Research and Professional Interests
I am a marine ecologist with a wide interest in benthic biodiversity, ecosystem functioning and food web ecology in marine ecosystems. After an MSc degree in Zoology and an MSc in Marine and Lacustrine sciences at Ghent University, I completed a PhD in deep-sea biology and ecology, specializing in meiofauna and free-living nematodes (metazoans smaller than 1mm) and working together with marine scientists across Europe. After my PhD I was involved in several international projects focussing on deep-sea habitats and Antarctic marine ecosystems under pressure of climate change before moving to the UK with an EU Marie Curie Fellowship to develop more holistic meiofauna research in coastal and shelf environments at Plymouth Marine Laboratory.
At the FSUCML my research focusses on creating a better understanding of the role of meiofauna in marine ecosystem function, and advancing our knowledge of meiofauna and nematode biology and ecology. Meiofaunal organisms are abundant in all marine ecosystems and play a pivotal role in key processes and functions. Despite their ecological importance, they are often overlooked and many aspects of their biology and ecology are still unknown. Research projects aim at understanding what drives (meio)benthic diversity and how it affects marine sediment functions with links to important processes such as biogeochemical cycling and food-web flows and the assessment of anthropogenic and climate-change impacts. Some of the key outstanding issues include:
- Increasing the knowledge on meiofauna ecology and biodiversity drivers in naturally variable ecosystems and under anthropogenic pressures; and this in shallow waters as well as the deep sea
- Increasing the knowledge on ecologically important meiobenthic functions and the faunal/biogeochemical processes they contribute to
- Provision of adequate meiofauna data based on their ecological importance to underpin models, ecosystem management and conservation practices
- Moving beyond the normal range of perception and establish the ecological importance of meiofauna in scientific and general public circles
To get answers to the outstanding questions (and generate new ones!) a multidisciplinary approach is required. Using long-term monitoring analysis to understand natural spatial and temporal meiobenthic patterns and variability, in combination with laboratory mesocosm/microcosm and in situ experiments to assess impacts of environmental change on meiofauna diversity and function, underpins many of my research activities. If we want to move further, however, we also need more integration of field and experimental results into coupled ecosystem models to develop, consolidate and validate the (meio)benthic component, whilst assessing current and future meiobenthic contributions to ecosystem function, and ultimately their contributions to ecosystem goods and services, and the socio-economic value of marine ecosystems.
Aside the core research outlined above, I also value the fundamental building blocks that have led to our current level of understanding. These include 1] characterizing and describing novel biodiversity, and 2] gaining insight into the biology of meiofauna organisms (e.g. life-history, behaviour, communication, etc.). Both are research topics I pursue throughout my research.
In recent years, I have been involved in several regional and global assessments of anthropogenic and climate-change impacts on marine ecosystems with for instance a chapter in the First UN World Ocean Assessment and reviews of global change impacts in the Southern Ocean. As public awareness of the importance of the Global Ocean increases, such efforts are important to continue as they support science-policy-public communication and ultimately the successful management of – or “caring for” - the marine resources humankind relies on so heavily.
Ph.D. Ghent University, Belgium (2009)
M.Sc. (Marine and Lacustrine Sciences) Ghent University, Belgium; Magna Cum Laude (2004)
M. Sc. (Zoology) Ghent University, Belgium, Magna Cum Laude (2003)
B. Sc. (Biology) Ghent University, Belgium (2001)