Species biodiversity or population genetic diversity: What drives benthic communities’ resistance to climate change

Master Thesis subject (30 ECTS)
The responses of coastal marine environments to climate change are of particular interest, due to their sensitivity and rapid response to anthropogenic changes, and also due to their socio-economical and ecological importance. The increased frequency of climatological extremes and variability are among the main consequences of climate change, which in exposed coastal ecosystems may have major impacts to the communities or even lead to biodiversity loss. The aim of this project is to investigate whether the tolerance of a community to increased temperature stress depends more on its species composition, and hence on the presence of tolerant species or whether the biodiversity of the community itself relates with its stress resistance. Specifically, the following hypothesis will be tested: the resistance of a community to elevated temperature stress depends on its species diversity or on population genetic diversity, in an experimental approach. A microcosm experimental set-up will include several nematode species, in culture, inoculated in sediment and macroalgal detritus, in different species combinations to approximate different diversity levels. Population genetic diversity can be also taken into account by including different inbred lines, initiated from the same female (several monoline cultures, several two-line and multiple-line cultures), and submitting them all to temperature stressful regimes. We will then investigate whether more diverse populations perform better than less diverse populations to thermal stress, in terms of species diversity or in terms of population-genetic diversity, according to the student’s interest. The analysis involves assessing different measures of diversity (richness, evenness, dominance, taxonomic distinctness), community composition, functional diversity, based on feeding strategy, life history and size-biomass, and/or genetic diversity.
Number of students: 
academic year: 
Contact person email: 
contact person first name: 
contact person last name: 
Other people involved: 
Supervisor: Prof. Tom Moens Co-promotor: Dr. Nele De Meester
Reference Number: RP-49171