Research within the department of Aquatic Ecology (AqE) aims to elucidate how ecological mechanisms, eco-evolutionary processes and abiotic factors govern the dynamics and structure of aquatic food webs. We link different levels of biological organization, ranging from microevolutionary change in plankton populations, through trophic and indirect interactions of food web modules, to the biotic and abiotic factors that structure aquatic communities in entire lakes.
Theme 1: Consumer-resource interactions
The department has a strong tradition in experimental and theoretical research in the aquatic environment on a variety of consumer-resource interactions ( e.g. predator-prey, host-parasite interactions, herbivory) and how these interactions are mediated by infochemicals, stoichiometric constraints and eco-evolutionary dynamics. This knowledge serves as important input for the study of more complex systems at larger spatial and temporal scales.
Theme 2: Food web dynamics
Our food web dynamics oriented research is strongly focused on interactions among functional groups/trophic levels, their links with ecosystem functioning and responses to major drivers of environmental change (e.g. climate change, eutrophication, introduction of invasive species).
Theme 3: (Meta)community dynamics
Our community work aims at understanding how communities assemble and how community composition and diversity are determined by local as well as regional spatial processes. Food web and metacommunity ecology are rooted in different research traditions and conceptual frameworks, both disciplines show important fields of common interest, enrich each other and tend to move towards a synthesis in the near future.
Theme 4: Restoring and enhancing ecosystem services
Although we always emphasise the importance of curiosity driven research for aquatic ecology, we also acknowledge the demands from society for scientific input for nature conservation and ecosystem restoration. This more strategic research provides unique opportunities for testing our research hypotheses at the ecosystem level and for exploiting our scientific knowledge directly for applications useful for society. Our exercises with stoichiometric ecosystem models, like PClake, allow us to extrapolate our experimental findings to longer temporal and wider spatial scales than can be covered by the experiments and to evaluate the effect of different climate and eutrophication scenarios on regime shifts in aquatic food webs.
The senior scientists (Ellen van Donk- Head of the Department; Wolf Mooij, Liesbeth Bakker, Steven Declerck and Dedmer van der Waal) each have their own group page
Beside senior scientists, the department consists of assistants, post-docs , PhD students and master students all working together to understand the functioning of aquatic ecosystems.