Responses in a changing marine environment - Experiments in marine global change ecology

Cohort: 2017, 2018

Semester 1

Semester 2

Semester 3

Semester 4



Experimental marine ecology
Ghent University


This course deals with the experimental quantification of the effect of (a)biotic changes on the functioning of marine organisms and ecosystems 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 on global change in the marine environment, 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 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, application of physiological and biogeochemical measurements, use of chemical tracers.
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 functioning and biodiversity responses to changing (a)biotic conditions in marine ecosystems, how to quantify biogeochemical cycling by means of experimental approaches and how to apply up-to-date experimental tools to answer ecological questions in relation to climate change and anthropogenic disturbance in marine ecosystems.


Students should be able to apply biological, ecological and chemical knowledge to make decisions about practical aspects of the design and set-up of experiments making use of up-to-date techniques to study the effects of changing physico-chemical conditions (pH, temperature, oxygen, seabed and suspended sediments, salinity, pollution...); 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 non-trophic species interactions under variable abiotic conditions.
To be able to quantify biogeochemical cycling in marine communities.
To be able 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.


Beaugrand (2014). Marine Biodiversity, Climatic Variability and Global Change
Beukema & Brouns (2012). Expected Effects of Climatic Change on Marine Coastal Ecosystems


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

Carl Van Colen ( Ulrike Braeckman (

Contact hours