MAE: Biodiversity

Biodiversity is a measurement of variation that can be assessed at the genetic, species and ecosystem level. At Marine Animal Ecology we perform fundamental research to answer questions such as how biodiversity is generated and maintained and what the underlying processes are. We also develop monitoring tools to adequately assess diversity.

Using marine lakes as 'islands of sea'

Islands are traditionally coveted systems by evolutionary biologists and ecologists because they are well-defined, have known ages, and usually harbor less complex communities. They provide ideal models to test eco-evolutionary hypotheses. Marine lakes are landlocked bodies of sea water that maintain a connection to the surrounding sea to a varying degree. Various projects are studying marine lake communities and populations, including:

Marine lake. Photo: C. de Leeuw.
Marine lake. Photo: C. de Leeuw.

Quantifying biodiversity in the North Sea

In order to manage marine ecosystems effectively it is essential to get a good measure of the biodiversity present. Monitoring biodiversity allows for the detection of effects of on the one hand human-induced stressors such as climate change and fisheries, and on the other hand effects of Marine Protected Areas. GEANS (Genetic tools for Ecosystem health Assessment in the North Sea region) is a project that aims to develop genetic tools to assess biodiversity in a fast, cost-effective and accurate way. Using state-of-the-art sequencing techniques such as the opportunities provided by the Oxford Nanopore MinION, novel ways of estimating biodiversity are explored. Projects include:

Artificial structure near which biodiversity assessments are made.
Artificial structure near which biodiversity assessments are made.

REEFolution to restore biodiversity

The second longest fringing reefs of the world can be found at the eastern coast of Africa, stretching from Somalia to northern Mozambique. The reefs in Kenya are part of this biodiverse system, but currently under threat of overfishing and global climate change. REEFolution Kenya has been founded in 2015 and since then focusses on the restoration of coral reefs by building coral nurseries to grow coral fragments before outplanting them and raising environmental awareness. Projects include:

See also this news item on researchers building a new reef.

Conservation of cetaceans as keystone species

Cetaceans are top predators in the marine foodweb, and as such are important indicators of a healthy marine environment. This project is working on mapping out cetacean migration patterns from historical and current data to fill knowledge gaps in cetacean occurrence in the Indo-Pacific. Knowing where cetaceans occur and uncovering their habitat preference will improve Marine Spatial Planning and allow us to better design Marine Protected Areas.

Resilience of the richest reefs

This project sets out to use local knowledge and ecological measures to investigate the resilience of the richest reefs: The Bird's Head Seascape in West Papua, Indonesia. The aim is to investigate the socio-ecological system and identify pathways towards resilience against threats like climate change and tourism.

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Techniques used & Implications

To study marine biodiversity, Marine Animal Ecology performs field monitoring and uses molecular techniques. With a better understanding of biodiversity we are better able to conserve ecosystems to work towards climate resilience.