Integrated approaches to investigate the role of benthic organisms in ecosystem functioning in soft and hard substrates: from field observations and experiments to modeling and indicator development

Target group

PhD students from the Doctoral School of Natural Sciences and the Doctoral School of (Bioscience) Engineering involved in marine biodiversity-ecosystem functioning research.

Organising and Scientific Committee

- Dr. Ulrike Braeckman – UGent ()
- Prof. Dr. Jan Vanaverbeke – RBINS/UGent ()
- Prof. Dr. Steven Degraer – RBINS/UGent ()
- Prof. Dr. Karline Soetaert – NIOZ/UGent ()
- Dr. Marilaure Grégoire – Ulg ()
- Dr. Gert Van Hoey - ILVO ()

Content of the course

This summer school will bring together expertise and equipment from leading European institutes involved in marine biodiversity (both hard and soft substrates) – ecosystem functioning research, offering a unique chance for early-career scientists to gather state of-the-art knowledge on an emerging research field in marine sciences, and to get acquainted with the use of cutting-edge technology. In addition, the summer school will link both experimental research with hands-on ecological and oceanographic modeling, topics which are generally dealt with separately in most relevant courses offered on the national and international scene in Europe.

Topic and theme of the course

During the last decade, many European countries have installed offshore windfarms in shallow coastal environments, introducing artificial hard substrates in areas that generally consisted exclusively of soft sediments. These artificial hard substrates are home to a high variety and abundance of fouling organisms. These new communities locally affect primary production and the nutrient budget in the water column and change sediment properties, structural and functional diversity of the benthos, and benthic mineralization rates. In addition, the effects of these human impacts need to be addressed in the context of a globally changing marine environment (climate change, ocean acidification). A full understanding of links between the altered biodiversity and the local and regional biogeochemical cycles requires cross-disciplinary approaches where ecologists, biogeochemists and ecosystem and oceanographic modelers join forces.
Within this summer school, PhD students and early post-docs will be initiated in experimental methodology to investigate the effect of animal activity on biogeochemical cycling in both sediments and waters. Class-room lectures will provide participants with an overview on the recent developments in the research field and will be combined with hands-on experiments on both hard- and soft substrate biogeochemical cycling using state-of-the-art experimental tools. Lectures on ecosystem and oceanographic modeling will show how local processes can be scaled up to regional scales. Finally, students will be initiated in the application of obtained results in a managerial context. As such, the proposed summer school integrates state-of-the-art knowledge on experimental marine ecology, biogeochemistry and ecosystem modeling, and explores its use in a managerial context.
The course is organized in close cooperation with the University of Liège (ULg), the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (RBINS) , ILVO and the Royal Netherlands Institute of Sea Research (NIOZ). Through the collaboration with ULg, the course will be organized at the STARESO (Station de Recherches Sous-Marines et Océanographiques, which belongs to the ULg) field research station in Calvi, Corsica (France) ( ). This research station has a unique and ideal location for our summer school, as it provides immediate (walking distance) access to a variety of soft and hard substrates and to a large benthic biodiversity, and offers well-equipped laboratories with running sea water and good teaching facilities. At the same time, it also takes care of all logistics related to lodging, food and transport, which – together with the immediate vicinity of all ‘model’ field habitats – optimal use of available time for training purposes.

Dates and Venue

  • July 17-21, 2017 at STARESO Research Station, Calvi, Corsica


Karline Soetaert (NIOZ), Marilaure Grégoire (University of Liege), Arthur Capet (University of Liege), Steven Degraer (RBINS), Jan Vanaverbeke (RBINS), Ulrike Braeckman (UGent), Gert Van Hoey (ILVO)


  • Monday 17 July 2017

09.00-09.30: Introduction to the Summer School (Jan Vanaverbeke)
09.30-12.00: General introduction to soft sediment ecosystem functioning (UIrike Braeckman, Jan Vanaverbeke, Karline Soetaert)
12.00-13.00: LUNCH
13:00-15:00 General introduction to hard substrate ecosystem functioning (Steven Degraer, Jan Vanaverbeke)
15:30-17:30 General introduction to environmental model building (Karline Soetaert, Marilaure Grégoire, Arthur Capet)

  • Tuesday 18 July 2017

09:00-12:00: Experimental approaches to quantify ecosystem functioning (whole community and individual oxygen consumption, bio-irrigation, N-cycling, sediment microprofiling, sediment profile imaging, rhizon sampling, eddy correlation, planar optodes, stable isotope techniques) (Jan Vanaverbeke, Ulrike Braeckman, Gert Van Hoey)
12:00-13:00 LUNCH
13:00-18:00 Field excursion, sampling, setting up experiments for quantification of biogeochemical processes

  • Wednesday 19 July 2017

ALL DAY: Hands on exercises: quantification of biogeochemical processes

  • Thursday 20 July 2017

ALL DAY:  From data to ecological models: hands on data analyses and ecological modeling (Karline Soetaert, Arthur Capet, Marilaure Grégoire)

  • Friday 21 July 2017

09:00-12:00 Ecosystem functioning indicators for policy use (Gert Van Hoey, Steven Degraer)
12:00-1300 LUNCH



Registration fee

Registration can be done by fully completing the registration form available at . Free of registration fee for 4 PhD students belonging to the Doctoral Schools of Natural Sciences and (Bioscience) Engineering of Ghent University.

Others will pay the registration fee of 350 euro covering all course material. Lodging and food is not included in this fee.

Participants can stay in the dormitories of the STARESO Research Station (510 Euros, covering lodging breakfast, lunch and dinner).

(IBAN: BE09 6792 0058 2357 – BIC:  PCHQ BE BB – Bpost,  Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, Vautierstraat 29, 1000 Brussels), mentioning ‘Your Name - Registration Summer School Calvi

Further information

Evaluation criteria (doctoral training programme)

100% active participation