Evaluation of ecological management actions in het Zwin tidal lagoon through spatio-temporal analysis of benthos and nekton communities

Master Thesis subject (30 ECTS)
The biodiversity found in coastal habitats is on the frontline of current environmental change resulting from anthropogenic activities related to the expanding exploitation of coastal areas. For example, changes in sedimentation regimes and water-borne suspended sediment concentrations resulting from changes in land-use, climate change and engineering activities in the coastal zone (e.g. dredging, aggregate extraction, beach nourishment) affect biodiversity and ecological value in coastal soft-sediment habitats. One such habitat are coastal lagoons where suspended sediments may deposit depending on interactions between geomorphological, hydrological and biological factors. Such infilling is enhanced in sheltered habitats further facilitated by pioneering vegetation that trap fine sediment particles resulting in increasing elevation, and a reduction in inundation time and the surface of low intertidal areas, illustrative for the succession towards a marsh habitat. In the Zwin tidal lagoon (Belgium and the Netherlands), sand deposits have led to the gradual filling up of the lagoon, causing loss of safe breeding opportunities and sleeping sites for the birds, as the former islands are becoming connected to the mainland and accessible to ground predators. The deposited sand probably originates from the increased marine erosion of the sandy beach and fore-dunes, so that the loss of biodiversity can be considered an example of coastal squeeze as a consequence of climate change. This situation has also led to the loss of mud and sandflats that provide a high biomass of intertidal prey organisms for wading birds, nektonic fish and macrocrustaceans, such as polychaetes and molluscs. Currently, management actions are undertaken to restore the rich biodiversity of this internationally important Natura 2000 site by carrying out large-scale restoration of the ecological dynamics in the Zwin area, thus enabling appropriate implementation on the EU Birds and Habitats Directives. For example, it is expected that enlarging the main tidal gully and its mouth to the sea will increase the tidal currents, especially at ebb tide and slow down the sedimentation process. In this thesis, you will study the dynamics of macrobenthos and nekton communities in space and time in relation to executed restoration actions. The work involves field sampling, identification of species, and the analysis of the dynamics of biotic communities to provide scientific support for the evaluation of undertaken restoration actions.
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Van Colen
Reference Number: RP-36242