Climate change impacts on intertidal meiofauna communities: An experimental approach on the effects of global warming and ocean acidification

Master Thesis subject (30 ECTS)
Global warming and ocean acidification are two main consequences of climate change threatening life in marine ecosystems. Climate change impacts on communities have hitherto received substantial attention. The combination of episodically elevated water temperature and CO2 levels may exceed the tolerance of some organisms causing local extinctions. Nevertheless, the development of plasticity towards the changing environmental conditions strongly affects organisms’ adaptation. Therefore, species structural and functional diversity plays an important role on the resilience of communities towards the changing/stressing conditions. The present project will focus on medium-term (weeks) effects of elevated temperature in a fluctuating regime and pH decrease on meiobenthic community structure. Proper predictions of how communities respond to climate changes will depend on accurate measures of their plasticity under different abiotic regimes. Our project is based on the hypothesis that the combination of increased temperature regimes and elevated levels of CO2 may significantly affect structural and functional diversity of meiofaunal and nematode communities. Based on our previous work with single stressor experiments on thermal stress effects on meiobenthic/nematode communities of the North Sea, we now try to include the complexity of abiotic interactions in a mesocosm experiment. Sediments will be collected from the intertidal zone of the Belgian part of the North Sea, which is naturally exposed to temperature fluctuations, representing a gradient of environmental conditions and exposure to thermal stress. Sediments with natural communities will be subjected to normal temperature regimes vs regimes with elevated constant temperature and elevated fluctuating temperature, and to a range of pH in a fully-crossed experimental design to assess how the different communities respond. Response variables will be changes in abundance, different measures of diversity (richness, evenness, dominance, taxonomic distinctness, trophic diversity) and community composition. Nematode functional diversity will be assessed based on feeding type, life history, and individual size and biomass.
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Supervisor: Prof. Tom Moens, UGent Co-promotor: Dr. Carl van Colen, UGent
Reference Number: RP-49151