Tropical mangroves in Wageningen

Researchers at Wageningen University & Research have come up with a creative solution to continue their climate research on tropical marine ecosystems during the corona pandemic: by starting a tropical plant nursery, they brought the tropics to Wageningen.

For over a year, tropical coastal areas have been inaccessible for research or fieldwork due to global COVID-19 measures. Scientists at the Aquatic Ecology and Water Quality Management group at WUR and NESSC were faced with an additional challenge: how to study the effects of climate change on tropical coastal system without being able to conduct fieldwork abroad? Marjolijn Christianen, Sara Pino Cobacho and Fee Smulders, together with laboratory technician Dorine Dekkers, decided to bring the tropics close to home by starting their own tropical plant nursery.

Project leader Marjolijn Christianen, PhD student Sara Pino Cobacho, and students Lisa Hoekema and Divyashri Varadharajan, planting mangroves and seagrasses immediately after their arrival from Bonaire, Dutch Caribbean. Photo: WUR / NESSC
Project leader Marjolijn Christianen, PhD student Sara Pino Cobacho, and students Lisa Hoekema and Divyashri Varadharajan, planting mangroves and seagrasses immediately after their arrival from Bonaire, Dutch Caribbean. Photo: WUR / NESSC

Mangroves and seagrasses

Arrangements to find a suitable location for the nursery began in summer 2020, and was found at the Nergena greenhouse complex at Unifarm, Wageningen. Plant material was then collected and transported largely from Bonaire, Dutch Caribbean. Plants were also provided by Burger’s Zoo in Arnhem. In only a few months, a large culture of marine plants, consisting of different species of mangroves and tropical seagrass, found a home in Wageningen.

Study projects

The tropical nursery is now fully functional and makes it possible to work with real-life tropical marine plants, providing both researchers and students with unique opportunities to advance their knowledge on tropical coastal systems. NESSC-researchers can continue their research on the resilience of tropical coastal systems, their interactions and changes triggered by climate change and climate-driven anthropogenic pressures. Additionally, the experimental data generated using these cultures also allow further Bachelor and Master student projects which availability also were severely reduced by COVID-19.

Juvenile red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle) trees are cultured at the nursery. Parameters such as water and air temperature, salinity, nutrients, light intensity and photoperiod are controlled to ensure their optimal growth. Photo: WUR / NESSC
Juvenile red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle) trees are cultured at the nursery. Parameters such as water and air temperature, salinity, nutrients, light intensity and photoperiod are controlled to ensure their optimal growth. Photo: WUR / NESSC
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