Aquatic Ecology

Aquatische Ecologie (vijver 3)
© Perro de Jong

Our mission is to understand aquatic ecosystems, predict their responses to a changing world, and contribute to a sustainable future.

We investigate aquatic interactions and processes in lab, field and model systems over multiple timescales and actively engage with society to protect and improve the health of aquatic ecosystems.

The complementarity of expertise in the Aquatic Ecology department is our strength. By working together, our diverse approaches provide a deeper understanding of ecological processes and interactions.

Suzanne McGowan, Head of Department

Aquatic ecology and climate change

Climate change is placing unprecedented pressures on our streams, ponds, and lakes. We study how longer-term and extreme climate events such as heatwaves, floods and droughts are changing the ecological balance of water bodies. We engage with stakeholders to explore how nature-based solutions can make our water networks and landscapes more resilient to climate change whilst protecting and enhancing biodiversity.

Glacier AqE

Understanding and restoring aquatic biodiversity

Our fundamental research into rapid evolution of plankton is helping to uncover how species adapt to the changing environment so we can better understand the mechanisms underpinning biodiversity. We also investigate how we as society can adapt by studying sustainable ways to restore and protect water ecosystems through approaches such as rewilding and aim to understand how biodiversity links to ecosystem resilience. To better understand and predict changes in biodiversity, we are developing novel methods for rapid identification of aquatic organisms using DNA analysis to enable more efficient biodiversity monitoring. 

NIOO pond

Water quality under pressure

Nitrogen and phosphorus pollution are still among the grand challenges for water management and our ecological approaches help to understand, predict and manage their consequences for water quality, including issues such as cyanobacterial blooms, invasive species and degraded food-webs. We use experimental, modelling and monitoring approaches to understand the drivers of water quality and to determine how societies use and interact with water. We investigate how emergent pollutants such as pharmaceuticals and microplastics are changing the structure and functioning of aquatic systems and conduct research into sustainable water treatment methods.

Cyanobacterial bloom

Research support in Aquatic Ecology

Our research assistants have years of experience working in the field and in laboratories, and are experts in aquatic ecology techniques. The team is on hand to support research scientists and students at the NIOO.

Specialist skills within the group include expertise in:

  • Flow cytometry and trait identification of phytoplankton
  • Water chemistry analysis
  • Set-up and operation of experimental mesocosms
  • Microscopic identification of zooplankton, phytoplankton and other aquatic invertebrates
  • Aquatic plant sampling and identification
  • Boat handling and aquatic sampling
  • Elemental analysis of waters and sediments
  • Chlorophyll and carotenoid pigment analysis
  • Operation and maintenance of aquatic sensors
  • DNA metabarcoding
  • Algal toxin analysis
Research assistants AqE

Experiments across scales: our facilities

Our experimental facilities range from outdoor experimental ponds for investigation of entire ecosystems with their full complexity, to microcosms, chemostats and batch experiments in the laboratory for more focused experiments gaining mechanistic understanding on responses of species, communities, and food-webs. The indoor limnotron facility provides a high level of experimental control at a large scale whilst including natural complexity. A sensor network allows access for remote users to track the conditions in each. We regularly deploy outdoor enclosures or exclosures in the field to allow us to conduct experimental manipulations on site.


Long-term aquatic ecology

In this period of rapid global change, long-term ecological data are vital for helping us to understand how aquatic ecosystems are responding, and the possible consequences for biodiversity, ecosystem services and resilience. Long-term monitoring programmes at IJsselmeer - the largest lake in the Netherlands - help to understand the linkages between nutrient pollution and algal blooms. Sediment core studies can reveal ecologies of the past, covering decades, centuries and millennia to place recent changes into context. Long-term datasets are vital for supporting and testing the development of aquatic ecosystem models.

Watermonsters: Sven Teurlincx


Aquatic Knowledge Centre Wageningen (AKWA) is part of the Department of Aquatic Ecology. AKWA translates state-of-the art scientific knowledge into practical solutions for water issues. Stimulated by the growing interest for research valorisation in the Netherlands, AKWA wants to put her valuable scientific knowledge into practice.




  1. 10e IVN Slootjesdagen

    IVN Slootjesdagen

Peer-reviewed publicaties