Three VUB scientists win prestigious VLIZ Awards for sea-related research
Two biologists and one archaeologist from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel have won awards from the Flemish Marine Institute (VLIZ). They received their prizes on 1 March, Marine Science Day, in Bruges.
The recent archaeology graduate Dries Vergouwen won the VLIZ Master Thesis Award, worth €500, for his research into lighthouses in the ancient Roman port of Nea Paphos in Cyprus. As part of his thesis – Come Sail Your Ships Around Me: Studying the Roman Harbour Infrastructure and Seascape of Nea Paphos using Viewshed Analysis – he found the most likely sites for the lighthouses of the main port of Roman Cyprus.
In addition to Vergouwen, two PhD students also won awards. Marine biologist Joëlle De Weerdt won a VLIZ Philanthropy Brilliant Marine Research Idea grant of €5,000 for her research into humpback whales in the Pacific Ocean along the Nicaraguan coast. Her research on singing male humpback whales allowed her to show, among other things, that they adapt their unique singing to the singing of males from other populations. To a certain extent this is comparable to birds that adjust their repertoire under the influence of conspecifics that have a slightly different beak. The changing vocals of those males is also evidence that they have come into contact with males from other groups. De Weerdt’s ongoing research is called Ecology of Humpback Whales and Other Cetaceans off the Pacific Coast of Nicaragua.
Finally, PhD student Jasper Dierick received an award for his research on the distribution of and threats to seagrasses along the highly disturbed coasts of Vietnam. With his doctoral research The Importance of Seedling Recruitment and Clonal Propagation for the Persistence and Resilience of Seagrass Meadows Under Disturbance, which is still in progress, he has shown thatmany seagrasses in highly disturbed habitats survive almost exclusively in the form of clones, which sometimes live for hundreds of years but no longer bloom.The consequence of that cloning – pieces of a plant that break off and from which a new plant grows that is genetically identical to the mother plant – is shrinking genetic diversity, with all the dangers to species survival that this entails. Seagrasses, contrary to what the name suggests, are not grasses. They are flowering plants that have migrated back from the land to the sea in the course of evolution. They play a prominent role in the reproduction of many other marine species and are also important as carbon stores in the oceans.