Benthic communities are some of the most productive and diverse on Earth and they are of global importance for biogeochemical cycles and ecosystem processes. As most aquatic habitats, benthic ecosystems are under anthropogenic stress accompanied by habitat loss, pollution and introduction of invasive species. It is crucial to understand what are the consequences of these stressors for the diversity of Baltic benthic ecosystems.

Benthic protists represent the majority of the eukaryotic lineages and are of global importance for biogeochemical cycles and benthic ecosystem processes; yet, their diversity and community structure in the Baltic Sea is still poorly characterized, and the factors that structure this diversity are not understood.

This project is a pilot study to achieve these aims at a relatively small geographical area that will include sampling in shallow bays and deeper stations around the Askö and Tvärminne area, which include gradients of important drivers of diversity in benthic ecosystems. The long-term goal is to use the gained knowledge for future research that will expand this approach to a large-scale project that will allow us to understand patterns and structural drivers of all major components of sediment biodiversity in the Baltic Sea: micro-meio and macrofauna.

Using the new R/V Electra, we will collect sediment samples for benthic protists and meiofauna diversity analysis from both shallow coastal and open sea deep stations around the Askö area using next generation sequencing techniques by high throughput marker gene analysis of environmental DNA (ITS and 18S markers). Similar samples will be  obtained from stations around  the Tvärminne Zoological Station.

Researchers and departments:
Francisco Nascimento, Department of Ecology, Envionment and Plant Sciences (DEEP)
Johan Eklöf, DEEP
Joakim Hansen, Baltic Sea Centre
Albert Norström, Stockholm Resilience Centre