Next generation of taxonomy – assessment of biodiversity at beaches in the Oslofjord

The rapid and correct assessment of biodiversity is mandatory for many ecological studies. Determining, for example, the response of an ecosystem to human impact and climate change is becoming more important than ever. However, there baseline studies are necessary allowing the assessment of future changes. Moreover, taxonomic expertise is dwindling. To circumvent the problem of the lack of expertise it has been suggested that molecular data, as so called barcodes, is determined for each species. Such strategies may be very useful for the assessment of biodiversity, but first require building a reference library by trained taxonomic experts. Therefore, the aim of this master project is to accomplish both generation of new taxonomic expertise in a broad range of animal taxa as well as build up the needed reference library for species from a very peculiar habitat, the space between the sand grains.

Artistic drawing of animals living between sand grains (from Giere, 2009).

Beaches are an interesting habitat as they are at the crossroads between the terrestrial, freshwater and marine life. They show properties all three realms. On the other hand, few environments seem more homogeneous and lifeless than extensive areas of sandy beaches. Accordingly, beaches and specifically the space between the sand grains were overlooked as a potential source of biological diversity for a long time. The first naturalist who began to truly uncover this diversity was Remane in the 1930s. This led to discovery of an astonishing diversity, whereby a mere teaspoon of sand could yield a bewildering biological diversity. Today we know that out of the approximately 34 animal phyla 23 have at least some representative in this peculiar habitat. Common characteristics are that they are often small in size with less than 1 mm of length and their appearance seems to be that of simple-bodied organisms. Moreover, obtaining information on them is resource demanding, as samples have to be sorted manually and under the stereomicroscope. For this reason, there exists a huge knowledge gaps for the distribution of these species, even in many well-developed countries. This is also true for Norway.

Aim of this Master project:

The aim of this Master project is to establish the distribution of species living in the beaches along the Oslofjord including the bunnefjord, inner and outer Oslofjord. Therefore, samples will be collected by the student at selected beaches and processed in the laboratory. The species will be accurately determined and barcodes for each species found will be generated. The obtained data will be compared with previously published and set in relation to the environmental data found in the Oslofjord such as ice coverage, salinity, Norwegian nature types (NiN) and grain size.


You will collect sediment samples at the beaches. The species will be identified based on morphology and genomic DNA extracted from selected individuals of each species. The COI barcode will be determined for each of these specimens and analyzed together with publically available data for the species to obtain insights into its distribution range based in molecular data. Within the Oslofjord ecological analyses will be conducted in relation to abiotic factors to determine if changes in community composition occur along gradients within the Oslofjord.

Supervision and teaching

You will be supervised by Torsten Struck, Jose Cerca de Oliveira and Lutz Bachmann (all NHM Oslo), Günter Purschke (University of Osnabrück, Germany) and Alexander Kieneke (Senckenberg Research Institute, Wilhelmshaven, Germany). You will be provided with a broad training in different aspects of biology, which includes, among others, metazoan evolution, taxonomy, sequencing techniques, phylogenetic reconstruction and ecology. All of these techniques are state-of-the-art techniques, which are not only relevant for molecular taxonomy, but also for a variety of other academic and non-academic positions.

For further inquiries feel free to contact Torsten Struck.

Torsten Struck –

José Cerca de Oliveira –

Lutz Bachmann –  



Publisert 12. apr. 2018 07:23 - Sist endret 12. apr. 2018 07:23

Omfang (studiepoeng)