QLE.20.018 – Experiment based ecological modeling to unveil and predict the impact of stressors on ecosystem functioning; microplastics as test case

Route: Quality of the living environment

Cluster question: 004 How do ecosystems function and how vulnerable are they to environmental impacts?

The core of the challenge that underlies NWA cluster question ‘004:Hoe functioneren eco-systemen en hoe gevoelig zijn zij voor milieu-invloeden?’ can be summarized as: Gaining insight from empirical research on the level of organisms, populations and processes in how human activities affect ecosystem functioning, that allows us to assess future scenarios. In the proposed project we will combine data from single species laboratory tests and experimental ecosystem studies in an ecological model to understand the functioning of the basis of the marine ecosystem. Laboratory tests are relatively easy to perform, but their field relevance is rather limited. Tests in complex experimental ecosystems are much more labor intense, but have more field relevance, at least for the conditions that were simulated during the test. The aim of this project is to capture the functioning -with and without stressors- of the experimental ecosystem in an ecological model, that allows the extrapolation of the experimental results to other (future) environmental or exposure conditions and multiple stress situations. For this development we will work with microplastic as the stressor. Microplastics are considered as one of the major threats for future marine ecosystems, but despite a large volume of laboratory exposure studies that have been performed the last decade remarkably little is known about the mechanisms by which microplastics may cause ecological effects. We will perform experiments to get a better understanding of these mechanisms on organism scale (laboratory tests) and how this affects the functioning of experimental ecosystems. The outcome will be used to build and validate the ecological model, that can also be used for assessing the impact of other stressors than microplastics.


ecosystem functioning, environmental impact, future scenarios, microplastics

Other organisations

Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen (RU)


Organisation Wageningen University and Research (WUR)
Name Dr. E.M. (Edwin) Foekema
E-mail edwin.foekema@wur.nl