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Benthic organisms and habitats

Benthic organisms are animals and plants living on or in the seabed. For aquatic ecosystems, benthos is of great importance, since it affects other animals, such as fish and birds. It provides a food source or habitat itself, such as biogenic reefs formed from mussels and oysters. In addition, benthic organisms serve as an indicator for assessing the ecological status of a water body.

The focal points of IfAÖ’s department for benthic organisms and habitats are in inventory, monitoring and the identification and evaluation of benthic marine and limnic ecosystems. In addition, plankton from marine ecosystems are examined. The communities of species and their habitats are examined by the experts using underwater video (ROV), research divers and mainly vessel-based sampling. 

To accurately characterize the bottom-dwelling animal and plant communities, the department uses its profound taxonomic expertise and a benthic specimen collection with over 30,000 individual samples for comparison. The benthos database with time series data for over 24,000 locations and more than 45,000 hauls (from 2002 onwards) underpins the reliable interpretation of results, which form the basis of expert reports, research reports and scientific publications.

Benthic organisms community
Benthic organisms community
Typical soil organism communities at Wismar Bay
Typical soil organism communities at Wismar Bay

The aim of IfAÖ’s investigations is the evaluation of environmental and nature conservation assessments in terms of anthropogenic influences such as offshore wind turbines, channel deepening, cable routes, pipelines, sediment extractions and dumping on benthic organisms in accordance with the requirements of Natura 2000, WFD and MSFD.

The following work is performed by IfAÖ:

Monitoring of marine benthic organisms and habitats

  • Studies of marine organisms and habitats in the North and Baltic Seas
  • Inventory , mapping and evaluation of macrozoobenthos, macrophytobenthos and benthic biotopes
  • Description and seasonal and annual variability of benthic animal and plant communities in response to environmental influences
  • Analysis of surrounding physical parameters such as hydrology and sediment
  • Creation of environmental and nature conservation expert opinions and research reports

Monitoring limnic benthic organisms and habitats

  • Studies of macrozoobenthos and macrophytobenthos in lakes and rivers
  • Investigations of microphytobenthos in lakes and rivers
  • Determination of water quality in rivers , standard detections for location type eindex, ASTERICS- / PERLODES methods, saprobic index according to DIN 38410, Multi - Habitat – Sampling
  • Determination of water quality in lakes in accordance with the AESHNA method

In addition to benthic expertise, IfAÖ taxonomists are also accustomed to determination of marine phytoplankton. 

Benthos laboratory

Analysis and taxonomy of:

  • Marine macrozoobenthos and macrophytobenthos
  • Limnic macrozoobenthos and macrophytobenthos
  • Marine planktonic organisms

Sediment laboratory

Particle size analysis in accordance with DIN 18123 and determination of ignition loss according to DIN EN 12879


  • Applied conservation research, e.g. regeneration of natural reef communities after anthropogenic impacts
  • Taxonomic / systematic description of benthic species , revision of taxa ,
  • Creation of identification aids, description of new taxa , hosting of taxonomy workshops and identification courses
  • Autecology of macrozoobenthos
  • Studies on the occurrence of non-native organisms (non-indigenous species) in the coastal waters and associated ports of the German North and Baltic Seas, description of initial occurrence and analyzing invasion paths