Marine lakes: natural laboratories of ecology & evolution

Since Darwin, insular environments have played a key role in biological research as they provide an explicit spatial and temporal context in which to study the processes behind biodiversity. In this project marine lakes – islands of seawater – are studied to understand how marine diversity adapts in response to past and current changes in the environment.

Over two-thirds of the Earth is covered by seawater, yet less than one third of marine species have been described. This gap in knowledge is illustrative of how little we know about marine biodiversity, despite the severe threats to marine ecosystems on a global scale. A major question is what are the ecological and evolutionary processes that contribute to the formation and maintenance of marine biodiversity?

In this project we are using the clearly defined spatio-temporal context of marine lakes in Indonesia, to study how marine communities of species come together over time and under what circumstances. Marine lakes are land-locked water bodies that maintain a marine character through narrow submarine connections to the sea. The lakes are, furthermore, in natural states of climate change scenarios predicted by the IPCC for the year 2100, with higher temperatures and lower pH. We are taking a comprehensive approach by studying multiple marine lineages across the marine lake model system at different levels of biodiversity:

  1. current diversity of species within the marine lake, and adjacent habiats (coral reefs and mangroves)
  2. historic diversity of species and environments since the formation of the marine lakes (6000-10000 years before the present) using dated sediment cores
  3. genetic diversity within lake populations employing state-of-the-art population genomic approaches.

With this combined dataset we will examine how diversity has adapted in response to past and current environments, and the associated relevance of this dynamic to future global change.

There are many MSc-thesis topics possible within this project; if you are a motivated student, please send Dr. Becking your CV to discuss the possibilities.

PhD students working on the project


Diede Maas, MSc
Adaptation of marine invertebrates to diverse environments.


Christiaan de Leeuw, MSc
Community assembly in marine lakes.