WESTBANKS: understanding benthic, pelagic and air-borne ecosystem interactions in shallow coastal seas



WestBanks builds further on the projects ‘Structural and functional biodiversity of North Sea ecosystems: species and their habitats as indicators for a sustainable development of the Belgian Continental Shelf” (SPSD-1) and ‘TROPHOS: higher trophic levels in the Southern North Sea” (SPSD II). It aims for a better understanding of the links between the processes occurring in different parts (sediment, water column and air) of the marine ecosystem. This project is closely linked to European initiatives (e.g. Networks of Excellence MarBEF and Marine Genomics Europe, Save the North Sea project) in which the different WestBanks partners participate.

Project description

Research within WestBanks focuses on the interactions between the sea floor, the water column and the seabirds at the ecosystem, species and population level within a limited geographic area: the Western Coastal Banks area. We propose to achieve that by implementing four work packages: (1) benthic-pelagic coupling; (2) the role of dispersal for benthic organisms and demersal fish, (3) air-sea biotic coupling and (4) coordination, data management and valorization. Specific objectives of WestBanks include:
1. studying the structuring role of key benthic organisms on the functioning of the benthic system and its impact on the benthic-pelagic coupling
2. studying the structural and functional links between small-scale dispersal of key species and ecosystem units
3. studying top predators (fish and birds) feeding at interfaces (benthic-pelagic and pelagic-air)


The structuring role of benthic key species on the functioning of the benthic ecosystem will be investigated by lab experiments in which different densities and combinations of the key species will be incubated with defaunated sediment. Bioturbation will be assessed by the redistribution of luminophors added at two different sediment depths. At the same time, a number of proxies for ecosystem functioning (oxygen consumption, (de)nitrification…) will be quantified as well. Based on the results of this first series of experiments, we will investigate the structuring effects of the macrobenthic activities on the benthic food web. Labeled food items (pelagic diatoms or Phaeocystis) will be added to experimental units containing different combinations of habitat engineering species.

The importance of dispersion for benthic and demersal organisms will be investigated using a number of key species. Research will be targeted towards dispersion, population dynamics and population genetics of embryos and (post)larvae of these species. Sampling will be done in the Eastern English Channel and the North Sea (regional scale) and the Belgian Continental Shelf (local scale). Genetic profiling will allow for relatedness estimation in open populations, the calculation of well-defined population characteristics (diversity, gene flow…), recognition of cryptic species and estimation of connectivity and population borders. The 3d coupled physical-biological COHERENS model will be applied reveal dispersion patterns of larval organisms.

Predator-prey links will be investigated at two interfaces in the marine ecosystem: at the sediment-water and air-sea interface. The sand mason Lanice conchilega reach high densities in our study area, when this organism builds reefs. This causes an increase in habitat complexity and quality which can have a positive effect on demersal fish populations. Stomach analysis of demersal fish will reveal the contribution of Lanice conchilega to the diet of demersal fish. Both lab and field experiments in which Lanice populations will be disturbed will be conducted in order to assess the resilience of Lanice reefs.
The role of seabirds as top predators will be investigated in the breeding colonies of terns in the harbour of Zeebrugge. The breeding success of terns, in combination with distribution patterns at sea and diet analysis will allow increasing our understanding of the link between these top predators and their pelagic prey.

Interaction between the different partners

Execution of this research project will be done through an intense cooperation between researches from different fields of expertise (molecular biology, process studies, modeling and more traditional biology) at different levels (species, populations, size classes). This will be achieved by integrating the available expertise and knowledge available at the partner institutes. A close cooperation between the Marine Biology Section and NIOO-CEME is needed for a better understanding of the benthic processes, while the molecular biology and associated modeling will be done by collaboration between the Lab for Aquatic Ecology, MUMM and the Marine Biology Section. The research on terns and their pelagic prey will be done by cooperation between scientists from INBO and the Marine Biology Section.

Expected results and/or products:

- papers in international scientific journals
- project website
- project database and online meta database
- sound scientific evidence supporting policy makers with respect to biodiversity and ecosystem processes at the Belgian Continental Shelf.



Marine Biology Section, Ghent University: general coordination, experimental work with macro- and meiobenthos, coupling Lanice-demersal fishes, molecular research on Lanice
Lab for Aquatic Ecology, Catholic University of Leuven: life history and dispersal of organisms with pelagic life stages.
INBO: breeding success of terns in relation with population characteristics of pelagic fishes, role of seabirds as marine top predators
NIOO-CEME: experimental research on benthic processes, modeling of benthic processes.
MUMM: further development of dispersion modeled for pelagic life stages
VLIZ: data management, valorsiation and exploitation of results


Biodiversiteit, Birds, Mariene ecologie, Mariene invertebraten


Belgium {Geographical scope}
North Sea {Geographical scope}
Marine and Coastal {Habitat type}


Name Role Amount
Science for Sustainable Development unknown


Name Role Start End
Mees, Jan co-promotor 2006-12-01 2009-01-01
Vanaverbeke, Jan co-promotor 2006-12-01 2009-01-01
Volckaert, Filip co-promotor 2006-12-01 2009-01-01
Vincx, Magda promotor 2006-12-01 2009-01-01
Stienen, Eric co-promotor 2006-12-01 2009-01-01
Maarten, Larmuseau member 2006-12-01 2011-01-01
Hernandez, Francisco member 2006-12-01 2009-01-01
Deneudt, Klaas member 2006-12-01 2009-01-01
Goffin, Annelies member 2006-12-01 2009-01-01
Braeckman, Ulrike member 2006-12-01 2009-01-01
Vanreusel, Ann member 2006-12-01 2009-01-01
Huyse, Tine member 2006-12-01 2009-01-01
Heip, Carlo member 2006-12-01 2009-01-01
Stienen, Eric member 2006-12-01 2009-01-01
Kuijken, Eckhart member 2006-12-01 2009-01-01
Courtens, Wouter member 2006-12-01 2009-01-01
Scory, Serge member 2006-12-01 2009-01-01
Devolder, Mia member 2006-12-01 2009-01-01
Van Den Eynde, Dries member 2006-12-01 2009-01-01
Goffin, Annelies member 2006-12-01 2009-01-01
Seys, Jan member 2006-12-01 2009-01-01
Seys, Jan member 2006-12-01 2009-01-01
Rabaut, Marijn member 2006-12-01 2011-01-01


Name Role Start End
Marine Biology member 2006-12-01 2009-01-01
Laboratory of Animal Diversity and Systematics member 2006-12-01 2009-01-01
Flanders Marine Institute member 2006-12-01 2009-01-01
Department of Marine Ecosystem Management - Management Unit of the North Sea Mathematical Models member 2006-12-01 2009-01-01


Name Role Start End
The genomics of local adaptation in a marine demersal fish partner
Web Accessible Taxonomic Expertise in MarBEF: PROviding an e-Platform for the European Taxonomists partner


Reference Role
Larmuseau M.H.D., Raeymaekers J.A.M., Ruddick K.G., Van Houdt J.K.J. & Volckaert F.A.M. (2009) To see in different seas: spatial variation in the rhodopsin gene of the sand goby (Pomatoschistus minutus). Molecular Ecology, 18, 4227-4239. author
Larmuseau M.H.D., Vancampenhout K., Raeymaekers J.A.M., Van Houdt J.K.J. & Volckaert F.A.M. (2010, In press). Differential modes of selection on the rhodopsin gene in coastal Baltic and North Sea populations of the sand goby, Pomatoschistus minutus. Molecular Ecology. author
Larmuseau MHD, Guelinckx J, Hellemans B, Van Houdt JKJ & Volckaert FAM, 2008. Fast PCR-RFLP method facilitates identification of Pomatoschistus species from the North Atlantic. Journal of Applied Ichthyology, 24: 342-344 author
Larmuseau MHD, Van Houdt JKJ, Guelinckx J, Hellemans B & Volkaert FAM, 2009. Distributional and demographic consequences of Pleistocene climate fluctuations for a marine demersal fish in the north-eastern Atlantic. Journal of Biogeography, 36: 1138-1151 author
Larmuseau M.H.D., Raeymaekers J.A.M., Hellemans B., Van Houdt J.K.J & Volckaert F.A.M. (2010, In press). Mito-nuclear discordance in the degree of population differentiation in a marine goby. Heredity. author
Larmuseau M.H.D., Huyse T., Vancampenhout K., Van Houdt J.K.J. & Volckaert F.A.M. (2010). High molecular diversity in the rhodopsin gene in closely related goby fishes: a role for visual pigments in adaptive speciation? Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 55, 689-698. author

created:2011-12-14 14:18:59 UTC, source:web

© 2012 by the Belgian Biodiversity Platform