Understanding biodiversity-ecosystem functioning relationships in a continental shelf sediments

Internship position (12 ECTS)
Oceans and Lakes
Shallow soft-sediment continental shelf habitats are among the most productive marine ecosystems. In addition to nutrient supply from land run-off and from the atmosphere, the internal recycling of nutrients within these systems substantially contributes to their nutrient load that support primary production which, together with imported organic matter, is at the basis of the pelagic and benthic foodwebs. This recycling largely results from remineralization of organic matter in sediments and from the subsequent release of (part of these) nutrients to the water column (i.e. benthic-pelagic coupling). Larger sediment animals (macrobenthos) play important roles in benthic-pelagic coupling. Suspension feeders capture suspended organic matter from the water column and incorporate part of it in the sediment, i.e. biodeposition. In addition, many macrobenthic species mediate benthic-pelagic coupling through bio-irrigation and bioturbation activities. Empirical evidence for this important role of marine biodiversity is often lacking because no knowledge on the spatial distribution of the benthos is available. This lack of knowledge hampers proper marine management and policy decisions. For example, the designation of the Vlakte van de Raan in the mouth area of the Schelde estuary as a Special Area of Conservation was cancelled by the Belgian council of State due to the lack of scientific evidence that this area has high ecological value. During this internship you will identify the infaunal invertebrate species present in the Vlakte van de Raan area and describe their distribution patterns in relation to 1) the environmental gradients in the area, and 2) the ecology (ecological interactions, physical habitat preferences) and functional traits of the considered species. Furthermore, you will explore the functional importance of these organisms for biogeochemical cycling by quantifying the faunal contribution to the exchange of nutrients and oxygen between the sediment and the water column in laboratory experiments. During your internship you will have the opportunity to participate in scientific research cruises to the study area and you will become acquainted with experimental laboratory techniques to determine the functional role of benthic communities in marine sediments.
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Van Colen
Reference Number: RP-47621