The stability and functioning of ecological communities is often thought to be correlated with species diversity. However, not all species are the same: traits differ among species and these differences determine the functioning of communities, rather than just the absolute number of species. A complicating factor is the fact that traits of species are not constant. Instead, they depend on the abiotic environment and biotic interactions within the community. The response of traits to environmental conditions is defined as phenotypic plasticity. Some species perform are highly plastic which means that their performance strongly depends on environmental conditions, while others exhibit low plasticity and are relatively insensitive to fluctuating conditions and perform equally under a wide range of conditions. The consequences of phenotypic plasticity on community composition are not well-characterized. Species with highly plastic traits may be favoured because they can profit more from variable conditions, but conversely, species with low plasticity may do well because their biology allows them to be widespread.

Here we aim to investigate if community composition is linked with plasticity of traits. Do dominant species display a higher level of phenotypic plasticity of traits than species that are rare or subdominant? This question will be addressed in a natural community occurring at the green beach at Schiermonnikoog.


  • Field sampling and abundance census of different species in the field
  • Measuring of abiotic conditions in the field
  • Perform experiments under controlled abiotic conditions
  • Measure fitness (reproduction, growth rate, survival etc)

Supervision and information

Prof. Dr. Jacintha Ellers (Room H141, W&N building, Vrije Universiteit)
Phone: +31 (0)20 – 59 87076

Dr. M.P. Berg
Phone: +31 (0)20 – 59 87077