Altermatt lab – Group


Prof. Dr. Florian Altermatt (Group Leader, SNSF Professor of Community Ecology)

I’m interested in the linking of community ecology processes, such as species-interactions and dispersal, and how they influence metacommunity composition and diversity at regional scales. Currently, I focus on invasion and dispersal processes in river-like networks.

Besides my interest in conceptual community ecology, I’m also a keen naturalist. My pleasures are–as Vladimir Nabokov said once–the most intense known to man: writing and butterfly hunting (with the camera ;-) Read more about my passion for Lepidoptera.

Sabbatical guest

Prof. Dr. Mary I. O‘Connor (Eawag Protosynthesis visitor/sabbatical guest) personal website

Visiting August 2017–July 2018. Associate Professor, Department of Zoology, University of British Columbia. 

Postdocs, Ph.D. and master students

Roman Alther (PhD student) private website

I have been fascinated by aquatic ecosystems for a long time. Whereas my Masters’ project focused on diversity of insects in high alpine glacial tributaries, the focus of my PhD project will be on understanding the importance of different ecological and evolutionary processes shaping diversity of amphipod communities.

My goal is to establish well-founded knowledge about the distribution and diversity of native and non-native amphipod species in Switzerland. I want to gain a deeper insight into processes forming biodiversity patterns over time and space. Dendritic aquatic systems represent a suitable study system wherein different ecological and evolutionary mechanics, such as dispersal, invasion and speciation, can be studied.

Simon Benateau (Research Associate)

My main research interest is community ecology. I am fascinated by the diversity of interactions within and between communities and how the networks of these interactions are constantly changing.

In my current research, I investigate the consequences of climate change on aquatic communities at different scales, ranging from individuals to ecosystems.

Dr. Rosetta Blackmann (Postdoc) private website

I am fascinated by rivers: understanding the processes within then, the connection to the landscape around them and how this shapes biodiversity. Having used traditional morphological techniques to assess plant, algae and macroinvertebrate biodiversity for many years, my aim now is to utilise rapidly developing molecular tools, such as environmental DNA (eDNA), to detect all levels of biodiversity at a catchment scale. eDNA offers an unprecedented opportunity for ecologists to gain an insight into all levels of biodiversity and it with this technique that I want to develop a holistic approach to river ecosystem assessment in order to conserve and protect freshwater habitats. 

Jeanine Brantschen (MSc student)

As I have always been intrigued by the diversity and beauty of life forms in my surroundings, I specialized in evolution & ecology for my master’s studies. As a passionate diver, I am particularly affiliated to water and aquatic ecosystems. My work deals with the characterization of aquatic communities in a pond experiment under different nutrient regimes. I will apply molecular methods (eDNA) to foster the understanding of functional diversity and ecosystem resilience in natural aquatic ecosystems.

Dr. Kristy Deiner (Research Associate) private website

I am fascinated and humbled by biodiversity.  I want to understand how it is generated and how to maintain it.  Biodiversity spans genes to ecosystems and this requires interdisciplinary research that utilizes universal tools.  For this reason I have focused on developing and utilizing genetic tools (environmental DNA, population genetics, molecular systematics) and field methods (natural experiments and observational studies) to understand population dynamics, structure and diversity.  My work has carried me to mountain top lakes and rivers, to coastal streams and tropical lakes and islands.  I am keenly interested with how interactions among species and the environment shape the distribution of biodiversity and find this research paramount in today's increasingly human dominated world.

Dr. Luis J. Gilarranz (co-hosted Eawag Postdoc) private website

My global aim is to understand the factors that shape biodiversity in space. Species interactions, dispersal, and perturbations rule community dynamics. Those factors determine the health of the system at each location. Specifically, I am interested in the role of dispersal networks for population persistence and perturbation buffering. By not considering only one species, but communities as a whole, I explore the biogeography of interactions. My goal is to determine how dispersal routes influence the spatial distribution of ecological networks. The existence of several interaction networks scattered across the landscape also allow me to study the effect of anthropogenic stressors on the stability of ecological networks. This research line is very much related with information flow and risk assessment in complex systems. This is why using tools developed for studying ecological phenomena, my collaborators and I have been able to provide insight on socioeconomic systems.

Dr. Isabelle Gounand (Postdoc) private website

I am a theoretical ecologist. My general research theme explores the functioning of complex ecosystems by linking community, ecosystem and spatial ecology. My main interest is to understand the feedbacks between biotic and abiotic environments and their interactions with diversity via modeling tools and microcosm experiments. In particular, I am using the metaecosystem framework to study spatial dynamics between communities and material flows. In my current project, I will apply the metaecosystem framework to rivers to better understand biodiversity dynamics in dendritic networks and the underlying role of aquatic-terrestrial coupling.

Kathrin Holenstein (MSc student)

I am a MSc student fascinated by nature and its diverse ecosystems. My work focuses on riverine ecosystems with spatial dendritic network structures. By experimentally manipulating the network structures and environmental conditions (e.g. habitat loss and food availability as well as abiotic factors) I investigate effects on community distribution and composition. In my microcosm experiments I use protist species. The findings will contribute to the understanding of natural and human made changes in riverine ecosystems.

Samuel Hürlemann (Lab technician)

I am a biology lab technician with a broad experience in molecular biology and cell culturing techniques. I am interested in environmental sciences and lab methods used therein. My main responsibilities are running the microbiology and protist lab, support molecular and field work and being involved in planning and running experiments.

Dr. Claire Jacquet (Postdoc) private website

I'm broadly interested in the general mechanisms leading to the emergence and persistence of biodiversity at the ecological and macro-ecological scale. My research aims at predicting ecosystem resilience to perturbations in spatially structured systems to improve environmental decision-making. I combine theoretical modelling, data analysis and microcosm experiments to achieve this goal. In my current project, I study the effect of spatial network structure on metacommunity composition and stability. I focus on the functional traits related to species mobility in order to link species coexistence mechanisms acting at the community and metacommunity scale.

Silvana Kaeser (Lab technician)

I am a research technician at the department of Aquatic Ecology (Eco) at Eawag, where I work for different research groups. I have a strong interest in the taxonomy of aquatic invertebrates as well as algae and in their use as biological indicators in aquatic ecosystems. My other focus lies on understanding the impacts of invasive species on local ecosystems. In the Altermatt lab, I am in charge of the amphipod collection, the protist collection and the flow through systems (e.g. used for keeping amphipods). Furthermore, I am involved in experimental studies (amphipods, protists), field work and other projects with aquatic invertebrates.

Chelsea J. Little (PhD student) private website

My research revolves around what drives biodiversity and species distributions at local and regional scales. I’m also particularly interested in the impacts of global change and other anthropogenic factors and how we can best predict future changes in species occurrences. In my PhD I plan to examine aquatic-terrestrial linkages using a meta-ecosystems framework, working primarily with amphipods. Dendritic network provide an excellent opportunity to study these issues due to their spatial organization and the delineation between aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, which allow us to easily identify the origin and movement of materials and organisms between the two settings.

Elvira Mächler (PhD student)

I am a PhD student working on environmental DNA (eDNA). Environmental DNA is a molecular, non-invasive method to detect species due the DNA that individuals shed into the environment. Detection of species through eDNA has a high potential to be used in applied fields. I am interested to develop tools and protocols on how to use eDNA in the context of biodiversity monitoring in riverine ecosystems. During my PhD I aim to study transport and fate of eDNA and its possible use for understanding community composition and dispersal of organisms within riverine networks.

Felix Moerman (PhD student, co-supervised by Prof. F. Altermatt, Prof. A. Wagner & Dr. E.A. Fronhofer)

My main area of interest is the study of eco-evolutionary dynamics of species during range expansion and invasions. I’ve been strongly interested in the way ecological changes can quickly feedback in evolutionary responses and during my master thesis I studied phenotypic changes in spider mites during experimental range expansion. Over the course of my PhD, I will further investigate evolutionary responses during range expansions and invasions using the protist Tetrahymena thermophila as a model species. By combining microcosm experiments, extensive genomic analyses and numerical analyses, I aim to gain further understanding of both the genomic basis of evolutionary adaptations in moving populations, as well as how these changes feed back in population dynamics and performance.

Olaf Rodrigues (semester student)

I study biology in my 5th semester at the University of Zurich. In my semester project I will search for Amphipoda of the genus Niphargus in Schaffhausen’s groundwater by using a citizen science approach. Afterwards, the collected animals will be taxonomically and genetically analyses. The findings should provide a better knowledge about the diversity in groundwater ecosystems, and eventually estimate which responsibilities should be assigned to protect these habitats.

Remo Wüthrich (MSc student)

As diving professional I became fascinated by aquatic ecosystems and the species communities living therein. My current work focuses on freshwater ecosystems. Placing emphasis on aquatic insects (mainly Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera, and Trichoptera), I’m interested in studying natural and manmade processes that form diversity patterns and shape species’ distribution and dispersal. My MSc project aims to enhance the spatial understanding of diversity and ecosystem processes in dendritic riverine networks. With my work I’d like to contribute to the protection of water bodies both as a resource and as a natural habitat.

Xing Xing (PhD student)

I’m motivated by studies in ecosystems that are closely linked with human beings but meanwhile intensively disturbed by anthropic activities, such as riverine ecosystems. Recent progress in high throughput sequencing (HTS) and environmental DNA (eDNA) brings enormous opportunities in aquatic ecology, along with challenges. I’m fascinated by the large-scale and comprehensive information those tools provided and their application in ecological studies. The goal of my PhD is trying to uncover fundamental biodiversity in riverine systems. During my PhD, I aim to improve the taxonomic, spatial and temporal coverage of biodiversity patterns in rivers and gain a better understanding of related questions in ecosystem processes, functions and dynamics.

Lab Alumni already dispersed (in order of leaving the group)

  1. Dr. Emanuel A. Fronhofer (Postdoc) – April 2013 to December 2017 – CNRS researcher at the Institut des Sciences de l'Evolution de Montpellier, France

  2. Dr. Eric Harvey (Postdoc) – February 2015 to August 2017 – now NSERC postdoc at University of Toronto

  3. Lynn Govaert (visting PhD student) – May 2017 to July 2017 – University of Leuven

  4. Martina Ramel (MSc student) – November 2015 to December 2016

  5. Dr. Cene Fišer (visting scientist) – September to December 2016 – University of Ljubljana

  6. Dr. Andrea Giometto (PhD student, Postdoc) – October 2011 to September 2016 – now Postdoc at Harvard

  7. Sereina Gut (Technician) – October 2015 to August 2016 – now student at UZH

  8. Dr. Maslin Osathanunkul (visiting scientist) – May to June 2016 – lecturer at Chiangmai University

  9. Fabienne Santschi (MSc student) – September 2015 to May 2016

  10. Simon Flückiger (Zivi) – September 2015 to May 2016 – now student at ZHAW

  11. Vid Svara (visiting scientist) – October 2015 to January 2016 – now PhD student at Helmholtz Leipzig

  12. Katharina Kaelin (MSc student) – September 2014 to December 2015 – now working at WSL (website)

  13. Pravin Ganesanandamoorthy (lab technician) – September 2013 to July 2015 – now student at ZHAW

  14. Dr. Kristy Deiner (Postdoc) – October 2012 to June 2015 – now postdoc at Cornell University (website)

  15. Nicolai Nitsche (MSc Student) – May 2014 to October 2014 – now in pharmaceutical research (Abbvie)

  16. Dr. Mathew Seymour (PhD student) – May 2011 to October 2014 – now postdoc at Bangor University, Bangore.

  17. Dr. Jan Klecka (SCIEX Postdoc) – August 2013 to August 2014 – now junior group leader at Biology Centre of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic

  18. Dr. Francesco Carrara (PhD student) – January 2011 to December 2013 – now postdoc at ETH with Roman Stocker

  19. Lea Caduff (biology apprentice) – March 2013 to August 2013 – now a technician at Eawag, Switzerland

  20. Roman Alther (M.Sc. project student) – March 2012 to May 2012 – back again in the Altermatt lab for a PhD

  21. Marta Reyes (research technician) – January 2012 to May 2012 – now a technician at Eawag, Switzerland