Botanic Garden Meise - OUR SCIENTISTS
Prof. Dr. Bart VAN DE VIJVER, PhD
For many years, my research is focused on the morphology, taxonomy and ecology of non-marine diatoms (Bacillariophyta) in the Antarctic Region. These unicellular, siliceous algae are one of the most abundant and productive algal groups in Antarctic and Sub-Antarctic inland waters and terrestrial environments. Until recently, due to misidentifications and force-fitting, the actual number of described species was thought to be rather limited and composed of only cosmopolitan species, resulting in a bad knowledge of their biogeographical distribution. In collaboration with Belgian, French, Czech, Bulgarian and Spanish colleagues, I conducted several fieldwork expeditions to the South Shetland Islands and the French sub-Antarctic islands (TAAF). My analysis of the sampled material revealed the presence of a unique diatom flora composed of a large number of (newly described) endemic species, contradicting all previous biogeographical hypotheses.
A second research interest highlights the diversity of diatoms from running waters in Europe and Africa. Water is one of the most precious resources in the world and determining its quality in a correct, simple and straightforward way is a key research topic for biologists. Diatoms are powerful indicators of their aquatic habitat. Apart from routine analyses of the water quality of Flemish rivers, performed for the Vlaamse Milieu Maatschappij (VMM), I am developing new identification tools to facilitate the use of diatoms as bio-indicators. A new diatom guidebook is currently being assembled for the diatoms in Swedish rivers which resulted also in the description of several species new to science. In collaboration with scientists from Dakar, Senegal, the diatom flora of the Senegal basin is being prospected aiming to develop a new bio-monitoring system for this river basin.
Besides these two major research topics, ad hoc collaborations with scientists from all over the world allow me to participate in a broad variety of taxonomy and biodiversity studies. In many cases, the presence of the historical and world famous Van Heurck diatom collection, housed at the National Botanic Garden, facilitates these collaborations. Analysis of the type material available in this collection, allowed us to resolve already several taxonomical diatom mysteries.