Oceanography & Macroecology – University of Copenhagen

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About half of the photosynthesis occurring on the Earth takes place in the ocean and the vast majority is carried out by phytoplankton. The photosynthesizers are, in turn grazed by microscopic zooplankton. Most phyto- and zooplankton have either no or only very limited capability to control their own positions in the 3D space of the ocean but are at the mercy of water movements for their dispersal.

The controlling factors behind plankton biodiversity
Biodiversity of these plankton is critical for marine ecosystem structure and Earth System function both in terms of structuring food webs and element cycling yet very little attention has until recently been focused on understanding what controls the abundance and diversity of the plankton. Field, model and laboratory studies contribute to the analyses conducted.

The main research questions are:

  • What abiotic and biotic factors control biodiversity in the plankton?
  • How do changes in plankton biodiversity influence Earth System function?
  • How is biodiversity of the plankton influenced by climate?
  • Are there general lessons about what controls the distribution of life on Earth to be learned in comparing marine and terrestrial systems?

Research Projects

Phytoplankton have vast morphological variations and are genetically more dissimilar than plants on land. The project aims at understanding how this biodiversity influences the strength of the “biological pump”  which is the mechanism whereby carbon fixed at the ocean surface by photosynthesis is transported to the inner ocean.


Project leader:
Katherine Richardson
CMEC researchers:
Jørgen Bendtsen, Mohamed Adjou


With this project we aim to better understand how diversity in phytoplankton communities is established and maintained. Models are developed in order to test various hypotheses concerning the relative role of oceanographic and biological processes in phytoplankton diversity and to explore the global distribution of primary productivity.


Project leader:
Jørgen Bendtsen
CMEC researchers:
Katherine Richardson,
Mohamed Adjou


The project investigates the relationship between various factors that are influenced by climate (e.g. temperature, salinity, nutrient and light availability) and the distributions of plankton. Ultimately, it is hoped to examine the robustness of known present day relationships by comparing them to paleo-distributions of key species.


Project leader:
Erik Askov Mousing
CMEC researchers:
Katherine Richardson
Collaborator:
Marianne Ellegaard (Dept. of Biology)


Complex oceanographic interactions result in conditions in the water column which are conducive to photosynthesis occurring. We aim to predict how climate change impacts the production of organic material. The study has a special focus on the relation between the pycnocline depth and the primary production.


Project leader:
Maren Moltke Lyngsgaard

CMEC researchers:
Katherine Richardson,
Jørgen Bendtsen
Collaborators:

Stiig Markager (Aarhus University)
Michael Olesen (Dept. of Biology)

Over the last 10 years, molecular methods have revealed and astonishing diversity of picoplanktonic eukaryotes (<3 μm). With an emphasis on seasonal variation, this project makes an in depth investigation of the dynamics and diversity of cold water marine picoeukaryotes, using these new molecular methods. The aim is to better understand species diversity and temporal variation of picoeukayotes in Arctic regions and to examine the consequences of surface water warming due to climate change on the picoplankton biodiversity and community structure.


Project leader:
Nikolaj Sørensen

CMEC researchers:
Katherine Richardson
Collaborator:
Niels Daugbjerg (Dept. of Biology)