Bio-geomorphological interactions in river floodplains


Ecological consequences of heavy metal contamination in river floodplains


River floodplains are among the most fertile and richest ecosystems on earth. This is primarily due to periodical floodplain inundation, which replenishes the soil nutrients and sustains a high level of landscape diversity. In the Netherlands, the lowland floodplains of the RhineRiver are contaminated by large amounts of particulate-bound heavy metals that were deposited during the last century. Metals can enter food chains by uptake in vegetation and soil-dwelling invertebrates and subsequently reach vertebrate species. This can result in adverse effects on organisms and thus threaten the biological diversity in the Dutch floodplains.

Aims & methodology

Main aim of this PhD project is to obtain more insight in the accumulation of heavy metals in floodplain food chains. Special attention is paid to take into account spatial variation, for example in soil contamination levels, habitat characteristics and the distribution of floodplain fauna. Research methods involve the collection and analysis of field data as well as modeling approaches to simulate the accumulation of metals in organisms. These modeling approaches are especially relevant for organisms that are generally not available for tissue sampling, such as endangered top-predators.

Research framework

The PhD study (2005 – 2009) takes place under supervision of Dr. Rob Leuven and Dr. Ad Ragas at the Department of Environmental Science of the Radboud University Nijmegen, within the NWO-LOICZ project Bio-geomorphological interactions in floodplains and their role in sediment transport and ecological transformation processes in the lower Rhine delta’.


Aafke Schipper (PhD student)                                     
Department of Environmental Science                          
Institute for Wetland and Water Research                     
PO BOX 9010, 6500 GL Nijmegen                                  
Phone: +31 24 3652725                                                                                          


Rob Leuven (project leader)
Department of Environmental Science
Institute for Wetland and Water Research
PO BOX 9010, 6500 GL Nijmegen
Phone: + 31 (0)24 3652096