Researcher Information

Maria Helena Martins Fortunato

Associate Professor

Biodiversity, evolution, conservation of macro-benthic shallow water communities

Department of Biological Sciences, Biodiversity


Use of mollusk and bryozoans to investigate predation patterns, anthropogenic impacts, the role of chemicals in coastal marine communities

FieldMollusca; Bryozoa; evolution; ecology; biogeography; morphology; environmental impact
KeywordEvolution; Gastropods; Bivalves; Bryozoa; predation; calcification; morphology; ocean acidification; allelochemicals

Introduction of Research

I am interested in macro- and micro-evolutionary processes, biogeography, and evolutionary ecology and have used several organisms as model systems to study patterns and processes of speciation and extinction, and how these relate to changes in biodiversity. I combine recent and paleontological data to better understand responses of living organisms to changes in their environment. Among others, I studied host/parasite adaptations and co-evolutionary strategies, ecology and paleoecology of Foraminifera and Mollusca, predation on and by mollusks, phylogeny and biogeography patterns in gastropods. Lately I started working on ocean acidification impact in calcareous organisms using calcareous algae, mollusks and bryozoans. I am also interested in the protective role of allelochemicals in sessile organisms and the possible use of these substances in pharmacology.

Representative Achievements

Quaiyum S., Fortunato H., Gonzaga L.J., Okabe S. 2018. Antimicrobial Activity in the Marine Cheilostome Bryozoan Cryptosula zavjalovensis Kubanin, 1976. J Antimicrob Agents 4(3): 178-182.
Fortunato, H. 2015. Bryozoans in climate and ocean acidification research: a reappraisal of an under-used tool. Regional Studies in Marine Science,2, Supplement, 32-44.
Fortunato, H. 2015. Mollusks: Tools in environmental and climate research. American Malacological Bulletin, 33(2): 1–15.
Fortunato, H., Schäfer, P., Blaschek, H. 2012. Growth rates, age determination and calcification levels in Flustra foliacea (L.) (Bryozoa: Cheilostomata) – preliminary assessment. In A. Ernst et al (eds.), Bryozoan Studies 2010, Lecture Notes in Earth System Sciences 143, pp. 59-74.
Fortunato, H. and Schäfer, P. 2009. Benthic communities and the role of coralline algae as structuring elements in the Panamanian eastern Pacific coast: preliminary evaluation. Neues Jahrbuch für Geologie und Paläontologie, 253(1): 145-161.
Self Introduction

I am Portuguese and like to walk, read science fiction, listen to music especially fado (Portuguese traditional song), Bach and Rachmaninoff

Academic background1983 Msc, Invertebrate Zoology, Simferopol State University, Russia;
1987 PhD, Invertebrate Zoology, Moscow State University, Russia; 1988-2006 Staff Scientist at Smithsonian Tropical Research Institution (Washington DC / Panama);
2006-2011 Visiting Researcher, Institut für Geowissenschaften at Kiel University (Germany);
2011- Hokkaido University
Affiliated academic societySociety for the Study of Evolution, American Malacological Society, UNITAS Malacologica, Bryozoological Society

Department of Biological Sciences, Biodiversity

Maria Helena Martins Fortunato

Associate Professor

What made you decide to become a researcher?

To me, science is a tool to understand the natural world and our role in it. Becoming a researcher was a dream since early age. Problem was – what field? Everything related to the natural workings is SO interesting!!!

At one time I was interested in cancer research – what does a normal cell suddenly to become crazy and destroy the organism that feeds and protects it? We could even compare it to the so-called rogue states, i.e. countries that forgo all international conventions placing everyone, even themselves at risk. (Politics and history are some of my other interests). Finally (maybe because of my interest in history) I decided to work on evolution – and again the big question was: what area? My decision was facilitated through the help of some of my teachers and supervisors.

Please tell us your stories until you become a researcher.

One day I read a book by A.Yablokov (who later became my PhD supervisor) on population phenetics and evolution. It became a turnaround for me. I was working then in plant physiology towards my undergraduate thesis. I moved to zoology and start working on host/parasite co-evolution. When I was admitted to graduate school Yablokov became my supervisor – a wonderful (and hard) teacher who greatly contributed to who I am today.

The next important step in my career was at the Smithsonian where I did my postdoc before becoming a research staff. While studying the environmental and biological consequences of the Panama seaway closure, I learned the value of fossil information to understand today’s events and predict future changes. I worked with a wonderful group of people (mostly geologists and paleontologists) who taught me a lot. Besides of all the scientific knowledge that I acquired, this project also helped me to understand how important collaborations are to learn and reach our goals.

What is the research theme that you are currently focusing on?

Currently, I study how impacts in the oceans are rapidly changing ecosystems that took millions of years to make, and how these changes may, in the end affect our society and civilization. I focus on organisms that have skeletons (like mollusks and bryozoans) so I can compare those that live today with those that lived in the past. This comparison may help us to understand how things change and what these changes mean for the natural world. I have colleagues in several countries; we compare results, share ideas and try to understand what is going on in nature.

Dredging for mollusks in the Panama eastern Pacific Ocean.

In my teachings I try to convey to my students the value of knowledge to build a better world and our responsibility towards nature. I show them that science is a collaborative enterprise and that only through collaboration can we solve problems. Young students have a very hard task in front of them – try to solve the serious problems we are creating now with our abuse and misuse of nature. For this they need both knowledge and collaboration, so they search together for solutions.

In Akkeshi with my master student Samia Quaiyum.