Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research
Royal Netherlands
Institute for Sea Research
Phone number
+31 (0)222 369 511
Research Leader
  • Coastal ecosystems dominated by foundation species
  • Feedbacks between organisms and their environment (ecosystem engineering)
  • Ecological interactions between foundation species and the associated community
  • Ecosystem conservation and restoration
  • cological modelling, biogeochemistry

Dr. Ir. Tjisse van der Heide

Research Leader

‘Soft-sediment coasts with long ecological gradients have a lot to offer both nature and people’

Tjisse van der Heide, professor of Coastal Ecology, studies ecological interactions along the entire elevational gradient of soft-sediment coasts: from coastal dunes, salt marshes and intertidal mudflat all the way down into the subtidal which never emerges during low tide. ‘These shallow coastal areas are important, because they protect our coasts, serve as drinking water sources, and support many different plant and animal species. In contrast to rocky shores, that are characterized by steep gradients from high to low, healthy soft-sediment coasts typically have long elevational gradients supporting a diverse mosaic of coastal habitats. However, as a consequence of coastal development on one side and sea level rise on the other, humans have restricted these long gradients into a progressively narrowing coastal strip – a process called the ‘coastal squeeze’. This is resulting in great loss of coastal habitat and the functions and services they provide’

Ecosystem engineers

Within these coastal zones, my work primarily focuses on how habitat-modifying species, often called ‘ecosystem engineers’ or ‘foundation species’, shape coastal landscapes. In coastal dunes, for instance, I aim to understand how clonally growing grasses accumulate sand to build dunes, allowing them to escape stress from flooding by seawater. On intertidal flat and in the subtidal, I study seagrasses and mussels that form large beds that attenuate waves and accumulate sediment particles, thereby building a landscape that not only benefits the engineering species, but also a biodiverse associated community.

Conserving and restoring ecosystem services

Ecosystem engineers are not only important from an ecological perspective, given that humans are definitely amongst the many species that profit from the landscapes they build. Coastal ecosystem engineers provide important ‘ecosystem services’. Their landscapes, for instance, offer protection against flooding during storms, decreasing the impact on man-made defences such as dikes, while simultaneously serving as carbon sinks, and as foraging and nursery areas for commercially important species. Because of their great ecological and societal relevance, we are therefore not only trying to elucidate how they function, but also figure out how we can restore lost or degraded ecosystems. To achieve this, we are developing biodegradable establishment structures that temporarily mimic the landscape modifying traits of ecosystem engineers, allowing the actual species to establish and take over as the structures naturally degrade’.

Read more +

Research interests

I will be joining COS at NIOZ combined with a position at the University of Groningen starting from the 1st of January 2018. My work focuses primarily on (1) causes and consequences of coastal ecosystem degradation, and (2) development of novel applications to preserve and/or restore coastal ecosystems.

Central in the first research line is the ecosystem-level importance and functioning of habitat modifying species – also called 'ecosystem engineers' or 'foundation species'. These organisms often facilitate themselves and the associated community by improving their environment through density- and patch size-dependent feedbacks. Clear examples are reef-building bivalves, seagrasses, salt marsh plants, and dune-building plants that attenuate currents and waves, increase water clarity, and modify sediment conditions.

My second line builds on the first with the aim of extending fundamental findings to develop applications for preserving or restoring coastal ecosystems. Examples are recent work on the inclusion of both intra- (within species) and interspecific (between species) facilitation restoration into designs, and the development of temporary biodegradable structures that bridge establishment thresholds for habitat-modifying species.







Please find my complete list of NIOZ-publications at the bottom of this webpage or on ResearcherID. You can download all my publications on ResearchGate.


Professional education



Awards, prizes and funded

2018: NWO Vidi-Award 'Building coastal landscapes with spatially organizing plants'





Linked news

Wednesday 23 September 2020
Caribbean islands face loss of protection and biodiversity as seagrass loses terrain
Tropical islands have an important ally when it comes to battling storms and sea-level rise: seagrass. During hurricane Irma, an extremely powerful Category 5 storm that hit the North Caribbean in 2017, NIOZ scientist Rebecca James witnessed how…
Monday 20 July 2020
Improving coastal restoration by temporarily imitating nature
Coastal ecosystems are in rapid decline around the world. Restoring them is very expensive and is often unsuccessful. But an international team of researchers discovered a way of increasing restoration success of salt marshes and seagrass meadows,…
Friday 14 June 2019
NIOZ nieuws | Kleine stapjes, grote sprongen – hoe helmgras duinen bouwt
In Europa zijn ze hoog en smal, in Amerika laag en breed: vorm en hoogte van duinen verschillen wereldwijd sterk. Dit komt mede doordat planten duinen bouwen met verschillende ‘bewegingsstrategieën’ waarmee ze de vorm van de duin bepalen, vonden…
Thursday 25 April 2019
Verspreiding microplastics in Wadden in kaart
Rijkswaterstaat, de Waddenacademie en onderzoekers van diverse universiteiten en instituten, waaronder het NIOZ, willen de langetermijneffecten van plastic uit de verloren containers van de MSC Zoe op planten, dieren en het complete ecosysteem in het…
Monday 25 February 2019
Project Waddenmozaïek van start met monsterklus onder water
Vandaag start het project Waddenmozaïek met het bemonsteren van de bodem onder de zeespiegel van de Waddenzee. In totaal worden 1.500 hapjes uit de wadbodem genomen. Het is voor het eerst dat op deze schaal en zo integraal de onderwaternatuur in…
Wednesday 09 January 2019
RUG en NIOZ onderzoeken plasticvervuiling containerramp op Schiermonnikoog
In de nacht van 1-2 januari 2019 zijn boven de kust van de oostelijke Waddeneilanden naar schatting 280 containers over boord geslagen van het vrachtschip MSC Zoe. Op Schiermonnikoog, Ameland, Terschelling en Vlieland en de Friese/Groningse kust is…
Friday 23 November 2018
Waddenmozaïek grote Waddenfondsbeurs voor onderzoek onderwaternatuur in de Waddenzee
Een rijke en gezonde Waddenzee is een onmisbare schakel in de levenscyclus van vele trekvogels en –vissen. Het realiseren van zo’n rijke Waddenzee is daarom ook het streefbeeld van het Waddenfonds en de drie Waddenprovincies: Groningen, Friesland en…
Friday 01 June 2018
3 Vidi-beurzen voor NIOZ-onderzoekers | 3 Vidi grants for NIOZ researchers
[Scroll down for English version] De Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (NWO) heeft aan drie ervaren NIOZ-onderzoekers een Vidi-financiering van 800.000 euro toegekend. Hiermee kunnen zij de komende vijf jaar een eigen,…

Linked blogs

Thursday 03 September 2020
ReViFES fieldwork 2020 | Investigating North Sea reefs services
Biogenic reefs are hard structures built by living organisms which form complex ecosystems and are accountable for several important ecological functions. In the North Sea, the most common bio-constructors include bivalves, such as oysters and…

NIOZ publications

  • 2020
    de Fouw, J.; van der Zee, E.M.; van Gils, J.A.; Eriksson, B.K.; Weerman, E.; Donadi, S.; van der Veer, H.W.; Olff, H.; Piersma, T.; van der Heide, T. (2020). The interactive role of predation, competition and habitat conditions in structuring an intertidal bivalve population. J. Exp. Mar. Biol. Ecol. 523: 151267.
    Fivash, G.S.; van Belzen, J.; Temmink, R.J.M.; Didderen, K.; Lengkeek, W.; van der Heide, T.; Bouma, T.J. (2020). Elevated micro-topography boosts growth rates in Salicornia procumbens by amplifying a tidally-driven oxygen pump: implications for natural recruitment and restoration. Ann. Bot. 125(2): 277-290.
    Gagnon, K.; Rinde, E.; Bengil, E.G.T.; Carugati, L.; Christianen, M.J.A.; Danovaro, R.; Gambi, C.; Govers, L.L.; Kipson, S.; Meysick, L.; Pajusalu, L.; Tüney Kizilkaya, I.; van de Koppel, J.; van der Heide, T.; van Katwijk, M.M.; Boström, C. (2020). Facilitating foundation species: The potential for plant–bivalve interactions to improve habitat restoration success. J. Appl. Ecol. 57(6): 1161-1179.
    James, R.K.; van Katwijk, M.M.; van Tussenbroek, B.I.; van der Heide, T.; Dijkstra, H.A.; van Westen, R.M.; Pietrzak, J.D.; Candy, A.S.; Klees, R.; Riva, R.E.M.; Slobbe, C.D.; Katsman, C.A.; Herman, P.M.J.; Bouma, T.J. (2020). Water motion and vegetation control the pH dynamics in seagrass‐dominated bays. Limnol. Oceanogr. 65(2): 349-362.
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    Reijers, V.C; Lammers, C.; de Rond, A.J.A.; Hoetjes, S.C.S.; Lamers, L.P.M.; van der Heide, T. (2020). Resilience of beach grasses along a biogeomorphic successive gradient: resource availability vs. clonal integration. Oecologia 192: 201–212.
    Temmink, R. J. M.; Christianen, M. J. A.; Fivash, G. S.; Angelini, C.; Boström, C.; Didderen, K.; Engel, S. M.; Esteban, N.; Gaeckle, J. L.; Gagnon, K.; Govers, L. L.; Infantes, E.; van Katwijk, M. M.; Kipson, S.; Lamers, L. P. M.; Lengkeek, W.; Silliman, B. R.; van Tussenbroek, B. I.; Unsworth, R. K. F.; Yaakub, S. M.; Bouma, T. J.; van der Heide, T. (2020). Mimicry of emergent traits amplifies coastal restoration success. Nature Comm. 11(1): 3668.
    Valdez, S.R.; Zhang, Y.S.; van der Heide, T.; Vanderklift, M.A.; Tarquinio, F.; Orth, R.J.; Silliman, B.R. (2020). Positive ecological interactions and the success of seagrass restoration. Front. Mar. Sci. 7: article 9.
    van Bergen, T.J.H.M.; Temmink, R.J.M.; van Tweel-Groot, L.; Bakker, W.J.; Rehlmeyer, K.; Koks, A.H.W.; Waajen, A.C.; Roelofs, J.G.M.; Grootjans, A.P.; van der Heide, T.; Lamers, L.P.M. (2020). Self‐facilitation and negative species interactions could drive microscale vegetation mosaic in a floating fen. J. Veg. Sci. 31(2): 343-354.
    van der Geest, M.; van der Heide, T.; Holmer, M.; De Wit, R. (2020). First field-based evidence that the seagrass-lucinid mutualism can mitigate sulfide stress in seagrasses. Front. Mar. Sci. 7: 11.
    Yan, J.; van der Heide, T.; Cui, B.; Bai, J.; Ysebaert, T.; van de Koppel, J. (2020). A healthy trophic structure underlies the resistance of pristine seagrass beds to nutrient enrichment. Limnol. Oceanogr. Early view.
  • 2019
    Borst, A.C.W.; Angelini, C.; Berge; Lamers, L.P.M.; Derksen-Hooijberg, M.; van der Heide, T. (2019). Food or furniture: Separating trophic and non‐trophic effects of Spanish moss to explain its high invertebrate diversity. Ecosphere 10(9): e02846.
    Chalifour, B.; Hoogveld, J.R.H.; Derksen-Hooijberg, M.; Harris, K.L.; Urueña, J.M.; Sawyer, W.G.; van der Heide, T; Angelini, C. (2019). Drought alters the spatial distribution, grazing patterns, and radula morphology of a fungal-farming salt marsh snail. Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser. 620: 1-13.
    Derksen-Hooijberg, M.; Angelini, C.; Hoogveld, J.R.H.; Lamers, L.P.M.; Borst, A.; Smolders; Harpenslager; Govers, L.L.; van der Heide, T. (2019). Repetitive desiccation events weaken a salt marsh mutualism. J. Ecol. 107(5): 2415-2426.
    Derksen-Hooijberg, M.; van der Heide, T.; Lamers, L.P.M.; Borst, A.; Smolders, A.J.P.; Govers, L.; Hoogveld, J.R.H.; Angelini, C. (2019). Burrowing Crabs Weaken Mutualism Between Foundation Species. Ecosystems 22(4): 767–780.
    James, R.K.; Silva, R.; van Tussenbroek, B.I.; Escudero-Castillo, M.; Mariño-Tapia, I.; Dijkstra, H.A.; van Westen, R.M.; Pietrzak, J.D.; Candy, A.S.; Katsman, C.A.; van der Boog, C.G.; Riva, R.E.M.; Slobbe, C.; Klees, R.; Stapel, J.; van der Heide, T.; van Katwijk, M.M.; Herman, P.M.J.; Bouma, T.J. (2019). Maintaining tropical beaches with seagrass and algae: a promising alternative to engineering solutions. BioScience 69(2): 136-142.
    Reijers, V.C.; Cruijsen; Hoetjes; Akker; Heusinkveld, J.H.T.; van de Koppel, J.; Lamers, L.P.M.; Olff, H.; van der Heide, T. (2019). Loss of spatial structure after temporary herbivore absence in a high‐productivity reed marsh. J. Appl. Ecol. 56(7): 1817-1826.
    Reijers, V.C.; Siteur, K.; Hoeks, S.; van Belzen, J.; Borst, A.C.W.; Heusinkveld, J.H.T.; Govers, L.; Bouma, T.J.; Lamers, L.P.M.; van de Koppel, J.; van der Heide, T. (2019). A Lévy expansion strategy optimizes early dune building by beach grasses. Nature Comm. 10: 2656.
    Reijers, V.C.; van den Akker, M.; Cruijsen, P.M.J.M.; Lamers, L.P.M.; van der Heide, T. (2019). Intraspecific facilitation explains the persistence of Phragmites australis in modified coastal wetlands . Ecosphere 10(8): e02842.
  • 2018
    Bom, R.A.; Philippart, C.J.M.; van der Heide, T.; de Fouw, J; Camphuysen, C.J.; Dethmer, K.; Folmer, E.O.; Stocchi, P.; Stuut, J.-B.; van der Veer, H.W.; Al Zakwani, I. (2018). Barr Al Hikman: a pristine coastal ecosystem in the Sultanate of Oman: Current state of knowledge and future research challenges. NIOZ-rapport, 2018(1). NIOZ Royal Institute for Sea Research: Texel. 61 pp.
    Borst, A.C.W.; Verberk, W.C.E.P.; Angelini, C.; Schotanus, J.; Wolters, J.-W.; Christianen, M.J.A.; van der Zee, E.M.; Derksen-Hooijberg, M.; van der Heide, T. (2018). Foundation species enhance food web complexity through non-trophic facilitation. PLoS One 13(8): e0199152.
    de Fouw, J; van der Heide, T.; van Belzen, J.; Govers, L.; Cheikh, M.A.S.; Olff, H.; van de Koppel, J.; van Gils, J.A. (2018). A facultative mutualistic feedback enhances the stability of tropical intertidal seagrass beds. NPG Scientific Reports 8(1): 10.

Linked projects

Project duration
1 Dec 2018 - 31 Dec 2023
Small steps, giant leaps
Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research - Veni/Vidi/Vici
Project duration
1 Jul 2018 - 30 Jun 2023