Ongoing projects

Nature-based climate adaptation in the coastal zone: demonstrating the key role of spatial self-organization of coupled plant species zonation and wave attenuation in tidal marshes. 01/10/2022 - 30/09/2025

Abstract

Tidal marshes are increasingly proposed as nature-based shoreline protection against climate change induced sea level rise and increasing storminess. In this project I address the following key knowledge gaps on the effectiveness of this nature-based climate adaptation function: how do two-way interactions between plants and waves lead to spatial self-organization of species zonation and wave attenuation, and how does this self-organization determines the resilience (i.e. persistence) of the wave attenuation function under changing climate conditions. A mesocosm experiment in the new UAntwerpen tidal flume will demonstrate the specific growth response of three dominant tidal marsh species to interactive stresses from waves, tidal inundation and sediment salinity. A novel coupled model of plant species distribution and wave transformation will be calibrated and evaluated against field data to demonstrate that the plant-wave interactions lead to spatial self-organization of both species zonation and wave attenuation rate. The model will be applied to future scenarios of changed climate conditions (i.e. sea level rise, increased wave exposure) to show the impact of the self-organization on the persistence of the wave attenuation function. As such my project will make a major advancement to the field of nature-based climate adaptation in the coastal zone.

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  • Research Project

The analyser - Skalar. 01/06/2022 - 31/05/2024

Abstract

Nutrients are vital, not only for individual organisms but also for entire ecosystems. The SKALAR SAN++ Advanced System allows us to analyze a whole range of nutrients in continuous flow. It is essential for the research of the new research group ECOSPHERE on aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, where nutrient analysis in water, plants and soil are essential, and for the research group DuEL, where nutrient analysis in wastewater streams and microbial growth media are indispensable. The equipment also delivers analysis services to other research groups and external parties.

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Eringing nature back — biodiversity-friendly nature-based solutions in cities (BiNatUr). 01/04/2022 - 31/03/2025

Abstract

The BiNatUr project will explore the role of biodiversity and its linkages with regulating ecosystem services (ES) in urban aquatic nature-based solutions (aquaNBS), and its overall aim is to improve the planning, building, restoration, and management of aquaNBS, supporting the transformation to climate-smart, biodiversity-friendly, and sustainable cities. BiNatUr will explicitly focus on four main research questions: • How are biodiversity and ES of aquaNBS mediated by social, ecological, and technological factors? • Does this vary among cities in different regions of Europe? • How does biodiversity influence the regulating ES provided by aquaNBS? • How can urban planning effectively design, manage, and monitor the biodiversity and regulating ES of aquaNBS?

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  • Research Project

Setting safe limits for two short-chained perfluoroalkyl substances for experimentally exposed soil organisms: perfluorobutane sulfonate (PFBS) and its by-product perfluorobutane sulfonamide (FBSA). 01/04/2022 - 31/03/2023

Abstract

The scientific and public attention to the group of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) has risen exponentially since the beginning of the 2000s. These chemicals have been produced since the 1940 in large quantities for numerous applications such as firefighting foams and fast-food packaging. Due to their production and use in several consumer products, PFAS have been distributed globally in the environment, in which they accumulate in organisms. Regulatory measures for legacy long-chained PFAS, such as perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) have led to a restriction in their production and use, with some exemptions. Nonetheless, these long-chained PFAS have often been replaced by short-chained homologues, such as perfluorobutane sulfonate (PFBS). This is also the case for 3M Zwijndrecht, Belgium, a known PFAS hotspot. As a byproduct in the production of PFBS, perfluorobutane sulfonamide (FBSA) is produced. Both chemicals are not regulated, due to the lack of data on their toxicity. As a consequence, both chemicals can be produced and used unrestrictedly, and both of them are discharged in the environment. Based on their persistency (they do not or merely break down in the environment), because they first adsorb to solid matrices after being discharged, and because it is assumed that they are equally toxic as their long-chained homologues, it is necessary to investigate the toxicity of these chemicals to soil organisms. This allows us to set safe limits to protect soil ecosystems. The objective of this study is to set such safe limits for soil ecosystems based on species sensitivity distributions.

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Unravelling the architecture of Chinese mitten crab burrows using non-intrusive techniques. 01/03/2022 - 28/02/2023

Abstract

The objective of this study is to map and measure the architecture of the burrow network in a non-intrusive manner using Structure-from-Motion (SfM) photogrammetry and ground-penetrating radar (GPR).

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  • Research Project

Mangroves as a coastal defense strategy: using drones and smartphone LiDAR sensors to quantify mangrove-induced friction in flood models. 01/03/2022 - 28/02/2023

Abstract

Mangroves play an important role in coastal protection in tropical deltas by exerting friction on incoming water flow and as such attenuating incoming extreme sea levels (e.g. storm surges, tsunamis). In order for models to realistically predict this attenuation of flood propagation by mangroves, we need to drastically improve the quantification of mangrove-induced friction on the water flow. We will test the possibility to use drones and smartphone-carried LiDAR sensors to construct 3D models of mangrove trees in order to have a more accurate estimation of a mangrove tree's drag on incoming water flow, during a field campaign in Ecuador's largest coastal delta, the Guayas delta. This improved quantification of mangrove-induced friction will drastically increase hydrodynamic models their capacity to simulate extreme water level distribution in delta's.

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Zoogeochemistry: Alchemists of the wild. 01/01/2022 - 31/12/2026

Abstract

Large wildlife, as a sort of "wild alchemists", redistribute and mobilize nutrients across and beyond the boundaries of ecosystems, turning dung into gold & engineering landscapes in ways that keep surprising scientists. These fascinating influences of wildlife on biogeochemical cycles are studied by Zoogeochemistry, an exciting new branch of biogeochemistry research. It is anchored in the premise that animals do not necessarily eat, defecate and die in the same place. As such they can deplete, replenish and transport chemical elements that are essential for life, such as carbon and nutrients, and thereby modify resource landscapes and entire ecosystems. The influence of wildlife on shaping nutrient landscapes is only just starting to attract attention, with recent case-studies revealing intriguing new patterns and insights. We aim to create the momentum necessary to bring zoogeochemistry into mainstream ecological research, and achieve a knowledge build-up that creates energy for the emergence of a critical mass of researchers in zoogeochemistry. Our overarching vision for this network is to create a platform for collaboration that will promote coordinated, multi-site research projects that will allow for student exchange between systems and participants, cross-disciplinary knowledge exchange and joint funding application development to scale up the impact and reach of zoogeochemistry research.

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Local to global variability in organic carbon dynamics in coastal marsh sediments subject to submergence by sea level rise. 01/01/2022 - 31/12/2025

Abstract

Coastal marshes are among the most effective ecosystems that can mitigate climate warming by sequestration of carbon into their soils. But the climate warming in itself is impacting coastal marshes through sea level rise and there is much uncertainty about the impact on soil carbon accumulation and preservation. Our objective is to advance understanding of the global and local variability in the accumulation and preservation of different sources of soil organic carbon in response to coastal marsh submergence by sea level rise. We want to gain knowledge on how this response differs (1) on a global scale from highly organic-rich to highly mineral-rich marsh soils, and (2) on local scales in response to gradients from stable marsh zones, where sediment accretion and vegetation are in balance with sea level rise, to unstable marsh zones, where vegetation is increasingly stressed due to submergence by the rising sea level. This project will combine (1) the analyses of innovative global datasets, (2) a detailed field study in marshes with clear spatial gradients in submergence by sea level rise, and (3) applications of a new integrated model of carbon accumulation in marsh soils in response to sea level rise. The results will enable, for the first, to estimate the changes in carbon accumulation in coastal marshes in response to future scenarios of sea level rise, on local to global scales.

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A mass spectromic approach to identify novel components of a key complex involved in auditory hair cell function, analysis of their interactions and functional characterisation. 01/01/2022 - 31/12/2025

Abstract

This project will identify previously unknown proteins in auditory hair cells and characterize their function. The outcomes will provide useful knowledge for the development of therapeutic approaches for hearing impairment. The auditory hair cells are found in the organ of Corti (in the inner ear). These cells are specialized sensory cells that transduce auditory signals into an electrical signal that is sent to the brain. Some of the proteins involved in auditory hair cell functioning are already identified by classical genetic approaches - via identification of causative genes in patients with hearing impairment or via mouse models. However, the majority of proteins involved in critical complexes for hearing remains unidentified. This project will identify new components of the lower tip-link complex in the organ of Corti with affinity purification (AP) followed by mass spectrometry (MS). The latest evolutions in proteomic techniques resulting in a gain in MS sensitivity now make this possible for the first time. Our preliminary data confirms the feasibility of this AP-MS approach for the hair cell complexes. New components will be identified and for a selection of these the molecular interactions with other proteins of the complex will be analysed in-depth. Additionally, we will identify the location of these proteins in the hair cells and their effect of ablation on hearing.

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PurpleGuppy: Healthy ornamental fish through environment-friendly feed based on purple bacteria. 01/01/2022 - 31/12/2022

Abstract

Ornamental fish is the third and fifth most common group of pets in the United States and the European Union, respectively, with guppy being one of the most popular freshwater tropical fish. This market and associated environmental aspects continue to grow, spurring fish feed suppliers to use novel and ecological ingredients to boost health, fitness and color. Microalgal biomass, astaxanthin and several probiotics such as Pediococcus acidilactici are already available in commercial feed formulations for aquarists. A promising new sustainable ingredient is purple non-sulfur bacteria (PNSB) biomass. Previous research has shown its use as a probiotic and alternative protein source for shrimp and other aquaculture applications. Patents and scientific literature on the implementation of PNSB biomass in ornamental fish feed are limited, except for the research performed by the University of Antwerp. PurpleGuppy aims to further demonstrate and valorize added-value properties of PNSB biomass in ornamental fish feed. Feeding trials with guppies intend to corroborate the health and esthetic benefits of PNSB as a feed ingredient, resulting in feed formulation protocols with an appealing benefit-cost ratio.

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Towards an analytical strategies toolbox to detect and characterize small microplastics and nanoplastics particles in aquatic environments 01/11/2021 - 31/10/2023

Abstract

Plastic pollution is defined as ubiquitous in the aquatic environment which has induced a strong research effort the past decade notably on methods development to analyse items within the size range smaller than 5mm known as microplastics (MPs). However, small microplastic (< 10 µm) and nanoplastics (NPs; < 1 µm) which are also found in the environment are less investigated notably because of sampling and analytical limitations. It thus induced a knowledge gap in the plastic research as well to assess their concentration and distribution in the environment as to describe their effect in the estuarine and marine ecosystems. Nevertheless, this lack of relevant and standardized method(s) determination is associated to a difficulty to build environmental risk assessment. The main objectives of this project is to develop an innovative methodological strategies toolbox for small MPs and NPs analysis in complex environmental matrices including information on physical and chemical characteristics as well as their fate in the environment such as aggregation features, degradation kinetics and additives release kinetics that might be thus integrated in a biochemodynamical model to increase knowledge on plastic particles with size < 10 µm.

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Development of active-passive sampling (APS) strategies for dynamic speciation analysis and ecotoxicity evaluation of psychoactive substances and their metabolites in wastewater 01/11/2021 - 31/10/2023

Abstract

Wastewater analysis of drugs and their metabolites can provide information on drug use and abuse in general populations. Conventionally, 24 h composite samples are analyzed and the chemical reactivity of the compounds within the wastewater matrix is ignored. In practice, these compounds are likely to associate with the diverse particles present in the wastewater matrix. Negligence of such interactions will lead to erroneous estimations of analyte concentrations. To address this issue, this project employs innovative active-passive sampling (APS) strategies to quantify psychoactive substances in wastewater, taking into account their chemodynamic behaviour. The interpretation framework will be supported by determination of analyte-particle interactions with a range of particles. The APS device incorporates a controlled hydrodynamic flow of the sample matrix across selective sorbents which accumulate the target compounds. APS can be used in equilibrium mode to estimate the equilibrium analyte concentrations, e.g., the freely dissolved form; and in non-equilibrium mode to provide information on the kinetic features of their chemical forms in wastewater matrices. The performance of the APS will be compared with conventional 24 h composite sampling in both influent and effluent flows of wastewater treatment plants. A novel passive dosing strategy will also be explored for the ecotoxicological risk assessment of the drugs and their metabolites via a battery of toxicological tests.

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Vital crop growth through usage of microalgaebased biostimulants (VIGOROUS). 01/10/2021 - 30/09/2025

Abstract

The ongoing population and consumption growth is rapidly increasing the demand for agricultural food production. At the same time, increasing environmental awareness raises concerns about the choice of agricultural practices in terms of their impact on ecosystem functioning and biodiversity. As the need to satisfy these demands is further exacerbated by the interrelated impact of climate change, the agriculture sector is left with the challenge to meet the growing demand for food through climate-adapted methods that alleviate the environmental impact of agriculture and increase the resilience to climate change. Dealing with this challenge requires a multifaceted global approach, including an optimized use of nutrient input and an increased crop tolerance to environmental stress. To this end, innovative technologies based on bioresources include the use of microalgal biostimulants to improve crop yield while lowering the environmental footprint of agriculture. However, the limited amount of scientific evidence that 1) microalgal biostimulants effectively improve agronomic efficiency, including a lack of understanding on the underlying mode of action, and that 2) microalgal biostimulants do not present a risk to the natural environment hampers the further development and establishment of this technology. Moreover, market success of microalgal biostimulants hinges on an optimized cultivation process to ensure a high yield and a standardized content of microalgal products. The VIGOROUS research consortium will address these knowledge gaps to facilitate evidence-based application of microalgal biostimulants and to support a science-based biostimulants industry to sustainably intensify agricultural production with an enhanced resilience to climate change.

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remote sensing data for measuring suspended solid concentrations 01/06/2021 - 31/08/2023

Abstract

In principle, it is possible to determine SPM based on satellite images for a large part of the Scheldt estuary. Nevertheless, a number of challenges need to be tackled in the Zeeschelde and Boven-Zeeschelde in particular. There, the river is only 1 or a few pixels wide in places (Sentinel 2 spatial resolution: 10m-20m). Furthermore, the tidal action continuously ensures resuspension and settling. The SPM concentration at the surface therefore exhibits strong temporal variability, which complicates the interpretation of a snapshot based on satellite image. Drones offer a possible solution to both problems, but have their own difficulties (flight planning, weather conditions). In this study, methods are developed to determine SPM in the estuary from satellite and drone images, using continuous data for calibration.

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Research on the effects of re-meandering pilot project in the Demer valley 01/06/2021 - 31/08/2022

Abstract

In many valleys in Flanders, rivers have been straightened to improve drainage, rapid evacuation of rainwater and optimize land use for agriculture. Doing so, the ecology of these rivers declined and hence the delivery of important ecosystem services. With climate change, the demand for certain ecosystem services is steadily increasing. River valleys are already now often suffering periods of drought during summer, and climate change scenarios predict more problems in the future. In this project, we will investigate if and how reconnecting former meanders in the Demer valley (Flanders, Belgium) can mitigate climate change problems and restore ecosystem functioning, with focus on drought prevention, nutrient cycling and carbon sequestration. Research and monitoring of the first phase of this restoration project should give more insight in the efficiency of these measures, and result in advice to improve future projects.

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Enviromics - Integrated Technologies in EcoSystems 01/01/2021 - 31/12/2026

Abstract

Enviromics is a multidisciplinary consortium of UAntwerpen researchers across the board of environmental sciences and technologies. Through impactful fundamental advances and interdisciplinary approaches across biology, (bio)chemistry and (bio)engineering, the consortium offers bio based solutions to ecosystem challenges by a strong interaction between three pillars (i) Environmental applications and nature based solutions, (ii) Sensing and analysis of chemicals and environments and (iii) Microbial technology and biomaterials, supported by sustainable product development and technology assessment. Through a renewed and tighter focus the ENVIROMICS consortium now signs for a leaner and more dynamic shape. Through intensified collaborations with different stakeholders, both national and international, the leverage for creating enhanced business and societal impact is reinforced. The consortium is strongly managed by a team of two highly profiled researchers partnered by an IOF manager and a project manager with clearly defined tasks and in close contact with the consortium members and the central Valorisation Unit of the university. The consortium has a strong and growing IP position, mainly on environmental/electrochemical sensing and microbial probiotics, two key points of the research and applications program. One spinoff was created in 2017 and two more will be setup in the coming three years. The direct interaction with product developers ensures delivering high TRL products. Next to a growing portfolio of industrial contracts, we create tangible societal impact, when relevant including citizen science approaches. Through the stronger leverage created by the new structure and partnerships we will develop both intertwined branches significantly.

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From exposure to effects of pollutants: a dynamic mechanistic basis. 01/12/2020 - 30/11/2023

Abstract

Since we will be able to re-apply for a MSCA-ITN with the same scope as the unsuccessful application (QTOX: Quantitative extrapolation in ecotoxicology), the SEP funds will be used to obtain results that will strengthen the basis for our proposal. The particular strengths of the SPHERE group in this regard are measurement and modelling of chemical speciation dynamics in the exposure medium, development of novel active passive sampling devices, characterisation of biouptake rates and subcellular compartmentalisation of pollutants. Several ongoing PhD projects in SPHERE are dealing with aspects of these issues. Within the MSCA-ITN we have the ambition to go beyond current empirical ecotoxicological models to establish mechanistic knowledge of the underlying processes in the chain from exposure to effects of pollutants. Recent work in SPHERE has highlighted the physicochemically erroneous nature of widely used equilibrium-based chemical speciation codes, e.g. WHAM, NICA-Donnan, that are used as input to bioavailability and ecotoxicity models, e.g. BLM, Bio-met, PNEC-PRO. Despite the poor physicochemical basis of such models, they are being increasingly incorporated into environmental policy, e.g. water quality guidelines. The SEP will allow us to critically evaluate the results of ongoing SPHERE projects in the context of widely used bioavailability and ecotoxicity models, and thereby take steps towards development of a robust mechanistic foundation for describing the relationships between exposure and effects of pollutants. Beyond the research tasks, we will promote scientific activity in the subject area by chairing sessions on related topics at the SETAC Europe annual conference (ca. 2,000 participants), and will provide training for early stage researchers by running an intensive postgraduate course on Speciation and Bioavailability in 2021 and 2023 (pending possible SARS-CoV-2 restrictions). The course is part of SPHERE's contribution to the MSCA-ITN training programme. The SEP funds will be used to partly support a temporary academic staff member to be involved in supervision of ongoing PhD students in related topics, to perform modelling tasks, and to lead the preparation of the revised MSCA-ITN proposal; technical staff to support experimental tasks and to maintain and run instrumentation; as well as consumables and travel expenses that may arise in executing the research.

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Unravelling the effects of individual coping style and long-term glucocorticoid up-regulation on cardiac remodelling in Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar). 01/11/2020 - 31/10/2024

Abstract

Chronic stress in fish due to the intensification in aquaculture can lead to reduced performance (metabolism, growth, reproduction) and a compromised immune system, resulting in a decline in fish production yield and fish welfare. In this framework, quantification and subsequent mitigation of chronic stress was shown to be pivotal in a more sustainable aquaculture. Non-specific mortality of salmonids in the seawater-rearing phase is one of the major recurring problems in the aquaculture industry and especially the sudden stress-related mortality of fish ready for slaughter and subsequent economic losses. However, knowledge on the underlying factors causing this mortality are lacking, though it is attributed in large part to cardiac disease which could be linked to chronic stress. Indeed, it was demonstrated that cortisol responsiveness in salmonids is associated with pathological remodelling of the heart and that this stress hormone directly induces such remodelling. The main objective of this study is to unravel the effects of individual coping style and long-term cortisol up-regulation on cardiac remodelling in one of the most important aquaculture species, the Atlantic salmon, Salmo salar, look at the consequences for fish performance and test a potential mitigation strategy.

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Effects of El Niño and mangrove deforestation on extreme high water level dynamics in a tropical delta. 01/11/2020 - 31/10/2024

Abstract

River deltas are hotspots of human activity, but their vulnerability to flood risks is increasing due to climate warming and worldwide conversion of natural floodplains into human land use (LU). Although previous studies have demonstrated that natural wetlands can play a key role in reducing extreme high water levels on small to intermediate scales (~1 – 10 km²), limited knowledge exists on how wetland conversion to human LU affects amplification of high water levels at the scale of whole deltas (~10² - 10³ km²). This particularly holds true for tropical deltas, where mangrove conversion to aquaculture is widespread and where extreme high water levels are caused by specific climate fluctuations such as El Niño. This project aims to yield a fundamental understanding on how the spatial configuration of mangrove versus aquaculture areas impacts the distribution of high water levels in the Guayas delta (Ecuador), where El Niño is the main driver of extreme high water level events. A combination of field measurements, analysis of existing data and hydrodynamic modelling will be used to reach novel scientific insights on the effects of El Niño and mangrove deforestation on high water levels in a tropical delta. Such knowledge is relevant to support sustainable development of delta societies.

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Versatility by processing: proprotein convertases and their role in expanding neuropeptidergic diversity. 01/11/2020 - 31/10/2023

Abstract

Neuropeptides are signaling molecules used by all Metazoan nervous systems to control physiology and behavior. They are produced by extensive processing from larger protein precursors. In mammals, examples are known where this processing can lead to distinct sets of neuropeptides in different tissues, due to differential expression of the proprotein convertases; a family of proteases responsible for cleavage of the protein precursors. However, apart from these few examples, little is known on how extensive differential processing is, and how proprotein convertases might be responsible for expanding signaling diversity in the nervous system. Via this project proposal, I am to address ignorance regarding this level of control, and provide detailed information on the prevalence and functional impact of differential processing. To unveil fundamental principles of differential neuropeptide processing, I intend to use peptidomics on the model organism Caenorhabditis elegans, an organism for which I can also map the differentially processed neuropeptides and their proprotein convertases precisely to the individual cells or tissues where these are produced. This information will guide functional studies, where I aim to unveil the physiological impact of differential neuropeptide processing. Overall, this work aims to provide insight into how differential processing can functionally diversify the neuropeptide arsenal, as generated from a fixed set of precursors.

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Aquatic ecosystem functioning and global change. 01/10/2020 - 30/09/2025

Abstract

It is common knowledge that natural ecosystems are globally under threat. This is largely because of human activities. By misusing the land, polluting rivers and lakes with chemicals and agricultural fertilizers, releasing alien species from around the world, and altering climatic conditions, we are changing the world we live in. Scientific research to find ways to respond to these challenges can provide solutions to halt the deterioration, and restore the functioning of our valuable freshwater ecosystems. In my research I will endeavour to better understand how ecosystems work with the aim of discovering what we can do to relieve them from the pressures they are under. Rather than studying each pressure source independently, I intend to focus on the combination of different pressure elements working together, which is closer to the reality of the situation.

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River ecosystem impact of the invasive Chinese mitten crab (Eriocheir sinensis) 01/10/2020 - 30/09/2024

Abstract

The impact of invasive species on ecosystems can cause habitat alteration or even habitat loss. This could ultimately lead to fundamental effects on ecosystem functioning. This project is focused on the case of the Chinese mitten crab (CMC). This is a new species and the only freshwater crab species in Flanders. Being the largest representative of the macroinvertebrates, it probably takes a prominent role in the processing of organic matter. This could have a profound effect on nutrient cycling and water quality in general. Through bioturbation, burrowing behaviour and their destructive impact on macrophytes, the CMC potentially impacts also the stability of river ecosystems, which may lead to enhanced erodibility. By investigating these different effects, this project will give fundamental insight in the impact of freshwater crab species on aquatic habitats along the river continuum.

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Freshwater ecosystems with a burn-out: extra stress caused by heatwaves? 01/10/2020 - 30/09/2024

Abstract

In this project, our specific focus will be directed towards understanding the interaction between climate warming and two prominent stressors in freshwater habitats: eutrophication (as nitrate pollution) and low dissolved oxygen (hypoxia). Freshwater habitats often receive excessive inputs of nitrates from urban and agricultural sources, and nitrogen is considered the main limiting nutrient for primary production. Nitrate pollution is closely linked to a second stressor - hypoxia. Because of the nitrate pollution, rapid, uncontrolled growth of algal blooms is often triggered, and the unnatural density of algal blooms causes light reduction for macrophytes during the day and nightly hypoxia when photosynthesis is not occurring. In the past it has been postulated that many small fish deplete the zooplanktonic grazers such as daphnids under warm and eutrophic conditions, inducing the turbid waters with algal blooms. However, climate change does not only induce steady increases in temperature but is also causing more frequent and severe heatwaves. In this project we postulate that these heatwaves will seriously negatively affect performance and survival of the fish, which in turn will affect shifts in the aquatic food web towards more zooplankton and hence potential less severe algal blooms.

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Influence of soil properties on the sorption of per- and polyfluoroalkylated substances to soil and the bioavailability and bioaccumulation to terrestrial biota. 01/10/2020 - 30/09/2023

Abstract

Per- and polyfluoralkylated substances or PFAS, which have been used in large quantities since the 1940s because of their applications such as food packaging, are receiving increasing attention since the early 2000s. The production and use of PFAS have led to the global detection in the environment. Despite regulatory measures for perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoate (PFOA), the most frequently detected PFAS, there are concerns on many other PFAS that are similar in structure and properties and that are not regulated. Soils form the basis of the terrestrial food chain and PFAS uptake from contaminated soils is known to cause human exposure to PFAS. However, there are many uncertainties on the behaviour of PFAS in soils and the following bioavailability to and bioaccumulation in biota. The general objective of my project is to investigate the role of soil properties and temperature on the uptake and distribution of PFAS in the terrestrial food chain. Descriptive studies, close to a fluorochemical plant, will provide us with an overview of the concentrations of legacy, novel and unknown PFAS in the terrestrial food chain and how these concentrations are influenced by soil properties. In addition, experimental studies will be performed to disentangle causal links from confounding effects, but also to study the uptake and effects in terrestrial invertebrates and plants. This study will help policy makers to set new, or alter existing, PFAS criteria for soil.

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How mutual interactions between tidal marsh plants, waves and sediments, determine nature-based shoreline protection capacity. 01/10/2020 - 30/09/2022

Abstract

Tidal marshes are vegetated areas situated along coasts and tidal rivers, which are regularly inundated by tides. Recent studies have highlighted the important role of tidal marshes in protecting the hinterland from the impact of waves, called 'nature-based shoreline protection'. Plants form a barrier for waves, because they are able to weaken the energy of the waves and they reduce erosion of the soil. During winter, this vegetation typically dies off. However, questions remain on how effective marsh vegetation is for shoreline protection, such as: (1) 'Is the effectiveness of wave and soil erosion reduction different in winter or summer?';(2) 'Are some plant species better than others in reducing waves and erosion?'; (3) 'Are some plant species better in coping with the stress they encounter from wave activity, and does that result in the spatial plant species distribution we see in the field, with some species growing close to the water channel, while others more landward?'. In this project I will address these questions in an integrated way: I will investigate the two-way interactions between waves and plants, how that results in the spatial plant species distribution, and how that spatial plant zonation affects the effectiveness of wave and erosion reduction, and hence the shoreline protection capacity of tidal marshes.

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Sustainable marine ecosystem services (SUMES). 01/09/2020 - 31/08/2023

Abstract

The SUMES project aims to develop a comprehensive model to assess the impact of human-induced changes on the marine ecosystem and beyond. The model investigates the structure (e.g. biodiversity) and function (e.g. food chains, biogeochemistry) of the marine ecosystem, its capacity to provide goods and services (e.g. sequestration of carbon) and the effect of activities on the aforementioned aspects. The model integrates Ecosystem Services, Risk Assessment and Life Cycle Assessment methods and indicators, which will be aggregated at the level of U+2018endpointsU+2019 or U+2018Areas of ProtectionU+2019, and serves therefore as a decision support model. The objective is to gain improved knowledge of cause-effect chains, with human activities being the stressor or cause, and the effects are the impact on local (to a specific marine ecosystem), regional (e.g. the North Sea) and global (to humans and nature) scale. A thorough understanding and quantification of the mechanisms is currently lacking in scientific literature, especially for the marine environment. Validation of the model is based on case studies related to the Belgian Continental Shelf (BCS).

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Toward a risk-based assessment of microplastic pollution in marine ecosystems (RESPONSE). 01/04/2020 - 31/03/2023

Abstract

RESPONSE integrates expertise on oceanography, environmental chemistry, ecotoxicology, experimental ecology and modelling to answer key research questions on fate and biological effects of microplastics (MPs) and nanoplastics (NPs) in marine ecosystems. Hydrological transport dynamics will identify possible accumulation zones in European coastal ecosystems, while characterization of vertical distribution of MPs and NPs in the water column and sediments will optimise practical monitoring and sampling efforts. Links between oceanographic conditions, environmental distribution of MPs and NPs, trophic transfer and impact on pelagic food webs and benthic communities will be addressed by analysing their abundance and typologies in representative marine species, as well as relevant ecosystem functions and services. Innovative mesocosm and laboratory studies will validate weighting factors and toxicological thresholds for MPs and NPs. The approach will assess the role of size, shape and other polymer characteristics in modulating biological effects of particles, both alone and in combination with other environmental stressors. A technological Smart Hub, combining complementary instrumental facilities and expertise of some partners and external companies, will support analytical needs of the consortium and further methodological developments. The overall aim of RESPONSE is to develop a quantitative Weight Of Evidence (WOE) model for MPs and NPs in the marine environment. The model will be designed to integrate and differentially weight data from a suite of lines of evidence, including (1) the presence of MPs and NPs in water column and sediments, (2) their bioavailability and bioaccumulation in key indicator species from benthic and planktonic communities (3) sublethal effects measured via biomarkers, (3) the onset of chronic adverse effects at the organism level, and (4) ecological functioning. The results will provide support for development of MSFD monitoring strategies.

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  • Research Project

Towards ecological risk assessment of nanoplastics: dynamic considerations. 01/01/2020 - 31/12/2023

Abstract

Plastic particles are everywhere in the environment and there is concern about the adverse effects they may have on organisms, and subsequently on ecosystems. Much global attention has been directed towards so-called microplastics, i.e. plastic particles with dimensions in the millimeter to micrometer range. Microplastics slowly degrade in the environment, by physical and chemical processes, into smaller and smaller entities, eventually reaching the nano-size domain. Due to difficulties in sampling and characterisation, almost nothing is known about the amounts and behaviour of extremely small plastic particles with dimensions on the order of nanometers, i.e. nanoplastics. Our project addresses this knowledge gap. We will measure and model the chemical reactivity, biouptake, and bioaccumulation of nanoplastics and their adverse effects on aquatic organisms. The results will provide fundamental information which enable robust risk assessment strategies to be developed that inform environmental policies.

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Dumpsites of munitions: integrated science approach to risk and management (DISARM). 01/01/2020 - 31/12/2023

Abstract

The Paardenmarkt is one of the many munition dumpsites in our oceans. A few m below the seafloor, ca. 35.000 tons of WW1 chemical munition are buried. The present scientific knowledge is insufficient to make any reliable judgement on the state of the site. The DISARM project aims to address the knowledge gaps, but will go an important step further to develop an integrated scientific approach to support risk assessment and management of marine chemical munition dumpsites worldwide, using the Paardenmarkt munition dumpsite as a challenging case study. A thorough characterisation of the present state of the dumpsite is the project start. Novel technologies will be used to determine the burial depth, take sediment samples close to the munition, and assess the freshwater flux at the site. Chemical warfare agents (CWA), explosives and their degradation products will be analysed with new methodologies, advancing detection limits. The physical state of the shells will be evaluated through an innovative ombination of experimental analyses and integrated modelling of different corrosion processes. Novel in-situ passive sampling devices will analyse a time-integrated spatial distribution of the waterexchangeable fraction of munition-related chemical compounds. This will be related to bioaccumulation and ecotoxicity of these compounds in laboratory bio-assays including passive dosing. Dynamic modelling of chemical fate and effects on humans and the environment (including mixture toxicity) will result in a chemical risk assessment. Dedicated experiments and models will evaluate the explosion risk of the aged compounds. Collaborating microbial communities will be constructed to break down key hazardous chemicals through smart inoculation. New technologies for monitoring and management will be evaluated together with key players in the field. Finally we will develop a scientific workflow for dumpsite research and provide a policy informing document.

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  • Research Project

Coastal marsh resilience to sea level rise: a field, flume and modelling study on the role of bio-geomo hic self-organization. 01/01/2020 - 31/12/2023

Abstract

Tidal marshes are valuable coastal ecosystems that are threatened by global climate warming and resulting sea level rise. Whether they drown or continue to exist while sea level rises, depends on the trapping of sediments (sand and mud) that builds up the land surface. The sediment trapping is locally determined by so-called bio-geomo hic interactions between plants, water flow, and landform changes. However, the larger landscape also self-organizes by developing a channel network between vegetation patches, and by transporting the sediment through the channels towards the marsh. We will investigate how the small-scale (m²) bio-geomo hic interactions determine the large-scale (km²) self-organization of tidal marsh landscapes and how this affects their adaptability to sea level rise. The aim of this project is to investigate, for the first time, the impact of specific traits of plant species on the self-organization and capacity of marshes to rise with sea level. We test the hypotheses that (1) different plant species lead to the formation of different self-organized tidal channel networks; and (2) the resulting channel networks determine the efficiency to distribute and trap sediments in response to sea level rise. This will be investigated based on a unique combination of field surveys, scaled lab experiments, and computer simulations.

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  • Research Project

The importance of microphytobenthos in sustainable ecosystem management: benthic primary production and sediment stability in estuaries. 01/11/2019 - 31/10/2023

Abstract

Microphytobenthos (MPB), the algae that inhabit the intertidal mudflats, are important for the functioning of estuarine ecosystems. Their high primary production is critical, producing oxygen and sustaining the highly biodiverse estuarine food web. MPB community also excrete sticky substances that decrease sediment resuspension in the water column and increase the light climate needed for primary production. Unfortunately, these mudflats are under thread of increased hydrodynamic stress due to, amongst others, increased tidal amplitude by sea level rise and management such as channel deepening. In the Scheldt estuary there has been a strong increase in turbidity of the water column, negatively affecting the primary production. Legislations enforce the maintenance of a healthy ecosystem and therefore we need good understanding of the role of biological components, such as MPB, in estuarine ecosystem functioning. The MPB community in estuaries varies over the salinity gradient, and of some algal groups their effect on ecosystem functioning remains hardly studied. Furthermore, the importance of small-scale variation in benthic primary production (BPP) on ecosystem scale needs to be identified. Therefore, this project will tackle the central knowledge gaps: 1) quantify the benthic primary production, 2) relate this sediment stabilization potential and 3) implement these functions in a calculation tool for ecosystem functioning.

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Quantifying and modelling soil carbon accumulation in mangrove forests in response to sea level rise. 01/11/2019 - 31/10/2023

Abstract

Mangrove forests are coastal wetlands with highly valued functions, including climate regulation by capturing atmospheric CO2 and storing it into soil organic carbon (SOC). Mangroves and their SOC accumulation function are at risk to be lost by sea level rise (SLR) by the end of the 21st century. Mangroves are known to have a certain capacity to adapt to SLR by raising their elevation via sediment and SOC accumulation. But present insights and models, allowing to estimate changes in SOC accumulation rates in response to future SLR scenarios, are poorly developed. Here we will conduct for the first time an integrated field and modelling study on feedbacks between rates of SLR, sediment and SOC accumulation in mangroves. This will be studied in the Guayas river delta in Ecuador. We will test the hypotheses that: (1) the adaptability of mangroves to SLR is governed by the strength of feedbacks between increasing tidal flooding, sediment and SOC accumulation rates; (2) the strength of these feedbacks depends on the location along the land-to-sea gradient within a delta, with mangroves in river-dominated parts of a delta having more capacity to accrete sediments and SOC in balance with SLR; while marine-dominated parts of a delta will be more vulnerable to mangrove drowning by SLR. This project will generate novel scientific insights that will feed the development of an innovative model to simulate how SOC accumulation in mangroves will respond to future SLR.

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Development of a biomonitoring tool to estimate risks of perfluoroalkyl acids (PFAAs) through consumption of self-cultivated food products. 01/11/2019 - 31/10/2023

Abstract

Perfluoroalkyl acids (PFAAs) are a diverse family of anthropogenic chemicals with unique physicochemical properties that have resulted in numerous industrial and commercial applications. Their broad application and bioaccumulation potential has led to their worldwide presence in the environment and detection in biota including humans. Over the last decade, consuming food products by humans from self-cultivation has become a remarkable trend in rural, urban and even industrial areas. Nevertheless, PFAAs can enter the food chain due to their widespread use and food intake has been identified as a major pathway for human exposure to PFAAs. Despite the ubiquitous presence and known bio accumulation potential of PFAAs, there is no overview of their spatial distribution pattern or degree of exposure via dietary intake. Nevertheless, it is crucial to solve these two major knowledge gaps to reveal the health risks associated with PFAA exposure. Therefore, the objectives of this proposal are (I) investigate the accumulation of PFAAs in important food items (chicken eggs and vegetables) from private gardens and the influence of soil characteristics, (II) develop a biomonitoring tool that estimates the risks associated with PFAA contamination in food, (III) deliver novel insights in the toxic properties and effects of PFAAs in chickens and (IV) investigate if PFAA concentrations in the food items exceed safety threshold values for human consumption.

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Tidal marshes: bio-geomorphic self-organization and its implications for resilience to sea level rise and changing sediment supply (TIGER). 01/09/2019 - 31/08/2022

Abstract

Intertidal landscapes are complex environments located between the land and sea, and that are regularly flooded by tides. They provide highly valuable ecosystem services that are threatened by sea level rise and changing sediment supply. Previous studies showed that the small-scale (order of m2) interactions between vegetation dynamics, water flow and sediment transport (so-called bio-geomorphic feedbacks) have a great impact on channel network formation and evolution at the landscape-scale (order of km2). We call this process bio-geomorphic self-organization. The aim of this project is to investigate, for the first time, the impact of plant species traits on biogeomorphic self-organization of intertidal landscapes. More specifically, we hypothesize that (1) different plant species traits lead to the self-organization of different channel network patterns, and (2) the resulting self-organized landscape structures determine the efficiency to distribute and trap sediments on the intertidal floodplain, and hence the resilience (adaptability) of the landscape to sea level rise and decreasing sediment supply. By using a combination of computer model simulations and field observations, we aim at producing new fundamental knowledge on landscape selforganization by bio-geomorphic feedbacks, and its implications for the resilience of intertidal landscapes against environmental changes.

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Application potential of autochthonous fish populations for biological control of dipteran nuisance species in flooding areas. 01/01/2019 - 31/12/2023

Abstract

In this project, the conditions for native fish to be used as biological control in restored tidal marshes is investigated. Using native fish may not only be extremely cost-effective, improving the conditions will also improve restored flooding areas as habitats for fish at the same time. Information will be collected on the current distribution and habitat preferences of nuisance species and native fish communities in three flooding areas along the Scheldt estuary. The first is a flooding area which had very recent serious outbreaks of midges. This area is connected to a second and neighboring a third flooding area, which both have a different design as the first and which have no issues with outbreaks. The collected field information will be combined with experiments that look at which factors can help fish to eat more nuisance species and to create habitat suitability models. These are models that can be used to predict the risk of nuisance species outbreaks. They will also show the conditions that are important for fish in flooding areas. These models can be used to evaluate and potentially improve any of the flooding areas in Flanders and abroad. They will be made public to policymakers and project managers and companies involved in the construction and restoration of flooding areas to be used as a tool for controlling nuisance species and improving flooding areas for fish.

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Negative emissions through enhanced mineral weathering in the coastal zone. 01/01/2019 - 31/12/2022

Abstract

Negative emission technologies target the removal of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, and are being actively investigated as a strategy to limit global warming to within a 2°C increase. Enhanced silicate weathering (ESW) is an approach that uses the natural process of silicate weathering for the removal of CO2 from the atmosphere. The geochemical basis is firmly established: during dissolution of silicate minerals in seawater, CO2 is consumed and sequestered into the ocean. Hence, by deliberately introducing fast-weathering silicate minerals into the coastal zone, one could create a coastal CO2 sink. A principal advantage of ESW over other negative emission technologies is that it also counteracts ocean acidification and that it can be directly integrated into existing coastal management programs with existing technology. Although model studies show its feasibility, there has been no rigorous assessment of its CO2-sequestration efficiency and environmental impacts, which are bottlenecks to its commercial implementation. In this project, we will conduct a set of large-scale experiments to investigate the rate of ESW and associated CO2 uptake under realistic natural settings (bioturbation, waves, currents) as well as potentially important influences on the biogeochemical cycling in coastal ecosystems (release of trace metals, alkalinity and dissolved silicate). The key scientific objective of this SBO project is to perform basic research into the economic viability and environmental safety of coastal ESW, to examine if and how it can be developed into a sustainable and cost-effective approach for creating negative emissions. To this end, three important research challenges will be tackled: [1] to determine the CO2 sequestration efficiency of coastal ESW in realistic coastal conditions [2] to determine the dissolution time scale of coastal ESW in realistic coastal conditions [3] to assess the impact of trace metal release (in particular Nickel and Chromium) by coastal ESW on marine biota To achieve these objectives, we will realize: • A large-scale pilot set-up that simulates olivine weathering under in situ conditions (first largescale demo set-up of coastal ESW worldwide), and • A numerical biogeochemical model ("virtual seafloor") that simulates the dissolution of olivine in the seafloor

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Are internal concentrations of micro pollutants in aquatic organisms predictive of the ecological quality of water courses? 01/01/2019 - 31/12/2022

Abstract

For the monitoring of pollutants in the aquatic environment and the prediction of their ecological effects on aquatic organisms, most of the time only water, sediment or suspended matter is measured. However, with this approach the results only reflect the situation at the moment of sampling while concentrations might fluctuate with time. Moreover, this approach does not take into account the bio-availability, which is influenced by factors such as acidity, water hardness and temperature and that may differ substantially among sites. Therefore it makes more sense to measure toxic compounds in organisms that are resistant to pollution and that easily accumulate them. In this way fluctuations in time and differences in accumulation are integrated in the measurement. The aim of this study is to look for species (invertebrates and fish) that can be collected from natural waters (rivers, lakes, canals) or introduced in cages and in which accumulation of micro pollutants is assessed. The accumulated levels of pollutants and internal distribution will be related to the invertebrate and fish community structure. In order to confirm field results, also laboratory and mesocosm (artificial ponds) experiments will be performed in which invertebrates are exposed to the pollutants and effects on physiology, reproduction and behavior will be assessed. In this way we will investigate if this approach is suitable to derive biota quality standards that are protective of ecological damage. -

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Citizen science for monitoring macroplastics in Kenya using mobile technology (C-Smart). 01/01/2019 - 31/08/2022

Abstract

Plastic pollution is arguably one of the most important and pervasive environmental problems today. Kenya wildlife, biodiversity and fish stocks are impacted by this plastic pollution with ecological and human conse-quences. From September 2017 Kenya implemented the world's toughest plastic bag ban whereas producing, selling and using plastic bags is prohibited. This is a strong commitment and a big step in the right direction. However, we believe that there are opportunities to increase the impact of the ban in order to further reduce plastic pollution in Kenya, and also in surrounding countries. By monitoring macroplastic pollution in Kenya with Citizen Science using a new developed phone application we believe we can (1) increase awareness, (2) advice policy makers and (3) inform and persuade surrounding countries to implement source mitigation efforts. This project will exert an influence on both, political decisions and individual behaviour related to the reduction of plastic pollution.

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Restoring raw water resources through landscape restoration. 13/11/2018 - 12/11/2022

Abstract

Collaboration between PIDPA and UAntwerpen for supporting research that focuses on restoring raw water resources through landscape restoration. Such research is part of the central mission of PIDPA to protect future potential drinking water sites. The aim of the support is to enable research activities that are synergetic with the Interreg project PROWATER, which stands for 'protecting and restoring raw water sources through actions at the landscape scale', and contributes to climate adaptation by restoring the water storage of the landscape via 'ecosystem-based adaptation measures'. UAntwerpen fulfills a crucial role by taking on the substantive coordination and scientific underpinning of this project.

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Protecting and restoring raw water sources through actions at the landscape scale (PROWATER). 01/09/2018 - 28/02/2023

Abstract

The cross-border project PROWATER stands for 'protecting and restoring raw water sources through actions at the landscape scale', and contributes to climate adaptation by restoring the water storage of the landscape via 'ecosystem-based adaptation measures'. Examples of this are forest conversion, natural water retention or restoration of soil compaction. These interventions increase resilience against droughts and floods and benefit water quality and biodiversity. During the next years project partners in Flanders, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom will carry out various exemplary projects on site and will showcase them to the public. The benefits of the measures will be identified so that a 'Payment for Ecosystem Services' model can be developed. Based on this model, organizations that take measures to combat water scarcity can receive compensation. In return, they provide services to society by improving the quality of the living environment. Finally, the project wants to close the information gap with policy and the water user, by developing a vision to tackle water scarcity and drought risks in the long term.

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Determination of physical system characteristics of the Scheldt estuary necessary for good ecological functioning. 01/12/2016 - 30/11/2022

Abstract

research in recent years has shown the complex interwovenness of hydrodynamics, morphodynamics and ecological functioning of the Scheldt estuary. This complexity together with the large-scale changes (both land and water management in the river basin and climate change) confront the manager with ever-increasing problems and challenges. That is why it is crucial to have the best possible insight into the functioning of the system so that these control measures can be taken to achieve the intended goal by maximizing the functioning of the system or in other words by using the natural as much as possible. making processes contribute to achieving the goals. This research focuses on both physical system characteristics and the estimation of the benthic primary production.

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Past projects

FWO sabbatical 2021-2022 (Prof. G. De Boeck). 01/08/2021 - 31/07/2022

Abstract

This sabbatical will be an excellent opportunity to explore old and new ideas, bounce these ideas off international peers, look for new collaborations and develop a research strategy for the next decade. Therefore, the focus of my sabbatical leave will revolve around three main action points: 1. Resolve the mystery around the mechanistic basis leading to the unusually high toxicity and bioaccumulation of silver in elasmobranchs and conduct a survey over different species. 2. Explore and familiarise myself with minimally-invasive and in vitro techniques that will not only become a powerful tool in my future research but also fit within the general effort to improve animal welfare following the 3R principle (replacement, reduction, refinement). These techniques are not limited to their use in elasmobranch research, but can be extended to teleosts and other aquatic organisms. 3. On the go, collect elasmobranch tissue samples and data, and explore new collaborations for a future research line which will be developed in the next years on chronic stress indicators in elasmobranchs and teleosts. With continuously ongoing climate change and habitat degradation, understanding the effects and consequences of chronic stress and evaluating stress responsiveness and environmental tolerances relative to environmental change is rapidly gaining importance. It is at the core of conservation physiology which aims to integrate physiological knowledge into ecosystem management and into tools to solve complex conservation problems. In addition, it is essential for assessing animal welfare in fast growing activities such as aquaculture.

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BOF Sabbatical 2021-2022 - Gudrun De Boeck. 01/08/2021 - 31/07/2022

Abstract

My sabbatical will focus on elasmobranch research. Firstly, I want to resolve the mystery around the mechanistic basis leading to the unusually high toxicity and bioaccumulation of silver (Ag) that has been observed in elasmobranchs (sharks and rays) and conduct a survey on baseline Ag bioaccumulation over different life stages and species. Doing so will also shed more light on the existence and involvement of putative urea back-transporters, and their characteristics and location in epithelial gill cells of elasmobranchs. Secondly, I want to explore and familiarise myself with minimally-invasive and in vitro techniques that will not only become a powerful tool in my present and future research but also fit within the general effort to improve animal welfare according to the 3R principle (replacement, reduction, refinement). These techniques are not limited to their use in elasmobranch research, but can be extended to teleosts and other aquatic organisms. And lastly, conduct some preliminary experiments and explore new collaborations for a future research line which will be developed in the next years on chronic stress indicators in elasmobranchs.

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Ecotoxicity of industrial effluents in chemical industry 01/06/2020 - 31/05/2022

Abstract

The primary objective of the project is to develop a method for ecotoxicological evaluation of effluents in (industrial) water purification plants. A method that makes it possible to trace the origin of the ecotoxicological risk up to the level that remediation is possible. The underlying objective is to deliver a method manual that can be used on the floor by companies and other stakeholders. At the end of the project, the focus will be on about 30 committed companies, 20 of which are in implementation. This will expand rapidly upon acceptance of the method by VMM

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Sampling and analysis of micropolluatnts in Biota from aquatic systems in Flanders 13/08/2019 - 12/08/2022

Abstract

Aquatic ecosystems and waterbodies are under persistent stress of chemical pollutants, mainly of anthropogenic origin. High concentrations can harm entire ecosystems and be potentially toxic to humans. The European Water Framework Directive (WFD) obliges member states to monitor chemical compounds in surface waters and to set quality standards that protect against detrimental effects of toxic compounds. Generally, most of the target chemical compounds are able to be measured in water or sediment samples. However, the low water solubility of highly hydrophobic compounds precludes direct measurement in water. Accordingly, the WFD has formulated biota quality standards (BQS), for 11 priority compounds and their derivatives, which refer to concentrations of compounds that have to be monitored in fish and bivalves (biota). In the present study, bioaccumulation of hexachlorobenzene (HCBz), hexachlorobutadiene (HCBd), mercury (Hg), polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE), hexabromo-cyclododecane (HBCD), perfluoro-octaansulphonate (PFOS) and its derivatives, dicofol, heptachlor and heptachlor epoxide, and dioxins and dioxin-like compounds were measured in muscle tissue of perch (Perca fluviatilis) and European eel (Anguilla anguilla) originating from different Flemish water bodies. Fluoranthene and benzo(a)pyrene were measured in zebra mussel (Dreissena polymorpha) and quagga mussel (Dreissena bugensis), using active biomonitoring. In every sampling point at least one of both selected fish species could be collected. For fluoranthene an exceedance of the standard was observed in some sampling locations in zebra mussel, for benzo(a)pyrene there were some exceedances for both zebra and quagga mussel. Dioxin concentrations exceeded the standard in 4 sampling locations in eel muscle tissue. For PFOS, an exceedance of the standard was detected at almost every location for both fish species. The biota quality standard for Hg and PBDE was exceeded in every sampling location and for both fish species. One sample had PBDE concentrations below the quantification limit, which is more than 10 times higher than the BQS. Concentrations of HCBd and dicofol were below the quantification limit. Furthermore no exceedances of the standard were found for HCBz and HBCD. For heptachlor all measurements where below the quantification limits (40 times higher than the standard), cis-heptachlor epoxide exceeded the quantification limit in all except one location in eel muscle tissue and in 3 locations in perch muscle tissue. An overall trend of higher concentrations per wet weight in eel than in perch was detected. Nonetheless, after correction for lipid content, this trend was no longer present or even reversed with higher concentrations in perch muscle tissue, indicating the lipophilic properties of these compounds. This was true for all compounds – except for PFOS: in fact, this compound showed the exact opposite trend. Concentrations of PAHs were always higher in zebra mussel than in quagga mussel. This is possibly caused by the higher trophic position of the first. For both fish species, however, we could not find clear differences in trophic level. Finally, calculated concentrations using the passive samplers, compared to existing literature, show promising applicability and incites further development of this tool. Based on the results of the present study and – where possible – a comparison to data present in literature, it is evident that the existing biota quality standards for Hg, PBDE and PFOS are exceeded in all fish species from Flemish and European water bodies.

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Quantification and characterization of the plastic flux in the Scheldt, with a view to an efficient remediation of this waste problem. 01/02/2018 - 31/01/2022

Abstract

his research initially aims to quantify the plastic flux on the scale of a complete basin, from the smaller tributaries, effluents from water purification stations, docks and canals to the estuary and the sea. Where are the largest sources of plastic waste? What is the residence time of this waste? Are there sinks, zones with long retention of plastic waste in the river system? Quantification of the plastic flux through the entire continuum from the basin to the mouth is essential for the elaboration of an efficient remediation strategy. This study is limited to the macroplastics. After all, relatively realistic removal strategies can still be designed for this fraction, the ultimate goal of this project. In addition, a large part of the microplastics is caused by disintegration of macroplastics. By macroplastics we mean pieces of plastic such as bottles, plastic bags, ropes, .... Plastic pellets will also receive extra attention, since these are sometimes prominently present in the water and on the bank in the Scheldt and the port area. The second objective of this research project is to look for an efficient remediation. Where can you intervene, and how? This project does not aim to develop technical constructions itself, but the effect of existing technologies can be estimated. For example: What effect does a limitation of overflow on the total plastic flux to the North Sea have? Which fraction can be caught with a floating position in the port? The Scheldt basin is selected as a case. To answer the research questions, a monitoring network is developed. Plastic waste is collected at dams, locks, water purification plants, etc. In this way, plastic fluxes from sub-basins, docks, ... can be calculated and an estimate is made of the total flux towards the estuary. In the estuary, the stock is determined by plastic (by means of a deviation) and point measurements (eg cooling water intake points) are used to estimate the flux.

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  • Research Project