study the diversity, structure and dynamic processes of deep-sea benthic ecosystems occurring in mesophotic and deep-sea areas and how this information can be effectively incorporated into developing and validating cost-effective active restoration and mitigation techniques for the conservation and management of the marine realm.

MSc Student

Beatriz holds a BSc in Aquatic Sciences (2021) at the University of Porto and is taking a MSc in Marine Biology from the University of Algarve. She is currently doing her Master Thesis at CIIMAR as a member of the Deep-Sea Biodiversity and Conservation team, with the objective of studying the diversity and biogeography of the genus Petrosia (Porifera, Petrosiidae) across the Atlanto-Mediterranean region.

PhD student

Celso Domingos holds a BSc in Biological Sciences from Estácio de Sá University (2014) and a MSc in Biodiversity and Evolutionary Biology at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (2016). Currently he is a student of the Doctoral Program in Marine Science, Technology and Management (Do*Mar) at the University of Porto, and a Blue Young Talent (BYT) fellow. His main research interests are on taxonomy, systematics and biogeography of sponges, with a focus on glass sponges (class Hexactinellida). He addresses these and other questions of this group using integrative approaches that combine morphological, molecular and ecological data and in the use of this information to support conservation strategies and sustainable use of the natural resources.

Administrative Services

Daniel Despujols holds a BSc in Aquatic Sciences (2019) and a MSc in Marine Sciences – Marine Resources (2021), both awarded at the University of Porto (Portugal). Currently, he is a research technician responsible for managing the DEEP-biobank. His activities are focused on the taxonomic identification and characterization of deep-sea sponges and corals (phyla Porifera and Cnidaria) by means of morphological and molecular approaches (e.g. scanning electron microscopy, DNA barcoding).


PhD student

Inês Gregório is a molecular ecologist with a BSc in Biology (2014) and MSc in Applied Ecology (2017), both awarded by the University of Aveiro (Portugal). Her main research interests focus on the use of genomic tools to answer various ecological questions (genetic structure, connectivity and adaptation) to inform management and conservation of natural populations and vulnerable ecosystems. Currently, she is a PhD candidate on the doctoral programme in Genetics, Evolution and Biodiversity (BIODIV, CIBIO/FCUP) and a fellow of the Portuguese Science and Technology Foundation (FCT). Her research project aims at assessing the diversity, connectivity and resilience of deep-sea habitat-forming sponges under climate change scenarios, using ecological modelling and genomic approaches.


Marta Chantal Ribeiro is an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Law of the University of Porto. She holds a Master degree in European Integration and a PhD in the field of the Law of the Sea. Currently, her research is focused on conservation of marine biodiversity (in particular MPAs), sustainable fisheries, deep-sea mining, marine spatial planning and marine robotics. In 2011, Marta was awarded with the 2010 Gerard J. Mangone Prize.


Main publications

Diversity, Distribution and Phylogenetic Relationships of Deep-Sea Lithistids (Porifera, Heteroscleromorpha) of the Azores Archipelago

Xavier JR, Rees DJ, Pereira R, Colaço A, Pham CK and Carvalho FC

2021Front. Mar. Sci. 8:600087.
A Decade to Study Deep-Sea Life

Howell KL, Hilário A, Allcock AL,..., Xavier JR

2021Nature Ecology and Evolution 5, 265–267.
A blueprint for an inclusive, global deep-sea Ocean Decade field programme

Howell KL, Hilario A, Allcock AL,..., Xavier JR

2020Frontiers in Marine Science 7:584861.
Rock sponges (lithistid Demospongiae) of the Northeast Atlantic seamounts, with the description of ten new species

Carvalho F, Cárdenas P, Ríos P, Cristobo J, Rapp HT, Xavier JR

2020PeerJ 8:e8703
Scientific, technical and legal challenges of deep sea mining. A vision for Portugal – Conference report

Chantal Ribeiro M, Ferreira R, Pereira E, Soares J

2020Marine Policy 114, 103338.
Vulnerabilities: invertebrate taxa (VME indicators)

Xavier JR, Carreiro-Silva M, Colaco A, Le Bris N, Levin L

2019In: Levin L, Baker M, Thompson T (Eds.) Deep-ocean climate change impacts on habitat, fish and fisheries. FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Technical Paper No. 638. Rome, FAO. 186 pp.