Planktosens - Assessing Climate Related Variability and Change at the Base of Planktonic Food Webs in Polar Regions and the North Sea

Main research focus

Marine plankton species (Image: K. Hardge)

Eukaryotic  microbes (protists) are essential components of marine ecosystems since they represent the basis of the marine food web and comprise the most abundant photosynthetic organisms. Composition, abundance and distribution of marine protists depend on several multifactorial climate drivers and biogeographic patterns. Changes in species abundance patterns contribute to an understanding of plankton ecology and generally provide an early indication for climate-driven modifications of marine ecosystems.

Molecular assessment of plankton communities (Image: K. Metfies)

The ultimate aim of our young investigator group Planktosens is to detect and assess effects of natural climate and human induced changes on the composition and distribution of pico- and nanophytoplankton assemblages in polar regions and the north sea. Investigations are based on a variety of molecular biological approaches relying on DNA sequences (e.g. ribosomal sequences, 18S rDNA). Different molecular tools like quantitative PCR, ARISA, Next Generation Sequencing or molecular sensing approaches are applied for a comprehensive picture of the whole sample set of interest. Analysis and interpretation are based on bioinformatics and statistical tools. During the process of our investigations we furthermore focus on method evaluation and optimization as well as on the development of new technologies to determine the most successful investigation strategy to attain clarification of our main scientific issues:

  • How are protist community structures defined in the polar regions and the north sea? On what functional types are the structures based on? What are typical community characteristics of different polar habitats?
  • To what extent do protist assemblages differ in Arctic and Antarctic?
  • How is community diversity influenced by biogeographic patterns (e.g. water masses, nutrients or grazing)?
  • How may distribution and diversity dynamics change in the future polar oceans?



Ferrybox container in Cushaven (Foto: P. Sprong)

The project COSYNA (Coastal Observing System for Northern and Arctic Seas) aims to gather comprehensive information on the physical, biogeochemical and biological conditions of coastal waters. Therefore data from different types of measuring systems (e.g. buoys, radar equipment, research vessels…) are combined to form an integrated monitoring and modelling system. Coordination of COSYNA is done by the Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht Centre for Materials and Coastal Research GmbH.


Development of a biosensor technology for environmental monitoring and disease prevention in aquaculture ensuring food safety

The collaborative European project EnviGuard consists of 19 research organizations and companies from 9 different countries. The main objective is to develop a highly specific and precise in situ measurement device that functions as an early warning system in aquaculture and as an environmental monitor for scientific research. The device should at least be build up of three different sensor modules that are connected to a common interface and cover the detection of (harmful) microalgae, pathogens and chemical contaminants. During the process of development Enviguard combines knowledge and latest findings of technology, genomics, molecular science, material science and information technology.

Within the Alfred Wegener Institute, Planktosens is the working group responsable for workpackage 2 of the project: Development of an algae detection unit for toxic marine microalgae species, mainly dinoflagellates which have the potential to form Harmful Algal Bloom (HABs) and/or to synthesize phycotoxins. Investigations and optimization are mainly based on the nucleic acid biosensor ALGADEC and the newly developed filtration system AutoFiM. Technical implementation and evaluation is done in direct communication with the project partner iSiTec.