Identifying climatic and anthropogenic drivers of change in North Sea benthos communities

Master Thesis subject (30 ECTS)
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 have considerable implications for the management of the marine environment and the provision of ecosystem services, e.g. 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, regime shifts can also occur on much smaller scales e.g. as the result of eutrophication, 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 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. This research therefore aims to identify whether the long-term variability of benthos communities in the Belgian part of the North Sea is driven by climatic oscillations and/or historic and ongoing anthropogenic activities (e.g. fisheries, sediment extraction and dumping of dredge materials).
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Reference Number: RP-39881