Species interactions and marine food webs - Experiments in marine food web ecology

Cohort: 2017, 2018

Semester 1

Semester 2

Semester 3

Semester 4



Experimental marine ecology
Ghent University


This course deals with experimental quantification of biotic interactions amongst marine organisms relevant for ecosystem functioning: competition, trophic interactions (predation, herbivory..), and the critical interpretation of the outcome of experiments in relation to its design and the organism(s) and ecosystem under study.


The course will follow a 3-steps approach, whereby each step will consist of theory followed by a substantial practical part consisting of a specific case:
Step 1 (preparatory phase): analysis of an actual research question, literature study and design of an experiment to answer the question put forward: correct formulation of a research question and hypothesis, digital sources analysis, experimental design, selection of model organism and model system, obtaining biological material (field or culture), critical interpretation of available protocols.
Step 2 (experimental phase): set-up of the experiment and application of up-to-date experimental facilities within the Belgian node of the European Marine Biological Resource Centre (EMBRC) network (including culture collections): lab or field experiments, small-scale or large-scale, habitat-specificity of an experiment (intertidal, subtidal, deep sea, soft or hard substrate, benthic or pelagic, …), planning and feasibility and risk analysis of an experiment, monitoring different experimental treatments, use of up-to-date techniques including trophic markers (stable isotopes, fatty acids, compound-specific isotope analyses), tracer experiments.
Step 3 (interpretation phase): interpretation and correct reporting of the obtained outcome, standardisation of obtained measurements, failure analysis.


Bachelor level in sciences. Basic knowledge in ecology is recommended.


To learn how to interpret interactions amongst marine species in different settings, how to quantify energy fluxes in marine food webs by means of experimental approaches and how to apply up-to-date experimental tools to answer ecological questions.


Students should be able to apply biological and ecological knowledge to make decisions about practical aspects of the design of experiments, the setup of (lab or field, microcosm or mesocosm, short-term or long-term) experiments making use of up-to-date techniques and multidisciplinary tools; critical interpretation of and correct reporting on the material & methods of an experiment and its outcome.

Key skills acquired

To answer ecological research questions by means of well-designed experiments (lab or field).
To use experimental tools for the observation, quantification and modification of species interactions.
To quantify energy flow in marine food webs.
To critically interpret the results of experimental approaches in relation to the characteristics of the species, community and habitat under study at different temporal and spatial scales.


Belgrano et al. (2005) Aquatic food webs: an ecosystem approach
Arts et al. (2009) Lipids in Aquatic Ecosystems
Bianchi et al. (2011) Chemical Biomarkers in Aquatic Ecosystems
Completed with state-of-the-art articles, reports, books.


Step 1 (preparatory phase): short report on the research question and how to answer it
Step 2 (experimental phase): permanent evaluation while performing the experiment
Step 3 (interpretation phase): presentation and group discussion of the obtained results

Involved teachers

Marleen De Troch (marleen.detroch@ugent.be) Nele De Meester (nele.demeester@ugent.be)

Contact hours