Polar regions

Protistology and Aquatic Ecology Laboratory

The Protistology and Aquatic Ecology Laboratory, led by professors Vyverman and Sabbe, has been involved in research topics on the functioning and evolution of marine ecosystems, focusing on autotrophic unicellular eukaryotes, called protists. They aim to have a better understanding of the consequences of climate and environmental changes on protist communities, in combination with additional influence of dispersal. Besides community-level approaches, studies at the population and organismal level are also performed. To this end, they focus on dispersal and selection in model species of microalgae, as well as on life- and cell-cycles, evolution and diversity of diatoms. Other research topics include the evolution of mating systems, sexual behavior, reproductive barriers between closely related species and cryptic variation. More applied research focusses at the metabolic regulation of microalgae, interactions between algae and pathogens, and the exploitation of algae biodiversity to contribute to culturing algae in marine biotechnology.

Renard Centre of Marine Geology

The Renard Centre of Marine Geology, led by professors De Batist and Van Rooij, develops seismic technologies for high-resolution geological investigations in marine environments, including applications for deep-water ROV exploration. Acoustical technologies for advanced sea-floor mapping are also developed and applied. They furthermore focus on geodynamics, seismic- and sequence-stratigraphy and palaeoceanography of continental margins on a global scale. Other research topics are the occurrence and stability of methane hydrates, estimation of methane fluxes, cold seeps, mud volcanoes, deep-water coral habitats, the sustainable use of natural resources and the evaluation of toxic dump sites. 

Laboratory of Microbiology

The Laboratory of Microbiology, led by professors Willems, Vandamme and De Vos, mainly focusses on diversity, ecology, phylogeny, classification and taxonomy of bacteria. Key research marine activities include polar microbiology, endosymbiotic bacteria, bacteria in the carbon and nitrogen cycles, and bacteria in marine benthic foodwebs. The latter is a collaboration with the Marine Biology research group, and focusses on marine coastal sediment food webs. They study how functional biodiversity at the level of the habitat-engineering macrobenthos cascades into levels of biodiversity at the microbial level, which is directly responsible for, for instance, denitrification. They also study functional properties of marine sediments and their inhabitants and combine field studies with micro- and mesocosm experiments.

Marine Biology Research Group

The Marine Biology Research Group, led by professors Vincx, Vanreusel and Moens, has a proven expertise in ecological and systematic research of marine benthic ecosystems worldwide with a focus on the study of patterns and processes of benthic biodiversity (from bacteria, Archaea, nematodes, copepods, polychaetes, bivalves, crustaceans, demersal fish,...). Benthic communities are analysed in relation to environmental changes by means of field sampling or by controlled lab and field experiments. The obtained data allow to quantify the functional responses of benthic organisms to e.g. temperature rises, ocean acidification, eutrophication, food quantity and quality, invasive species, trawling, windmills, coastal defence structures,… Furthermore, the obtained biodiversity patterns and individual responses of species are analysed in the context of ecosystem functioning, with a strong interaction between the biota, the environmental factors (both pelagic phase and seafloor) and the biogeochemical processes. The Marine Biology Research group generated long-term databases on the distribution of benthic communities that are relevant for marine conservation and management. Study sites: world-wide ranging from the intertidal and subtidal areas of the North Sea, intertidal mudflats along the Westerschelde estuary, tropical seagrass beds and mangrove forests, natural CO2 seepage sites to more extreme ecosystems like the deep sea, continental margins and polar regions.