Filip Meysman

“Quantifying Darwin’s last idea: the influence of bioturbation on the biogeochemistry of marine sediments, and its impact on the global carbon cycle.” (Closed)

Filip Meysman was born in 1970 in Belgium. He obtained a Master of Science in Chemical Engineering in 1993 at the University of Leuven, a Master of Science in Marine Biology in 1996 and a PhD in Biogeochemistry-Oceanography in 2001 at Ghent University.

The granted project is entitled: “Quantifying Darwin’s last idea: the influence of bioturbation on the biogeochemistry of marine sediments, and its impact on the global carbon cycle.” Biogeochemical cycling is at the base of the functioning of our planet and human action is rapidly impacting on its natural course. To understand how biogeochemical cycles are regulated, the field of biogeology has emerged, stimulated by new insights about how biological feedbacks are steering the entwined evolution of both life and the abiotic environment. To date, most attention has been directed towards geomicrobiology, which investigates the influence of the “small players” on global variables, like atmospheric O2 and CO2 levels. In this project, the focus lies on the impact of “large players”, that is rooting plants and burrowing invertebrates, whose biological reworking of soils and sediments is termed bioturbation. The importance of bioturbation for local soil processes was first realised by Charles Darwin, who devoted his last scientific book to the subject. Recent palaeo-ecological investigations indicate that bioturbation has played a key role in the Cambrian explosion, that is, the rapid evolution of multicellular life on the ocean floor around 540 Million years ago. The emergence of a new burrowing life-style caused a biogeochemical state change of the ocean floor, to which Cambrian bottom-dwellers had to adapt. In this project, we investigate the biogeochemical details of this state change, and more generally, the repercussions of marine bioturbation for carbon burial and the global carbon cycle. This is done by creating a kind of “virtual ocean floor”. This is a computer-simulation environment of marine sediments, in which we can explore the geochemical effects due to construction and ventilation of burrows (worms, midge larvae), and due to growth and exudation of root systems (seagrasses, mangroves). These model simulations will provide quantitative and mechanistic insights into the impact of marine bioturbation on organic matter processing and the global carbon cycle.

Filip Meysman has an impressive record of publications. His MEDIA model was the best available at the time of its release. His work on modelling of bio-irrigation is a classic. His paper in Trends in Ecology and Evolution is groundbreaking and will set the tone of research in that field for some time. The project has a focus on marine sediments, which cover about two thirds of the earth surface. Similar as was done for terrestrial plants, the question is how the bioturbation activities of marine organisms affect sediment biogeochemistry, and how this could have affected global biogeochemistry over geological time scales.