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Department of Ecology

The Ecology department analyses the importance of biodiversity for the structure of, and processes in, tropical coastal ecosystems on different organisational levels from individuals to communities and ecosystems.

We strive for a deeper understanding of interactions and interrelationships on different organisational levels. Increasing temperature in the ocean and decreasing oxygen (hypoxia or anoxia) or pH (acidification) are threats to the physiology of organisms (e.g. causing coral bleaching), and the effects are reaching to the community or even ecosystem level (e.g. causing reef degradation). Overfishing and eutrophication in their different facets impact first on the organism and community level, but may also change the ecosystem as such or drive genetic changes through selection processes. The knowledge of the relationship between biodiversity (changes) and ecosystem services under global change conditions is key in the work of the department.

We address these phenomena by looking into the physiological processes in single individuals of various species of ecosystem relevance to understand the reaction and threshold values of key species in the systems in relation to key parameters. We also look into processes like growth, reproduction and feeding of these key species to quantify the changes in the populations and their contribution to the systems’ services.

The department contributes to the mission of ZMT by providing knowledge on the structure, the processes and the potential services of coastal ecosystems in the tropics, thus delivering key information for a sustainable management of coastal resources and ecosystem restoration.

Department leader

Dr. Werner Ekau
+49 (421) 23800 - 23

Working groups

Research topics

  • Biodiversity, ecosystem functioning and resilience
  • Reasons for success or failure of survival of organisms in tropical coastal ecosystems
  • Connectivity of adjacent ecosystems
  • Biotic interactions and food webs
  • Interaction of reef ecosystem players and compartments (water column, sediment)
  • Function of reef C and N cycles, consequences of phase shifts, seasonality, global and local stressors
  • Reef engineers contributing to C and N cycles
  • Function and dynamics of coral reef benthic communities
  • Coral reef restoration
  • Physiological responses of algae and sea grasses to environmental change
  • Response of growth, physiology and life history patterns of fish to environmental change
  • Nutrient fluxes and spatial subsidies in mangroves
  • Responses of mangrove inhabitants to environmental change
  • Coastal livelihoods
  • Drivers of marine resource use and management, conservation planning