Research lines

Biogeochemistry, conservation and management of wetlands

(Prof. Leon Lamers, Prof. Fons Smolders, Dr. Jim de Fouw, Dr. Valérie Reijers, Dr. Ralph Temmink, Dr. Annieke Borst, Rens Cronau, Luuk Leemans, Valentini Maliaka, Prof. Jan Roelofs, Dr. Gerben van Geest, Dr. Gijs van Dijk, Dr. José van Diggelen)

The Anthropocene poses considerable threats to our planet’s biodiversity, with unprecedentedly fast changes in climatic and biogeochemical conditions. Knowledge of the biogeochemical and ecological drivers of biodiversity change at different scales is essential to fully understand, and to address, issues such as eutrophication, drought, acidification, salinization and increased greenhouse gas emission by stimulated decomposition. Together with our spin-off company B-WARE Research Center, we apply our biogeochemical and ecological knowledge in the conservation and restoration of biodiversity and services of freshwater and coastal wetlands, water management, and the development of novel ecosystems such as Marker Wadden.

Greenhouse gas emissions from wetlands

(Dr. Sarian Kosten, Dr. Ralf Aben, Dr. Mandy Velthuis, Tom Nijman, Renske Vroom, Stefan Weideveld, Dr. Bjorn Robroek, José Paranaiba, Judith van der Knaap, Quinten Struik, Tom Heuts, Maite Colina, Icaro Barbosa, Ana Paula Dalem Barbosa, Prof. Leon Lamers)

Both natural and artificial wetlands actively exchange carbon and nitrogen compounds with the atmosphere (sequestration, emission). We aim to understand the fate of carbon and nitrogen in wetlands and focus on 1) greenhouse gas emissions (carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide) from inland waters and peatlands, and 2) carbon sequestration in lake sediments and peat soils. We are interested in how abiotic factors (e.g. temperature, organic matter loading, water level) and biotic factors (e.g. the presence of vegetation and fish) influence the greenhouse gas balance. We work in a wide range of systems across the world, including lakes, urban ponds, fishponds, reservoirs, ditches, large rivers and peatlands. Our knowledge contributes to the quantification of current and future greenhouse gas emission from, and carbon storage in, these systems. Furthermore, it contributes to the development of climate change mitigation options for wetlands.

Microbial ecology of wetlands

(Dr. Annelies Veraart, Tom Nijman, Quinten Struik, Dr. José van Diggelen, Prof. Leon Lamers)

The severe human alteration of global elemental (C, N, P) cycles is, next to habitat degradation, currently one of the most pressing threats to ecosystems worldwide. In wetlands, microbes play a pivotal role in the cycling of these elements, and thereby provide many important ecosystem services. Global change poses a significant but understudied stress on these microbial communities that may lead to ecosystem deterioration beyond our current understanding. Our research focusses on effects of global change on microbial nutrient cycling in wetlands, studying its effects on community structure and stability as well as microbial functioning, for example in relation to the microbial production and consumption of the greenhouse gasses CH4 and N2O. In addition, plant-rhizobiome interactions driving nutrient cycling and greenhouse gas emission are studied.

Biodiversity and multitrophic interactions in wetlands

(Dr. Bjorn Robroek, Dr. Annelies Veraart, Dr. Mandy Velthuis, Dr. Jim de Fouw, Harry Shepherd, Dr. Dick van Oevelen, Prof. Leon Lamers)

Over the past couple of decennia unequivocal evidence has been provided that the loss of biodiversity, driven by climate change, leads to congruent changes in ecosystems functioning. Today, ecologists increasingly embrace the idea that multitrophic diversity is key for the regulation and maintenance of a multitude of ecosystem processes. We seek a mechanistic understanding of how biodiversity and multitrophic interactions mediate wetland processes, such as carbon sequestration and hydrological controls, and how these are affected by enviro-climatic change. The high-level aim of our research is to implement process-based knowledge to protect, restore and maximise the important socio-economic benefits of wetlands under a changing climate. To achieve these research goals we draw on (experimental) field, mesocosm, and gradient studies spanning a range of wetland ecosystems, including coastal ecosystems, lentic and lotic ecosystems, fens, peatlands and the arctic tundra.

Green solutions: paludiculture and water treatment

(Dr. Christian Fritz, Dr. Annelies Veraart, Dr. Jeroen Geurts, Renske Vroom, Stefan Weideveld, Dr. Ralph Temmink, Lisanne Hendriks, Prof. Leon Lamers, Prof. Fons Smolders, Dr. José van Diggelen, Dr. Gijs van Dijk)

The large-scale use of peatlands for agriculture is based on severe drainage, generating serious environmental and societal issues including land subsidence, carbon loss, deterioration of water quality, damage to infrastructure and flooding risks.

Our aim is to investigate a more sustainable alternative for this traditional drainage-based agriculture: the use of rewetted peatlands for the production of food, fiber, and energy, and the simultaneous restoration of ecosystem services, including strong reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emission and land subsidence, increased water and nutrient retention, and water purification. This so-called paludiculture is a form of climate smart agriculture with specialized perennials crops that thrive on waterlogged or flooded soils, such as Sphagnum (peat moss), Phragmites (reed), Typha (cattail), Salix (willow) and Zizania (wild rice). The main objective is to develop and extend the scientific base for paludiculture by identifying the optimal abiotic and biotic conditions for paludiculture crops, and by quantifying the different ecosystem services in different experimental settings in the greenhouse and in the field.

Similar techniques, using combinations of organisms, are also being studied in collaboration with Dutch water authorities (water boards) to develop novel ways to simultaneously purify wastewater to ecologically acceptable quality, recycle phosphate, and generate new high-grade products.