Functional morphology of an aquatic invader

Biological invasions are one of the biggest challenges of our time. Due to these human mediated introductions of alien species, native species are in danger of extirpation and ecosystems could potentially shift to an alternative stable state. Functional feeding characteristics of both invasive and native species are an important factor that determine the interactions between native and alien species.

With this MSc thesis project we want to find out whether a known invasive fish species, the round goby (Neogobius melanostomus or zwartbekgrondel in Dutch), adjusts to the novel environments it encounters. Round goby encounter different food types during their invasion, at varying abundance and with diverse competitors: this could trigger adjustments in their functional feeding traits that allows them to establish at these new locations. We will compare the functional morphology of different populations of round goby to see if they indeed adjust to local conditions, or that their ‘normal’ generalist feeding morphology is sufficient to allow invasion of a wide range of ecosystems. The outcomes of this study will eventually aid risk assessment and other management tools of biological invasions.

During this project at the Aquaculture & Fisheries and Experimental Zoology chair groups, you will perform functional morphological measurements on round gobies from populations across Europe and North-America, and compare the populations using existing statistical methods. Furthermore, we will combine these measurements with a phylogeny to determine whether a genetic basis exists behind found differences in feeding traits. We strive to get the final results published in a scientific journal.

We are looking for a highly motivated and precise student, with an interest in (functional) morphology, fish biology and/or biological invasions. For further information or questions, please contact Mike Fleuren (AFI/EZO, mike.fleuren[at] or Leo Nagelkerke (AFI, leo.nagelkerke[at] Preferred starting date: September 3, 2018. Pre-requisite knowledge - completed at least one of the following courses: AFI-30806, AFI-31306, EZO-30306, EZO-30806.