We live in a symbiotic world. Virtually all plants and animals are inhabited by a community of symbiotic microbes that together with their hosts form entities called metaorganisms. Historically, most ecological research has focused on biotic interactions such as predation and competition. However, these metaorganisms in turn engage in an integrated and synergistic cooperation with other (meta)organisms more often than previously thought. The resulting symbiome, a community of integrated metaoganisms, acquires characteristics inherent to the ecosystem where it is established, developing to climax under the environmental conditions of its habitat.
Host-microbe interactions have cascading effects on the physiology and ecology of the metaorganism. The symbiome, in turn, affects the biogeochemistry and the functioning of its ecosystem. By integrating across biological scales and maintaining an environmental context, our research aims to determine the capacity of metaorganisms to shape their ecosystems and to withstand and adapt to a changing marine environment.
We are mainly interested in the phisiology of the metaorganism and its influence on the carbon and nitrogen cycles. We use a combination of underwater fieldwork for sample collection and incubation experiments with living organisms. Nutrient and oxygen measurements, acetylene reduction assays and stable isotope probing are used to quantify fluxes. We perform manipulation and mesocosms experiments to disentangle the role of environmental conditions in shaping the functioning of the metaorganism.