Change in North Sea benthic communities: reconciling the role of broad-scale climate phenomena versus local drivers

Internship position (12 ECTS)
Oceans and Lakes
Regime shifts are rapid reorganizations of ecosystems from one relatively stable state to another. Because the system state after the regime shift can be functionally different from that before the shift the occurrence of such shifts has considerable implications for the management of the marine environment and the provision of ecosystem services, particularly fisheries. Regime shifts can have a number of causes. Probably the best well studied are those caused by climatic oscillations which often occur on (very) large scales. Additionally, ecosystem state shifts can also occur on much smaller scales e.g. as the result of eutrophication, change in resource availability, overfishing or the introduction of alien species. Regime shifts driven by climate change and anthropogenic disturbances have been reported from many geographical areas for diverse groups of marine organisms such as fish, phyto- and zooplankton. However, our knowledge of whether such regime shifts also occur in marine benthic soft-sediment ecosystem is far less detailed. Through analysis of historic time series from different locations this internship research will identify whether the variability of benthic communities in the Belgian part of the North Sea is related to climatic oscillations and/or historic and ongoing anthropogenic activities (e.g. fisheries, sand extraction and dumping of dredge materials). Such knowledge would provide a more solid understanding of the drivers of change in benthic communities in the North Sea, thereby assisting in the management of coastal ecosystems in the current era of anthropogenically-induced change.
Number of students: 
academic year: 
Contact person email: 
contact person first name: 
contact person last name: 
Van Colen
Reference Number: RP-47641