Marine biodiversity

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Ongoing Master projects

Title: Trophic ecology of the macrofauna community at the Loki’s Castle vent field

Short description and aims: The Loki’s Castle hydrothermal vent system, a high-temperature (310-320˚C), black smoker vent field discovered in 2008, is located at the junction between the Knipovich- and Mohn’s Ridges (73˚N 008˚E) at ∼2400m depth. Rather than utilizing sunlight as a source for energy, the primary producers at deep-sea hydrothermal vents practice chemosynthesis using available reduced chemical compounds. Thus, chemosynthetic microorganisms make up the base of the food web. The aim is to use stable isotopes to study structure, function and trophic interactions in the macrofaunal community in the Loki’s Castle vent field, and to interpret the importance of chemosynthetic energy versus the input of particulate organic matter (POM) from the surface waters.

Timeframe: February 2016-June 2017

Funding: Centre for Geobiology

Master student: Cassandra Berntsen

Supervisors: Hans Tore Rapp & Bernt Rydland Olsen


Title: Taxonomic revision of the family Heteropiidae (Porifera, Calcarea) in Nordic waters

Short description and aims:   The family Heteropiidae is a group of sponges in the class Calcarea. The class has shown to be a diverse group, with documented presence in different ecosystems from the littoral zone and down to the abyss. However, due to their small size and inconspicuous external morphology the group can is easily ignored. It is therefore believed that the number of species is underestimated. This, together with a complicated taxonomy and lack of knowledge on the group, support the need for a revision at different scales in the class.

Through an integrated approach using morphological characters combined with molecular data, this work aims to revise the Heteropiidae sponge fauna in Norwegian waters, to map the distribution of species and to provide a key for their identification.

Timeframe: January 2016 – June 2017

Funding: This study is supported by the Norwegian Biodiversity Information Centre (grant to HTR, project number 70184219), the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters (grant to HTR) and the Research Council of Norway (through contract number 179560). The project is receiving funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under the grant agreement No 679848.

Master student: Hilde Strand Dybevik

Supervisors: Hans Tore Rapp, Adriana Alvizu


Title: A reverse taxonomic approach to assess the community composition of a cold-water sponge ground

Short description and aims: The aim of my project is to test the use of a reverse taxonomic approach in the assessment of the demosponge community composition of different sections of a seamount, the Schultz massif. We will produce molecular barcodes for as yet unidentified collected demosponges and assign them to molecular operational taxonomic units (MOTUs). Sequences publicly available in the Sponge Barcoding Project database, GenBank and the Sponge Gene Tree Server will be used as a phylogenetic backbone for assignment of our sequences to genotypic clusters, and previously identified specimens will be sequenced and used as ”regional anchors” for our samples. Taxonomic identifications require a great level of expertise not possible to acquire in a short timeframe and often across different taxa; and we are collecting samples at a faster pace and in far greater numbers than we are capable of processing them. If the reverse approach is a success, we will be able to identify samples at a much larger pace then what we are managing currently.

Timeframe: August 2016 - June 2017

Funding: This study is part of the SponGES project funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement 679849).

Master student: Tone Ulvatn

Supervisors: Hans Tore Rapp, Joana R. Xavier


Title: Driving forces behind cold-water coral distribution

Short description and aims: I am focusing on the three most common deep-water coral species found in Norwegian waters, namely the reef-building Lophelia pertusa and the sea fans Primnoa resedaeformis and Paragorgia arborea. These species are important habitat providers for a great number of fish and invertebrates, and can reach hundreds or thousands of years of age. However, since they grow very slowly, they are susceptible to physical disturbance caused by e.g. bottom trawling or oil drilling. With that in mind, I hope to elucidate what environmental factors are key to successful dispersal, settling, growth, and survival. I will look at the predictive power of benthic terrain morphology, physical factors like temperature and salinity, and current transport of food, applied in spatial distribution modelling. The end goal is to identify correlations between environmental factors and coral distribution, and create habitat suitability models for each species, which can identify "hot spot" areas for conservation management.

Timeframe: August 2016 – June 2017

Funding: MAREANO

Master student: Hanna Sundahl

Supervisors: Pål Buhl-Mortensen (MAREANO/IMR), Lene Buhl-Mortensen (MAREANO/IMR), Henrik Glenner (MBD)