Rocky Shore Ecology

The ‚Rocky Shore Ecology‘group identifies causes for the observed structural and functional change of coastal benthic rocky shore ecosystems. For this purpose we investigate the effects of environmental factors on various levels of ecological organization, both in the laboratory and the field and either by an experimental approach or with observational studies. The primary producers of these ecosystems (marine macroalgae) and their associated secondary producers (particularly mussels, snails and crabs) are in the focus of our research

Aims of working group

·         Comprehension of how abiotic factors (e.g. temperature, irradiance, sedimentation) affect the relationship between benthic primary and secondary producers.

·         Quantification, explanation and forecast of ecosystem changes under the impact of global environmental change. For this purpose we investigate the trophic and non-trophic as well as direct and indirect relationships between marine plants and animals; the regulation of growth, reproduction and distribution of benthic marine macroalgae and the interdependency with their consumers; the role of marine litter on marine habitats, species and communities

·         Acquisition of the adaptive potential of marine plants and animals; in cooperation with molecular biologists phenotypic plasticity of marine organisms and the corresponding gene expression pattern are recognized.

·         All research is the basis for development of an ecological interaction net for rocky shore systems.

Where do we do our research?

We do research in polar and sub-polar coastal waters (Potter Cove, Antarctica and Kongsfjord, Spitzbergen) since these areas are especially affected by climate change. Comparative investigations are carried out along temperate shores (Helgoland, Sylt, Chile and Canada)in order to better understandwhether structure and function of rocky shore ecosystems from different climatic zones are differently affected by the current environmental change.

Research base Carlini, Antarctic peninsula
Research base Carlini, Antarctic peninsula (Photo: Omar Aued)
View on Kongsfjorden, Svalbard
View on Kongsfjorden, Svalbard (Photo: Friedrich Buchholz)
Rocky intertidal Helgoland
Rocky intertidal Helgoland (Photo: Inka Bartsch)

What do we investigate?

Populations

Kelp forest at Helgoland
Kelp forest at Helgoland (Photo: Uwe Nettelmann)

We investigate the demography of marine macroalgae (especially brown algae of the order Fucales and Laminariales). These algae dominate the intertidal zone and the shallow, light-flooded sublittoral and they form habitat, nursery ground and food source for a series of associated animals and other algae. We want to know how changing environmental conditions impact the population structure and recruitment of algae.

Communities

Corallina community
Corallina community (Photo: Inka Bartsch)

On the community level we investigate the interaction of species diversity on community stability and in which way climate change influences the structure and functionality of communities. Besides long term monitoring, we perform field experiments in temperate and Polar regions. We manipulate essential environmental factors in order to understand the cause-effect relationship between climate change and species diversity and its consequences.

Species

Alaria esculenta, Kongsfjord, Svalbard
Alaria esculenta, Kongsfjord, Svalbard (Photo: Cornelia Buchholz)

On the individual level we investigate the influence of environmental factors (especially temperature, irradiance and biotic interactions) on the tolerance range of selected, habitat characteristic species along biogeographical gradients.

How do we do it?

 

We perform our investigations either in the laboratory or in the intertidal zone as well as in the sublittoral supported by divers or ships. In the field, patterns of vertical and horizontal distribution on diverse spatial and time scales are documented. Based on that we plan and perform specific experimental manipulations in order to understand the mechanisms which may be responsible for the development of these patterns.

 

 

Laboratory culture of Saccharina latissima
Laboratory culture of Saccharina latissima (Photo: Sandra Heinrich)
Collecting algae in the intertidal at Ny Alesund, Svalbard
Collecting algae in the intertidal at Ny Alesund, Svalbard (Photo: Claudia Daniel)
Underwater recruitment experiment,  Antarctica
Underwater recruitment experiment, Antarctica (Photo: Max Schwanitz)