• About ME

    I am seeking to understand the fundamental mechanisms, which shape the characteristics of species, how natural environments form and maintain diversity over spacial and temporal scales, and how the interactions between species affect the environment.

     

    ecology I microbiology I zoology I symbiosis I evolution I microbiome I population & community biology I protists I aquatic systems I food webs I diversity I ecosystem functioning I ecological systems biology

    Research Description

    Microbiomes contribute to ecosystems as key engines that power system-level processes. This also applies to host ecosystems, where they are critical in maintaining host health, survival, and function. I am interested in the ecology and evolution of microbial communities and microbial symbiosis within host-microbe ecosystems. My research examines microbes from an individual, population, and community perspective, with a particular focus on understanding how small-scale interactions between individuals translate across scales up to whole ecosystems (nested ecosystems). Microbes are ideal model systems for studying ecological interactions of a species with its environment, other members of its community (e.g. competitors, predators, hosts), and the transitions along the parasitism-mutualism continuum. I highly value the combination of theory with laboratory approaches, such as experimental ecology and evolution, with environmental sampling, and field experiments as it generates complementary data.

  • Invitation to submit

    Do you work on dispersal and transmission in microbes?

  • Each living creature must be looked at as a microcosm - a little universe, formed of a host of self-propagating organisms, inconceivably minute and as numerous as the stars in heaven.

    Charles Darwin (1868)

    in The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication, Vol. II

  • RESEARCH Topics

    Microbe-microbe & host-microbe interactions

    My research explores how selective forces and ecological interactions within microbial communities impact community-level properties such as diversity, function, stability, evolutionary dynamics, and invasibility by other microbes. We make use of gnotobiotics, i.e. initially germ-free individuals, that subsequently get exposed to a chosen set of microbes. We follow an ecological systems biology approach to study host-microbe and microbe-microbe interactions at increasing complexities.

    Ecology of host-associated microbes in cnidarians

    Forces that shape and control the structure of microbiomes

    We make use of a bottom-up approach to understand how bacterial communities assemble and function in a simple metaorganism, the freshwater polyp Hydra.

    I am also interested in the microbiome composition of the marine species Actinia tenebrosa and Nematostella vectensis. Studying the Vibrio population structure I intend to further our understanding of host-microbe interactions, particularly focusing on the selective forces and ecological conditions that promote pathogen emergence.

    Microbial ecology of the plastisphere

    Plastic debris as microbial reefs in aquatic systems

    Plastic debris is one of the world’s newest ecosystems and provides a durable substrate that can be colonized by microbes and transported long distances. Over time, microbes form biofilms that can include potential pathogens and harmful algal bloom species. The project PLASTISEA has the goal to discover novel enzymes and microorganisms for the development of innovative strategies for the removal of synthetic polymers from the marine environment.

    As micro- and nanoplastics are everywhere, it is also important to explore how consumed particles and their microbiota interact with hosts and impact their life and health.

    Microbial diversity of marine sponges

    Microbial communities with distinct phylogeny but common functionality

    Despite their simplistic body plan, which places host cells in direct contact with the surrounding seawater, sponges harbour dense, diverse, and highly specific microbial communities.

    Aquatic microbial food webs

    Significance of predation by protists

    I am fascinated by the diversity of bacterial defence mechanisms against predation and the role of protist (unicellular eukaryotes) grazing on the stability, diversity and function of complex microbial communities.

     

    The role of protists is under-investigated in host-microbiome studies and I plan to explore how microbe – protist – host tissue interactions work.

    Conservation microbiology

    Microbiome engineering and microbiome health

    We look at the potential for the application of concepts and methods from microbiome research to meet conservation challenges.

    Insect microbiomes

    Understanding the determinants of microbiome composition

    We explore the diversity of microbial communities associated with diverse insect hosts.

    Biogenic methane & freshwater food webs

    Alternative energy pathways in aquatic ecosystems

    This work explores how methane-derived carbon significantly contributes to benthic food-webs in lakes. Results support the evidence that the flux of carbon through inland freshwaters is an important component for understanding the global carbon cycle.

     

    Stable isotopes in ecology

    Tracers of food web structure but also a tool for understanding host-microbe interactions

    Important elements of research in ecology include the analysis of nutrient and energy flows between microbial populations and their biotic and abiotic environments. Stable isotopes and their potential for detecting complex ecosystem processes and unravelling linkages between microbiota and invertebrate consumers have proven to be an extremely useful tool. Besides measurements of natural abundance ratios, an increasing number of studies include the addition of isotopically-labelled compounds as tracers.

    Microbial ecology of urban water systems

    An integrated approach to better understand how urban water systems function to meet future challenges

    Potable water distribution systems and sewer networks are large infrastructure systems, highly interconnected, dynamic, subject to time, varying inputs and demands, and difficult to control. They have a major impact on our quality of life, and despite the importance of these systems as major components of the water cycle, little is known about their microbial ecology.

  • CRC1182

    I am an associated researcher of the CRC1182 Origin and Function of Metaorganisms.

     

    The goal of the Collaborative Research Centre is to understand why and how microbial communities form long-term associations with their hosts.

     

    Speaker
    Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Thomas C.G. Bosch

    Vice-Speaker
    Prof. Dr. Hinrich Schulenburg

     

    Funding body

    DFG (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft)

     

    Image © CRC1182

  • Projects

    MICROCHANGE

    This project aimed to improve our understanding of host ecosystem functioning and its biotic interactions under environmental, i.e. global change conditions, focussing on the selective forces that lead to disease emergence. Understanding the factors that drive the generation of new genotypes and their selection within microbial populations, as well as the factors determining the stability and invasibility of host associated microbial communities under stress, generates valuable insights into the dynamics of bacterial pathogen emergence.

     

    This project received funding from the European Union’s Framework Program for Research and Innovation Horizon 2020 (2014-2020) under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement 655914.

  • Philosophy

    Lab Philosophy

    We embrace diversity. As known from ecosystem sciences we believe that diversity (topics, methods, team, collaborations) also plays a key role for creating a stable, productive, inclusive, and enjoyable research environment. Bridging the gap between laboratory and field is key to a holistic understanding of nature. Having worked in the field and the lab I know that the benefits of combining laboratory and fieldwork are greater than the sum of their parts. Our mission is to conduct rigorous and honest science, to communicate these findings, and to mentor the next generation of scientists.

    Teaching Philosophy

    As a scientist, I truly enjoy teaching and educating students at all levels. My long-term experience in teaching university courses encompasses providing lectures, labs, and tutorials in the subjects of zoology, physiology, ecology, cell biology, microbiology, and molecular biology at Bachelor and Master level. Being able to teach across disciplines allows me to promote in particular the integration of macrobiology and microbiology, which I believe is key for future biologists. I have a continuous track record since 2007 in teaching at universities in Germany, UK, and New Zealand and I teach both in German and English. Since 2020, I have been involved in the course “Current Topics in Marine Ecology” at GEOMAR.

     

    A central goal of my teaching is supporting the independent learning process of students. I believe that this can be best achieved through the integration of research into teaching by exposing students to practical work from early on during their studies, which emphasizes the importance of excursions, fieldwork, and laboratory internships. Dedicated literature seminars, where students present current research topics to their peers and write small proposals/opinion pieces trains them in how to access, present and discuss scientific literature fostering the engagement of students and their independent enquiry.

  • Biography

    GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, DE

    2020 -

    Group Leader/Postdoctoral Fellow, Marine Symbioses Research Unit

    Zoological Institute, Christian Albrechts University (CAU) Kiel, DE

    2015 - 2020

    Marie Skłodowska-Curie & DAAD Postdoctoral Fellow

    Institute of Natural & Mathematical Sciences, Massey University, NZ

    2011 - 2014

    Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow

    School of Biological Sciences, The University of Auckland, NZ

    2009 - 2011

    Alexander von Humboldt Fellow

    Chemical and Biological Engineering, The University of Sheffield, UK

    2007 - 2009

    Marie Skłodowska-Curie Postdoctoral Fellow

    Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, The University of Sheffield, UK

    2007

    Research Associate

    Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Limnology, Plön & CAU Kiel, DE

    2003 - 2006

    PhD, Natural Sciences (Biology)

    MPI for Limnology, Plön, GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research & CAU Kiel, DE

    1996 - 2002

    Diploma, Biological Sciences

  • Publications

    You can find my list of publications here

  • Contact

    Email

    Twitter