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.
Microbiome engineering and microbiome health
We look at the potential for the application of concepts and methods from microbiome research to meet conservation challenges.
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.
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.
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.
Zoological Institute, Christian Albrechts University (CAU) Kiel, DE
Interim Professor (W3) for Evolutionary Ecology and Genetics
GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, DE
2020 - 2021
Group Leader/ Senior Research Fellow, RD3 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
Teaching Fellow for Ecology & Microbial Genetics
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 Curie Transfer of Knowledge Fellow
Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, The University of Sheffield, UK
Max Planck Institute for Limnology, Plön, DE
2006 - 2007
Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Limnology, Plön & CAU Kiel, DE
2003 - 2006
PhD, Natural Sciences (Biology)
CAU Kiel, MPI for Limnology, Plön & GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, DE
1996 - 2002
Diploma, Biological Sciences