Main Topics of Research
We try to understand the functioning of large river ecosystems. Our group is running a large research laboratory on the River Rhine which offers the extraordinary possibility to study the biology of running water animals in situ in flow channels and exposed substrates independent of the water level.
Marine systems form the largest part of the biosphere. Deep-sea bottom (depths larger than 1000m) covers more than the half of the earth surface. It is amzing how little we know about the biological processes and the biodiversity in this important ecosystem. Our research on unicellular eukaryotes during deep-sea expeditions is challenging since nearly nothing is known about their contribution to the deep-sea marine life.
Fish ecological studies are mainly carried out in the Ecological Research Station of the Zoological Institute. The surrounding area with oxbow lakes and gravel pit lakes as well as the adjacent River Rhine and its tributaries offer a unique arena for field studies in fish ecology and population ecology. Outdoor mesocosms, indoor aquaria systems as well as experimental pond systems allow for detailed autecological and behavioural studies as well as for studies on the community level.
New tools of molecular biology allow a new understanding of community diversity, population genetics and phylogeny. We apply the most modern techniques to understand trophic interactions and phylogenetic relationships. One of our major focus is the study of protistan diversity and evolution in natural ecosystems (including the origin of metazoans) and the extent to which many protist species are distributed on our planet.
Theoretical Ecology and Chaos Research
The recognition that even simple ecological systems have the potential for chaotic behaviour has made chaos a topic of considerable interest among theoretical ecologists. We use experimental systems to study the dynamic behaviour in the "real world". We use highly controlled microbial systems to study theoretical hypotheses in experiments. Using molecular tools, we also consider experimental evolution in such systems.
As polar regions are severely affected by global warming, the effects of rising temperatures in aquatic systems can be studied. The defined spatial and temporal separation of the polar regions offers the opportunity to study potential speciation and population genetics of protists. The global distribution and the ways of distribution are studied using ice and snow as archives and air as transport media. Among our sampling sites are Svalbard (Spitsbergen), Greenland and Iceland in the North as well as the Antarctic Peninsula in the South.