Research and Projects

As a seaweed taxonomist and ecologist my main research focus lies on the investigations of marine macroalgae and their various ways as eco-friendly future resources. Therefore, interdisciplinary solution approaches together with international research partners are carried out to answer scientific questions on single species, community or ecosystem level. One of the main organism groups I am focusing on are the green alga orders Ulvales and Ulotrichales. With their morphologically highly variable and ecologically important representatives these groups offer valuable study organisms. 

Especially some groups such as the genus Ulva are recurring organisms within my research projects, which I will present in more detail in the following:

Seaweed cultivation for a sustainable future

Within the frame of SWEAWEED I am working on the development of novel seaweed strains for their successful cultivation in Sweden. I develop environmentally sound cultivation techniques for a sustainable seaweed aquaculture. My research interests include seeding, juvenile growth, as well as laboratory and open-water cultivation of Ulva spp. optimized for Swedish conditions. To achieve these goals I am studying for example effects of multiple environmental and biological drivers (like e.g. nutrients, temperature, seedling density etc.) on different Ulva species at seasonal scales. With these experimental investigations I am trying to manipulate growth and biomass production while also influencing the amount of high value compounds in the respective organisms. 

I am interested in how different species and ecotypes of Ulva spp. react to different cultivation techniques and also in the drivers behind the various morphological forms Ulva spp. can exhibit. Thus, through selective breeding, new culture varieties and high-performing cultivation strains are developed.

Assessment of the green algae diversity of Ulva senau lato in northern Europe

Although green macroalgae of the orders Ulvales and Ulotrichales are abundant and often dominant in marine and brackish shallow water environments and thus ecologically important, their taxonomy has not been completely clarified. In fact, some of their representatives like the genus Ulva have undergone frequent taxonomic revisions. Especially their above mentioned potential as future food source and their number of various high value compounds increased the need of deeper species knowledge. That for some of the organisms profound species knowledge is of utmost importance is also shown by their ability to proliferate massively under suitable conditions and form so called green tides. Such phenomena were also found to appear in northern Germany (see respective peer reviewed publication).

In one branch of my research I am trying to assess the green algae diversity of Ulva sensu lato in northern Europe to create a solid basis for their further economic use but also to understand their basic ecological and evolutionary features. 

Whereas I was able to investigate the molecular diversity of Ulva sensu lato along the German coasts of the North and Baltic Seas (see respective peer reviewed publication) during my PhD I am focusing during my postdoctoral research on the reassessment at a broader scale which includes Scandinavian countries, having a focus on the Swedish coastline. By this project not only the diversity of Ulva sensu lato can be assessed. Additionally, it gives valuable insights in the distribution and spreading of invasive green alga species in the Baltic- and North Sea areas. Furthermore, the patterns of specific ecotypes of certain species can answer potential evolutionary questions and help to understand the ecological characteristics of organisms that are highly interesting for the economic sectors of the food-, biomedicine-, or bioremediation industry. 

To achieve above mentioned goals, my research is based on a combination of modern molecular methods and conservative but powerful morphological and life cycle observations. That the combination of such approaches leads to a new understanding withinvaluable algae species could be for example shown by the fact, that the model organism Ulva mutabilis was found to be conspecific with the northern German Ulva compressa (see respective peer reviewed publuication).

Investigating highly complex processes to facilitate the economic use of seaweeds or answering sophisticated basal research question on biological and taxonomic issues, the main goal of my research is to shed light onto a widely unresearched organism group which holds the greatest potential to play a pivotal role in a green, healthy and sustainable future.

Dr. Sophie Steinhagen