Our Main Research Focus

Within our research group, five important research themes can be distinguished:

1. Integrated water management

There is no doubt that integrated water management will only increase in importance in the near future. Coasts, estuaries, and rivers are hotspots of biodiversity and human activity, that are impacted by global and regional environmental change, such as sea level rise, changing storm and rainfall patterns, floods and drought risks, and human landscape engineering. ECOSPHERE’s research includes studies on nature-based mitigation of climate impacts, such as flood risk reduction by wetlands; climate change mitigation by carbon storage in wetlands; and resilience of coastal ecosystems to sea-level rise, storms, and human impacts. Special attention is given to ecosystem services and nature-based solutions that can help in protecting from risks imposed by natural hazards and global change.

2. Water and soil quality risk assessment

This study area allows for scientifically based, societal relevant advice regarding water quality risk assessment. The assumption that adverse effects of chemicals can be meaningfully extrapolated from laboratory test conditions (in-vitro and in-vivo) to the ecosystem level is inherently embedded in the development of European policies concerned with the safe use of chemicals (REACH), The Green Deal and its Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability Towards a Toxic-free Environment, and protection of ecosystem functioning and ecosystem services, e.g. the Water Framework Directive. We contribute to the development of quantitative extrapolation tools based on mechanistic knowledge in the chain from exposure to effects, across all levels of biological organisation, with a close connection to regulatory endpoints. The aim is to develop predictive models for describing the adverse effects of chemicals under realistic long-term exposure scenarios based on systematic knowledge acquired under laboratory and semi-field conditions.

3. Macro- and micronutrients for healthy ecosystems

ECOSPHERE studies the role of biogeochemistry in biology and of biology in the biogeochemistry of aquatic ecosystems focusing on the interaction of plants and animals -from diatoms to hippos- with the transformation and transportation of elements, but also the effects that excess nutrients (e.g. eutrophication) can exert on organisms’ performance and distribution. Within this research line, specific attention is given to climate change (temperature, CO2,…).

4. Bioavailability and accumulation of micro-and macro-contaminants

We study the relative importance of different exposure routes and the effects of environmental conditions on the bioavailability, accumulation, and toxicity of trace metals and other priority and newly emerging organic micro-contaminants. The field also includes nano-, micro-, and macro-particles such as plastics. Studies are aquatic and terrestrial, field and laboratory-based, in vivo, in vitro, and in silico. It includes the development of dynamic integrated models of accumulation and toxicity of micro-contaminants under different environmentally relevant exposure scenarios with mixtures of contaminants.

5. Physiological and molecular mechanisms of stress and toxicity: acclimatisation and homeostasis

 The effects of micro-contaminant exposure and other environmental perturbations are studied on the level of molecular, cellular, and organismal functionality using in vivo and in vitro model systems. These analyses provide information on the mode of action of toxicants, adverse outcome pathways, and how organisms deal with the resulting effects and regulate homeostatic functions. Identification of sensitive functions within organisms and how differences in acclimatisation or adaptation explain differences in sensitivity and tolerance among individuals, populations, and species.