Understanding ecosystems

In a world increasingly under environmental pressure, ecosystems must be maintained to keep our planet healthy. Plant ecosystems mitigate the effects of global change, play an important role in the global water cycle, and help combat desertification. Our researchers study how plant ecosystems function, and how they can be monitored. They also investigate invasive species, which may have a negative impact on native ecosystems.

The ecosystem research is organized in the following topics:

Changes in species compositions of the flora of Central Africa

Meise Botanic Garden has a strong expertise in the study of the plant diversity in Central Africa. This expertise is used in projects and consultancy assignments to determine and monitor species compositions over time.

Projects: COBECORE, Herbaxylaredd, ECAT (+ finished projects RAINBIO, Biosphere Traits, COBIMFO [links]

Monitoring of exotic and invasive plant species in Belgium

Neobiota are considered worldwide as one of the most important causes for the declining biodiversity on earth. In recent years, knowledge regarding non-native vascular plants in Belgium has increased considerably. Among other things, Meise Botanic Garden compiled a catalogue with all taxa observed since 1800. In 2006 we started elaborating a richly illustrated, modern, online "manual" for the identification of non-native vascular plants in Belgium (http://alienplantsbelgium.be/), aiming at increasing knowledge about these species. Indeed, a correct taxonomic identification of newly introduced, potentially invasive species is essential. The composition of our non-indigenous flora is constantly changing since there is a permanent influx of newly introduced species. Some of these adapt themselves, naturalize and sometimes spread rapidly while others are ephemeral and quickly disappear again. Permanent updates are therefore necessary. The internet is an excellent tool to deal with this and that is why it was decided to present the "flora" online. Although of vital importance for the study of non-native plant species, there is no comparable database elsewhere in the world. The ultimate aim of the website, which is a work in progress, is to present all available information regarding non-native vascular plants in Belgium online.

For more information visit the page of Filip Verloove and Quentin Groom.

Projects: TrIAS, TrIAS Aware, Groene Pioneers, Alien-CSI.

Inventory and monitoring of diatoms in aquatic ecosystems

The composition of diatom communities is strongly influenced by water quality, which makes them useful as bio-indicators. Researchers from Meise Botanic Garden monitor diatom communities in surface waters for the Flanders Environment Agency (Vlaamse Milieu Maatschappij, VMM), which is responsible for monitoring water quality of surface waters in Flanders. In addition, we perform a pioneering monitoring study of some small rivers in the Biosphere Reserve of Yangambi (DR Congo), including an educational program for local scientists.

We are also involved in DNAqua-Net, a EU COST Action, which aims at developing new genetic tools for bioassessment of aquatic ecosystems in Europe.

For more information visit the research pages of Bart Van de Vijver and Christine Cocquyt.

Inventory and monitoring of fungi and lichens in Belgium

Meise Botanic Garden has built up a strong taxonomic expertise of the Belgian fungi and lichens. This expertise is regularly used in the framework of monitoring programs in various ecosystems in Flanders and Wallonia. In addition, our researchers study Laboulbeniales, a group of ectoparasitic fungi specialized in Arthropods (mainly insects). Since 1988 we published various taxonomical and ecological accounts, as well as the first checklist for Belgium. At Meise Botanic Garden’s estate we monitor insect populations from different semi-natural habitats (meadows, alder forests).

For more information visit the research pages of André Fraiture, André De Kesel, and Dries Van den Broeck.