PhD grant: Structural and functional patterns in the epibenthos and fish communities in the Belgian part of the North Sea

This PhD grant is situated within the project OffWind and several other long-term programs of the research group Aquatic Environment and Quality of ILVO. This gives the selected candidate the chance to become an expert in the structural and functional ecology of the epibenthos and the diverse fish communities present in the Belgian part of the North Sea.

Job Description

In the frame of the implementation of different European directives (MSFD, CFP, WFD, OSPAR, N2000), environmental impact assessments and the further development of marine spatial planning in the North Sea, knowledge on the individual and cumulative influence of the different human activities on the marine ecosystem is fundamental.

WithIn this framework, the research group AMK of ILVO performs monitoring research already for more than 30 years on the impact of sand extraction, dredge dumping, blue energy and coastal defense on the bottom ecosystem in the Belgian part of the North Sea. Also the impact of fisheries, aquaculture, the introduction of non-native species, and the delineation of marine protected areas is investigated. The long-term data we generate through all this monitoring research, are used to build a reference framework, against which changes in the marine ecosystem can be weighted, coupled to changes in diverse environmental parameters due to human influence and broader impacts, such as climate change.

Within the OffWind project the research focuses on the impact of offshore windmill parks on the marine ecosystem. Next to the potential direct impact (e.g. due to the introduction of hard substrates), these windfarms (where fishery is excluded) an ideal study area to investigate the impact of fisheries on the soft-bottom communities. Additionally, we perform innovative and more detailed research concerning structural and functional indicators that can help to (quickly) detect potential changes, using new techniques, technologies and experimental work (e.g. coupled to these windfarms),. The focus in this lies on the carrying capacity and the potential restoration of the natural environment.

As a PhD researcher, your tasks within the long-term research, and more specifically within the OffWind project, include:

  • Structural and functional research on the impact of offshore windmill farms in the Belgian part of the North Sea (direct impact and impact of shifts in fisheries) on the epibenthos and fish communities, e.g. through field and lab experiments and tagging;
  • Determining baseline conditions (based on >30 years data) for epibenthos and demersal fish in the Belgian part of the North Sea, in relation to long-term pressures (fisheries, climate), making use of ecological modeling and satellite data;
  • Unraveling the temporal and spatial distribution of the pelagic and semipelagic fish communities in the Belgian part of the North Sea, coupled to the presence of the windfarms, using different sampling techniques and technologies (incl. sonar, eDNA);
  • Investigating the impact of the many offshore windfarms (that also pop-up everywhere in the neighbouring waters to reach the EU goals concerning renewable energy) on the dynamics and status of commercial (flat)fish stocks on a wider North Sea scale.

This list with topics and the potential implementation is not at all definite. We even encourage the PhD candidate to come up with own ideas, coupled to his or her own fields of interest.

Your competence profile

Your job technical competences and skills

  • You have a good ecological knowledge; knowledge on epibenthos and fish, and more specifically on the Belgian North Sea ecosystem are an asset;
  • You have knowledge concerning environmental impact research;
  • Expertise with experimental work and ecological modeling or an asset
  • You have a good written and spoken knowledge of English; knowledge of Dutch is a plus;
  • You have expertise with R and multivariate statistical techniques; expertise with big data sets, web data services or GIS are an asset;
  • You are able to work independently, but are equally a team player;
  • You work with a creative, critica land analytical mind set;
  • You are willing to search for extra funding.

Our offer

  • A PhD contract at ILVO.
  • A research/PhD function situated within the OffWind project and diverse long-term research projects of ILVO-AMK, coupled to a broad collaboration with several Belgian and international scientific institutes;
  • Working in the frame of challenging projects in the field of environmental impact and more specifically blue energy, a promising sector within Europe;
  • Collaboration with other groups within ILVO, framed in diverse multidisciplinary projects.

How to apply

All applications must be sent no later than Tuesday May 1st, 2018.
To apply, you sent a motivation letter and CV by email to:
Prof. dr. ir. Bart Sonck – Head of the Animal Sciences Unit of ILVO -

The following documents must be attached to the email in 1 attachment:

  • Motivation letter
  • CV
  • A transcript of the required degree
  • An overview of your study results
  • The name and contact data of a reference person

Course of the selection procedure

  • Screening of cv's: May 7th, 2018
  • Selection interviews: May 22, 23 or 24th, 2018 (to be determined)
  • Intended starting date of PhD: July 15th, 2018 or earlier

After screening of the provided information, a preselection will be made and you will be informed via phone or email. Withdrawn candidates will be invited for an interview. Please make sure you note your phone number and email address on your CV where you can be reached during daytime, and block the above mentioned data in your agenda.

More information

For more information on the function content you may contact:
Dr. Kris Hostens, Groupleader AMK, M: 0474/45 36 18 -
or Dr. Annelies De Backer, project leader OffWind, T: 058/569 877 –

PhD grant: Structural and functional patterns in the epibenthos and fish communities in the Belgian part of the North Sea