PhD project Plankton Climate

€3,900 - €4,200 monthly
  • Vlaams Instituut voor de Zee
  • Oostende, Belgium
  • 28/05/2024
Field work Climate change Marine research Marine bio/technology

Job Description

Understanding plankton community responses to changing environmental conditions and extreme climatic events using high-throughput observation approaches.




The Belgian part of the North Sea (BPNS) is one of the most intensively used seas in the world and is heavily impacted by anthropogenic activities: shipping, tourism, fisheries, wind farms and pollution. The interaction between nutrient rich, highly turbid waters originating from the Scheldt estuary and clear, nutrient poor water flowing in from the Atlantic contribute to a shallow, dynamic, and heavily impacted coastal system prone to the effects of climate change. Climate projections predict increases in water temperatures and more extreme conditions in pelagic environments. Within the shallow system of the BPNS, extreme climatic events such as heatwaves have the potential to greatly alter planktonic community dynamics. With plankton as the base of the food web in marine systems, it is essential to understand how changing environmental conditions and extreme climatic events may affect the communities present. The Marine Observation Centre (MOC) from the Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ) has been collecting timeseries of plankton and environmental DNA (eDNA) for several years as part of its contribution to the Belgian LifeWatch infrastructure. As such, the institute has a well-established infrastructure of permanent sampling stations and sensors, as well as long-term imaging data series of phyto- and zooplankton that provides a unique opportunity to study past and present dynamics, as well as the prediction of future changes in the system.


Project goal


The aim of this research is to study the effects of changing environmental conditions and extreme climatic events (such as marine heatwaves, oxygen depletion, ocean acidification, etc.) on the phyto- and zooplankton communities in the BPNS. Relying on available time series, novel in-situ imaging technologies and genetic approaches; high-throughput observations are produced to study passed and future events. The current research aims to tackle the following questions:

1) To understand changes in community composition, plankton dynamics, and individual responses such as changes in size and biovolume, as a result of changing environmental conditions and extreme climatic events.

2) To study heat stress induced changes in gene expression during marine heatwaves using a combined approach of fieldwork sampling and laboratory mesocosm experiments, as a collaborative work with other genetics PhD students.

3) Develop an in-depth analysis of marine heatwave events and potential water column stratification, and their effects on the plankton community, leveraging on continuous imaging technologies and adaptive sampling to observe heatwave events in high resolution as they develop, and particular changes in the plankton communities such as the proliferation of harmful algal blooms or gelatinous plankton during such events.


This project will optimize, integrate and apply advanced observation technology, and will pursue its valorisation in societal and policy context. This project will be performed in collaboration with one or more university research groups.


This project will be developed at the Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ) in Ostend (Belgium), under the supervision of Dr Carlota Muñiz, senior researcher at the VLIZ Marine Observation Center and Prof Dr Pascal Hablutzel, leader of the research group Nature Changes and Solutions, and in co-supervision with Prof Dr Colin Janssen and Dr Ilias Semmouri, at the Faculty of Bioscience Engineering, Ghent University (Belgium).


Career level


Career options

Academic, research and sciences