Marine Time Machine: Trajectories of change for tropical marine biodiversity in the Anthropocene

What will coral reefs look like in a future with rising sea surface temperature and progressive eutrophication? The present, coral-dominated reef ecosystems host a high biodiversity, which results in complex food webs where energy and nutrients are transferred between species through a multitude of trophic pathways.

Loss of coral dominance will result in shifts in biodiversity. These shifts in coral reef biodiversity could lead to major transitions in food webs, which will have detrimental effects on fisheries, coastal protection and other ecosystem services. How can we predict the future appearance and functioning of coral reefs? Marine lakes - islands of seawater – are our marine time machines. These remote lakes currently provide natural states of predicted environmental scenarios, and allow glimpses into past biodiversity dynamics with dated sediment cores. In this project, we will integrate field-observations of natural patterns with experiments, both in aquaria and in situ in marine lakes and across open water reefs at different levels of eutrophication. Using analyses of genomics, images, stable isotopes, water-quality, and paleontology, we will obtain crucial data to develop a dynamic model to identify the main feedbacks and interactions that can determine the future trajectories of coral reefs.

This project will be conducted at Naturalis Biodiversity Center, together with two PhD candidates who will be enrolled within the Wageningen Graduate School.