course description 

 Biocomplexity Research Focus

Integrated Coastal Zone Management : mangroves, seagrass beds and coral reefs

alias Tropical Coastal Biocomplexity

Prof. Dr. Farid Dahdouh-Guebas

  Biocomplexity Research Focus

Laboratorium voor Algemene Plantkunde en Natuurbeheer
telefoon: 02/629.34.22 - e-mail :

Biocomplexity Research Focus


 course material 


The start of the next courses is scheduled in November 2016 and September 2017 (see schedule)

Course description


The course comprises 3 ETCS.  The course targets Master students from the disciplines of Biology, Bio-Engineering, Geography, Human Ecology and Marine and Lacustrine Science and Management.


Aims and objectives :

1. Overview of the nature of tropical coastal ecosystems : mangrove forests, seagrass beds and coral reefs;
2. Understanding of the ecological relationships within and between each of these ecosystems (biocomplexity);

3. Understanding the consequences of anthropogenic threats to these ecosystems.

Upon completion of the course a student must be able to track down the ecological consequences on different sublevels (environment, fauna and flora) of anthropogenically induced changes, and must be able to situate the environmental problems in a holistic context (relationship with socio-economical factors).


Compulsory or advised pre-knowledge :

The 'kandidatuur'-training or BSc. is required. A course on 'general ecology' may be helpful.

Consider taking the following course in parallel Scientific Presentation Skills and Career Planning (VUB-008242).


Content :

The course comprises three related parts, describing each of the ecosystems separately (incl. within and between relationships), the links with man and integrated research.  The greater emphasis is on mangrove forests.

Part I – Mangrove forests, seagrass beds and coral reefs and their biocomplexity
- distribution of mangrove forests, seagrass beds and coral reefs;

- faunal and floral biodiversity, incl. morphological, physiological and ethological adaptations to intertidal and marine life;
- comparison of ecosystem function between mangrove forests, seagrass beds and coral reefs;

- ecological mutual benefits between the three tropical coastal ecosystems;

- food webs and trophic relationships;


Part II – Ethnobiology and anthropogenical impacts on tropical coastal ecosystems
- social, economical and cultural value and services of mangrove forests, seagrass beds and coral reefs;

- anthropogenically induced threats on one or more ecosystems and the consequences for the other ecosystems;

- local vs. global patterns of change.


Part III – Scientific research tools

- monitoring, modelling and experiments (incl. management, restoration and conservation);

- the use of remote sensing and GIS;  

- combinatory and multivariate analyses;

- essentials of marine tropical habitat management

- case-studies and management guidelines with respect to tropical coastal ecosystems.


Compulsory study material :

Didactical material and information used during the course.


Additional study material :

De Lacerda, L.D., 2002.  Mangrove Ecosystems: Function and Management.  Springer-Verlag, Berlin, Germany.  314 pp.


den Hartog, C., 1970.  The seagrasses of the world.  Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen, Verhandelingen, Afdeling Natuurkunde, Tweede Reeks, Deel 59(1), North-Holland Publishing Company, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.  275 pp.  

Duke, N.C., 2006.  Australia’s mangroves.  University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia.  200 pp.

Hogarth, P., 2007.  The Biology of Mangroves and Seagrasses. Oxford University Press Inc., Oxford, UK. 273 pp.

Pernetta, J.C., 1993.  Mangrove forests, climate change and sea level rise: hydrological influences on community structure and survival, with examples from the Indo-West Pacific.  A Marine Conservation and Development Report.  IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.  vii + 46 pp.


Pernetta, J.C., 1993.  Monitoring Coral Reefs for Global Change.  A Marine Conservation and Development Report.  IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.  vi + 102 pp.


Phillips, R.C. & E.G. Meñez, 1988.  Seagrasses.  Smithsonian Contributions to the Marine Sciences 34, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington D.C., USA.  104 pp.  


Saenger, P., 2002.  Mangrove ecology, silviculture and conservation.  Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, The Netherlands.  360 pp.


Stafford-Deitsch, J., 1996.  Mangrove : the Forgotten Habitat.  Immel Publishing Limited, London, UK. 277 pp.


Tomlinson, P.B., 1986.  The Botany of Mangroves.  Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.  419 pp.


UNEP/IUCN, 1988.  Coral Reefs of the World.  UNEP Regional Seas Directories and Bibliographies.  IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, U.K. / UNEP, Nairobi, Kenya.


Waycott, M., K. McMahon, J. Mellors, A. Calladine & D. Kleine, 2004.  A guide to Tropical Seagrasses of the Indo-West Pacific.  James Cook University, Townsville, Australia. 72 pp.


+ current international research publications


Type of examination :

Individual assignment + oral examination without written preparation.  The examination matter is the oral and written matter covered during the lectures.  Note that the course material only provides the slides used during the lectures and not all oral and blackboard information !


During the oral exam the student usually receives a question from each of the three course parts first, followed by an interdisciplinary question that requires the integration of the relevant information from the three course parts.  In general, sound in-sight into the subject matter is as important as knowledge, if not more important.


Examples Part I questions :

- Explain how a coral reef is formed.

- Illustrate briefly the adaptation of mangroves to the intertidal environment based on mangrove physiognomy.


Examples Part II questions :

- How can the resources of tropical coastal ecosystems be employed in traditional house building ?

- Explain the response of the environment, a population and an ecosystem to sea-level increase.


Examples Part III questions :

- What is an ordination ?

- Illustrate the use of remote sensing to quantify an ecological footprint.


Examples integrative questions :

- Explain the short and long-term effects of mangrove cutting on the functioning of the coral reef.

- What would be the effect of inland groundwater pumping for the plants and people in the coastal zone ?


Additional information:

The following website has been developed :

Course + material : 

Thesis topics :

Bibliography on Tropical Coastal Ecosystems : 







Mondays 14:00-17:00 on VUB Campus (see Faculty schedule)


Details on research, thesis topics and individual assignment are given during the first lecture.



In February/March 2017, the lectures will be suspended due to the VLIZ Young Scientist's Day.






(incl. discussion of individual assignment)


Students belonging to curricula who are following this course optionally (e.g. Lic. Biologie, Human Ecology, Erasmus/Socrates students) or with special statutes (top sports, handicap,...) are requested to take contact with the lecturer for the planning of the examination.


All exams take place in room O.3.204 (Campus Plaine, ULB side, Etterbeek).


Exam first session (January) : please sign up for the day of exam at your secretariat, or with the class responsible who will interact over this with the lecturer.  Exams take place individually at 1-hour intervals between students starting at 09h00.


Ecomama : to be announced (8 students per day at 1-hour intervals)

MSc. Biologie : to be announced (all students at 1-hour intervals)

Erasmus/Socrates/Free students : depending on curriculum followed or date to be planned.



Exam second session (September) : please sign up for the day of exam at your secretariat, or with the class responsible who will interact over this with the lecturer.  Exams take place individually at 1-hour intervals between students.

All curricula : to be planned



Course material


The downloadable material documents the course overview, the individual assignment, the matter dealt with in the course, all references made to scientific literature, as well as additional detailed notes about some topics.  It does not replace, but complements what has been presented during the lectures.  It is up to the student to make additional notes on what is explained orally or by means of the blackboard in order to understand the course.  The course material is offered in the Adobe Acrobat PDF format.  Alternatively, you can obtain a print-out using a public VUB network computer, or request it from your programme secretariat that is responsible for the distribution of the course material.  There is no use in contacting your secretariat when the files are not yet available online.


All downloads proceed through the course's documents section of the VUB e-learning platform PointCarré.


The material made available through the above links will be kept up-to-date (typing errors, comments from students,...), but is normally not changing significantly during the lectures within the academic year.  Nevertheless, check PointCarré regularly to assure that you have the most recent version.  The final version of the course material, which is subject to assessment, will be made available at the latest at the start of the study week(s) before the examination sessions.



Individual assignment


The individual assignment is part of the self-study section of the course (ZELF) and is compulsory.  The deadline for the compulsory individual assignment is 8 December 2016 at 10h00'00" at Plaine (ULB office: P.O.3.204 / 205)  and is real!


The information concerning this assignment is given in detail in the introductory lecture of the course and is also given point-wise in the introductory part of the course material.  In addition, there is a site explaining the assignment in detail.  Click here to access this site (hosted by ULB under Tropical Biocomplexity).



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