Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research

Biogeomorphic landscape formation by ecosystem engineers

Interactions between organisms and hydrodynamic forces from waves and currents determine where sediment will erode, and where sediment will accumulate. Hence, these bio-physical interactions are a main determinant of landscape formation (i.e., geomorphology) in intertidal areas. Especially large (vascular) plants and macro algae have striking effects on intertidal geomorphology. In the intertidal zones, a broad range of different types of plants and algae co-occur, which strongly differ in their appearance (i.e., morphology). Such differences will affect how plants affect the currents and waves, and thereby thus the sediment transport.

Besides plants, there is also a large group of benthic animals (i.e., macro benthos) that affects the landscape formation.  Some are highly visible in that they create large reefs, such as oysters and mussels (i.e., epi-benthos). Others are invisible, as they are ‘hidden’ in the sediment (i.e., endo-benthos). Although hidden, these organisms also have a major impact on the sediment dynamics and grain-size distribution by affecting both the critical threshold for erosion to occur and mixing different depth layers.

We are working on developing a general understanding how traits of individual organisms affect processes at the level of populations and thereby affect the large-scale long-term intertidal landscape development.

Within this research theme we offer several topics, each with the opportunity to tune it towards your specific interest. The possible topics will however strongly depend on the timing of the research.


For further information and to apply, please contact Prof. Dr. Tjeerd Bouma (