Assessing the biological capacity for marine ecosystem resilience: Acclimation and adaptation of seaweeds in a rapidly changing environment

Master Thesis subject (30 ECTS)
Oceans and Lakes
The marine realm represents some of the most ecologically and socioeconomically significant ecosystems on the planet. Unfortunately, coastal marine ecosystems, along with the goods and services they provide, are threatened by global climate change. Continuously increasing greenhouse gas emissions cause changes in oceanographic conditions such as temperature and pH, which in turn affect biological and social systems. Shifts in ocean characteristics likely act as stressors by inducing changes in life-history traits and physiological performance of organisms. The outcome of a changing climate is dependent on a combination of factors, including the rate and magnitude of climate change, the adaptive potential of the species (standing genetic variation, population structure, etc.), plastic and possibly also epigenetic responses. This thesis will examine the extend of local adaptation on temperature response of the brown algal seaweed, Dictyota dichotoma. This species represents a major component of the total algal biomass along Northeast Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts. The student will sample populations along a North-South gradient [fieldwork] and characterize their physiological response (survival, growth, fecundity) under different temperature and pH conditions [lab experiments]. In addition, the role of transgenerational plasticity and epigenetics, will be deduced from a series of experiments centered on parent-offspring comparisons, measurements of heritability. This research will be realized through a cooperation of the Phycology Research and Marine Biology Research Groups (UGent) and the Department of Applied Mathematics, Biometrics and Process Control (UGent). The project combines fieldwork, lab experiments, molecular tools and modeling approaches.
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Sofie De Rycke
Reference Number: RP-48971