Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research
Phone number
+31 (0)222 36 9337
  • Animal eco-physiology
  • Early-life development
  • Impacts of climate change
  • Invertebrates and fish
  • Metabolism

Dr. Katharina Alter


Research interests

The world is in urgent need of restoring natural ecosystems which requires a better understanding of how and to what extent climate change jeopardizes the function of ecosystems. Shellfish beds function not only as coastal stabilizers, they act as environmental buffers, increase species richness and build a nursery habitat for many fish species. Fish migrate and connect habitats which in turn benefits species richness and promotes healthy ecosystems.

I am interested in gaining a cause-and-effect understanding of how environments constrain the survival, growth, and life-history strategy of animals - specifically, how fish and shellfish respond to multi-stressor environments. Thereby, I focus on the physiological and behavioral strategies of the most vulnerable life-stages (embryos, larvae, early juveniles) to cope with low oxygen availability, changes in temperature, increased pCO2 (ocean acidification), and altered food availability.

My major focus is on laboratory experiments but I also use field observations to better set my laboratory results in to the real-world context. The major tools that I use in my studies are intermittent-flow respirometry, thermal gradients, bio-sensors, and swim tunnels. I also use biochemical analysis to understand responses to climate change on the cellular level.



Since 2020: Post-doctoral researcher (NIOZ, Department of Coastal Systems, The Netherlands)

2019-2020: Research Associate and Laboratory Manager (University of Hamburg, Institute for Marine Ecosystem and Fisheries Science, Germany)

2017-2019: Post-doctoral researcher (University of Hamburg, Institute for Marine Ecosystem and Fisheries Science, Germany)

2013-2017: PhD student (University of Tasmania, Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies in collaboration with Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Australia)



Alter K, Peck MA (2021) Ocean acidification but not elevated spring warming threatens a European seas predator. Science of the Total Environment 782: 146926

Manríquez PH, Jara ME, González CP, Díaz MI, Brokordt K, Lattuca ME, Peck MA, Alter K, Marras S, Domenici P (2020) Combined effect of pCO2 and temperature levels on the thermal niche in the early benthic ontogeny of a keystone species. Science of the Total Environment 719: 137239

Alter K, Andrewartha SJ, Morash AJ, Clark TD, Hellicar AD, Leon RI, Elliott NG (2017) Hybrid abalone are more robust to multi-stressor environments than pure parental species. Aquaculture 478: 25-34

Alter K, Clark TD, Andrewartha SJ, Elliott NG (2017) Thermal preference increases during larval development of pure and hybrid abalone. Journal of Shellfish Research 36(1): 141-149

Alter, Andrewartha SJ, Elliott NG (2016) Hatchery conditions do not negatively impact respiratory response of early life-stage development in Australian hybrid abalone. Journal of Shellfish Research 35(3): 585-591

Morash AJ, Alter K (2016) Effects of environmental and farm stress on abalone physiology: perspectives for abalone aquaculture in the face of global climate change. Reviews in Aquaculture 8: 342–368

Alter K, Paschke K, Gebauer P, Cumillaf JP, Pörtner HO (2015) Differential physiological responses to oxygen availability in early life stages of decapods developing in distinct environments. Marine Biology 162(5): 1111–1124

Pöhlmann K, Koenigstein S, Alter K, Abele D, Held C (2011) Heat-shock response and antioxidant defense during air exposure in Patagonian shallow-water limpets from different climatic habitats. Cell Stress and Chaperones 16(6): 621–632

Please find my list of NIOZ publications at the bottom of this webpage or on Google Scholar

You can download all my publications on ResearchGate



Professional education

2013-2017:  University of Tasmania, Australia, Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies in collaboration with Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Australia

  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Marine Science (2013 – 2017)
    Thesis: “Why is being a hybrid an advantage? Physiological and behavioural responses of abalone to environmental and farm stress”, supervised by Prof. Dr. Frappell, Dr. Elliott, Dr. Clark, Dr. Andrewartha, Assist. Prof. Dr. Morash (external - Mt. Allison University, Canada)
  • Graduate Certificate in Research (2013-2015)
    Communicating research Advanced analytical techniques (nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy) Grant writing for scientific research

2004-2012:  University of Bremen, Germany, Department of Biology and Chemistry

  • Diplom Biologist (Dipl. Biol.) 
  • Major in Marine Biology and Ecology
  • Semester abroad at Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand 
  • Thesis: “Physiological responses to oxygen availability during the life cycle of two decapods, considering different developing environments”, supervised by Prof. Dr. Pörtner, Prof. Dr. Paschke (external – Universidad Austral de Chile, Chile (UACh)). Carried out and completed at UACh

Awards and Prizes




2017-2020: University of Hamburg, Institute for Marine Ecosystem and Fisheries Science, Germany

  • Advanced biological oceanography and fisheries science – grant writing
  • Lab methods in biological oceanography and fisheries sciences
  • Ecophysiology and aquaculture

Editorial duties

Since 2016: Reviewer for international scientific journals

  • Aquaculture
  • International Review of Hydrobiology
  • Journal of Comparative Physiology B

Linked news

Tuesday 09 April 2024
Impact of climate change on marine life much bigger than previously known
Fish and invertebrate animals are far more affected by warmer and more acidic seawater than was previously known. This is the conclusion of a study co-led by NIOZ marine biologist Katharina Alter, based on a new analysis method and published in the…
Tuesday 30 May 2023
ANEMOI - Towards minimal chemical pollution of offshore wind farms
Offshore wind energy offers many advantages: next to the primary aim of renewable energy production, offshore wind farms (OWFs) also offer opportunities to nature conservation and aquaculture activities. There are multiple research projects into the…
Monday 22 August 2022
EU-Horizon Europe funding for ACTNOW project
Human activities have created unprecedented, cumulative threats resulting in stunning losses of biodiversity in our oceans. This is leading to well‐documented declines in seafood resources, losses of iconic and culturally valuable habitats, and…

NIOZ publications

Linked projects

ACTNOW_Advancing understanding of Cumulative Impacts on European marine biodiversity
Myron Peck
European Community
Project duration
1 Jan 2023 - 31 Dec 2026