Defining the niche of phytoplankton functional types in coastal seas

Master Thesis subject (30 ECTS)
Coastal regions worldwide have been strongly altered as a result of climate change and changes in land use, over the past decades. The changing fluxes of nutrients, organic matter and sediment to coastal seas resulted in an altered resource availability and growing conditions for coastal plankton. As phytoplankton is the basis of the marine foodweb and accountable for 50 % of the global primary production, and is responding very fast to environmental change, it is important to monitor the ongoing effects of climate change and eutrophication on the phytoplankton community. The Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ) in close collaboration with the research group of Protistology & Aquatic Ecology (PAE) initiated high resolution monitoring of phytoplankton functional diversity in the Belgian coastal zone (BCZ) within the framework of the EU LifeWatch program. Using a Cytosense flow cytometer (FCM) and a fast repetition rate fluorometer (FRRF), automated collection and analysis of marine plankton samples allows identification and quantification of functional types based on size, shape and fluorescence characteristics. In parallel, the FRRF is a device that nearly continuously photosynthetic rates in the plankton based on measuring the variability of light emission from chlorophyll a. In this project both monitoring tools will be combined to get insight into the physiological status and growth performance of key functional groups in the North Sea, including Phaeocystis, diatoms and a hitherto largely unrecognized but important group of picoeukaryote phytoplankton. Given the high spatial and temporal resolution of the in situ data, it will be possible to generate a fine-scale view of the niche requirements of the studied functional phytoplankton classes and more broadly to better understand the causes underlying the spatio-temporal dynamics of coastal phytoplankton. Research for this subject includes of fieldwork aboard the research vessel the Simon Stevin to operate both devices, used of dedicated software to analyse data and, when time permitting, mesocosm experiments to test hypotheses generated from the field data.
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Reference Number: RP-48441