Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research

Marine ecology

Like on land, habitats in our ocean differ in diversity and functioning. We unravel the ecology of communities and how communities are shaped by environmental and biological interactions over time. Similar to tropical reef systems, reef-building organisms like cold-water corals, sponges, and mussels can also shape the deep-sea environment, forming biodiversity and biomass hotspots, some of which are currently under threat due to increased anthropogenic disturbance. We investigate deep-sea faunal biogeography and biodiversity and explore the influence of productivity, stress, and disturbance on diversity.

Coral and sponge reefs

Coral reefs are some of the most diverse ecosystems in the world. They play a large role in tropical seas and the deep oceans, providing important habitats by the creation of 3D structures and playing an important role in biochemical nutrient cycles. We aim to acquire a process-based understanding on how they can flourish in nutrient-limited environments and what environmental conditions influence coral growth and reef formation.

Ecology of hydrothermal systems

Hydrothermal vents are unique and highly productive ecosystems where the hot, toxic, and mineral rich-fluids support biomass-rich and adapted faunal communities. We explore the influence of productivity, stress, and disturbance on diversity and connectivity of vent fauna. This research is relevant in light of our increasing demand for mineral resources. Extraction of minerals at hydrothermal vents may be imminent.


Submarine canyons are deep gorges that incise the continental margins and act as funnels for the transport of (food) particles from the productive shallow seas to the deep oceans. The rapid transport of organic matter to the deep sea provides food for deep-sea life and plays an important role in the global carbon cycle. Due to the heterogeneous habitat and the enhanced food supply canyons are hotspots of life in the deep sea.

Abyssal plains

Despite the extreme environmental conditions that characterise the abyssal environment at four to six kilometres depth, polymetallic nodule fields on the abyssal seafloor harbour extremely diverse faunal communities. We explore diversity and connectivity of fauna associated with natural and artificial nodules. This research is relevant in light of increasing international efforts in mineral prospecting in the deep-sea.

Water column

The ocean’s photic zone is the place where most of photosynthesis takes place. It therefore plays a major role in carbon uptake and modulating atmospheric CO2. Calcification is another important process that captures carbon and transports it from the surface to the seafloor. Both CO2 concentrations and calcification processes are being monitored and studied under natural conditions in the ocean as well as under controlled conditions in the lab.

Deep-sea mining

Concerns about future access to critical raw materials for high-tech industry has spurred a race to the bottom of the ocean, in pursuit of valuable mineral resources hidden at depth. Scientific knowledge necessary to assess the impacts of mineral extraction on delicate deep-sea ecosystems is still scarce. We study the physical effects of mining on the deep-sea environment, as well as the resilience of deep-sea fauna to disturbance.