To be or not to be: responses of the zooplankton community to changing environmental conditions at the Belgian part of the North Sea

Master Thesis subject (30 ECTS)
Coastal and shallow marine ecosystems are vulnerable to ongoing climate change and experience multiple disturbances due to the expanding human population and their activities. These stressors may cause changes in a whole range of ecological interactions with potential consequences for ecosystem functioning and stability. The zooplankton consists of passively drifting small organisms and fish larvae and is a crucial part of the marine ecosystem. The zooplankton community is characterized by a high biodiversity and biomass and typically responses very fast to stressors in the environment. As they are at the base of the marine pelagic food web, any change in the structure of this community will be transferred to higher trophic levels. These characteristics make the zooplankton a very good indicator of environmental stressors and the effect of these stressors on the overall functioning of the marine environment. This thesis aims to document the variability (both in space and in time) of zooplankton species in the Belgian part of the North Sea (BPNS) and link the community patterns and species distribution to (changing) environmental conditions. Zooplankton samples will be gathered from different sampling stations in the BPNS. Together with conventional sampling methods (zooplankton nets), a video plankton recorder (VPR) will be deployed. The combination of both methods will allow optimizing the VPR software to achieve automatic identification of the zooplankton to the lowest possible taxonomic level and thus facilitate future monitoring. The practical realization of this master thesis will include several sampling campaigns on board of the RV Simon Stevin, microscopic identification of zooplankton species (yielding data on both diversity and densities) and the coupling of the obtained zooplankton species data to the VPR image data. This research will be realized through a cooperation of the Marine Biology Reseach Group (UGent), Laboratory for Environmental Toxicology and Aquatic Ecology (UGent) and Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ, Ostend).
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contact person first name: 
Yana Deschutter
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Promotors: prof. dr. Marleen De Troch (Ghent University, Marine Biology) & prof. dr. Karel Deschamphelaere (Ghent University, GhEnToxLab)
Reference Number: RP-36082