Aarhus University Seal / Aarhus Universitets segl

Applied Marine Ecology and Modelling

Our research focuses on understanding, describing and modelling how natural variation and human activity affect the nature and environmental quality of our marine areas. The human activities that are most important to our marine environment are:

  • Inputs of nutrients from land, the atmosphere and other marine areas, which may have negative effects such as mass blooms of plankton algae, poor water transparency and oxygen depletion.
  • Overfishing and trawling, which affect the marine food chains and destroy plant and animal communities on the seabed.
  • Climate change, which will affect, among other things, temperature, stratification, sea currents and runoff from land. These changes will act in concert with other impacts on the marine environment.

In addition, environmentally hazardous substances, aquaculture, extraction of raw materials and offshore wind turbines are examples of human influences on the marine environment. We work across different systems from the coastal zone to the open marine areas, from the Arctic through temperate to tropical systems.


Animation chlorophyll spring bloom
Phytoplankton blooming in the spring in Horsens fjord modelled in FlexSem, a model complex developed by our researchers.

Influences on the structure and function of marine ecosystems

The relations between nutrient inputs and their effects on marine ecosystems in the form of eutrophication are a central theme of our research. To throw a light on these relations, we develop and use simple statistical models based on national monitoring data as well as more complex hydrodynamic and ecological models. With the models, we can, among other things, examine what regulates the prevalence and production of plant and animal communities if the nutrient supply is changed, and we can test the effects of tools aimed at reducing the negative effects of nutrients. We also develop indicators that are used to describe and assess the quality of the environment and examine the effect of interacting influences such as eutrophication, climate change and fishing.

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Research at organism level

Physical oceanography and the interactions between the physical and biological environment are the focus of our research. We develop methods and models to analyse causal relationships between variations in the marine environment and the occurrence and prevalence of key marine organisms such as zooplankton, submerged plants and benthic organisms. We model the spread and distribution of, for example, copepods, planktonic larvae and eel grass shoots, evaluate the connectivity between areas and try to predict which species will coexist as the climate changes – and in which areas.

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Research-based management tools

Our methods are mainly based on dynamic, statistical and GIS-based models that integrate the latest research, process studies and monitoring data. The models are developed from data stored in national databases and experimental data from both field and laboratory experiments, but also new monitoring technologies, such as satellite data and automated measurements (e.g. at buoys), are tested and used. The models can be applied both in research and to support the ecosystem-based management of marine areas, for example in connection with EU's Water Framework and Marine Strategy Directive as well as the Danish water plans.

Two examples of tools developed by the section are MYTIGATE that may help managers to choose the location of mussel farms (https://au-bios-model.shinyapps.io/MYTIGATE/) and FLEXSEM, which is a tool that allows development of dynamic sea models in self-selected areas (https://marweb.bios.au.dk/Flexsem/).

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