Arjen Tilstra


Visiting PhD Student



I became interested in coral reefs after seeing an aquarium with live corals and tropical reef fish at an early age. Then I decided I wanted to pursue a career as a researcher in Marine Biology. I got accepted into the University of Groningen (Netherlands) in 2008 studying general Marine Biology and Ecology & Evolution. During my MSc in Marine Biology I could specify on coral reef ecology and focus on ex situ coral reef research. In my main MSc thesis, I focused on the effects of elevated irradiance on bleaching susceptibility of Stylophora pistillata. Then, in 2014 I was introduced to the wonderful world of molecular ecology. I'm now pursuing a PhD in molecular microbial coral reef ecology at the University of Bremen (Germany) under the supervision of Prof. Christian Wild in close collaboration with Prof. Christian Voolstra's Reef Genomics lab at KAUST. Our project, called the NICE project (NItrogen Cycling in coral reef Environments), aims to qualify and quantify nitrogen cycling pathways in the main functional groups of a coral reef both molecularly and physiologically.​

Research Interests

​My research interests lie in marine biology and especially coral reef ecology and conservation. I am interested how abiotic factors, such as light, temperature and nutrient availability, affect holobiont fitness and/or the holobiont microbiome using molecular and physiological techniques (in situ and ex situ).

Selected Publications

  • ​Tilstra A, Bednarz VN, Cardini U, van Hoytema N, Al-Rshaidat MMD, Wild C (2017) Seasonality affects dinitrogen fixation associated with two common macroalgae from a coral reef in the Northern Red Sea. Marine Ecology Progress Series 575:69-80
  • Tilstra A, Wijgerde T, Dini-Andreote F, Eriksson BDHK, Salles JF, Pen I, Osinga R, Wild C (2017) Light induced intraspecific variability in response to thermal stress in the hard coral Stylophora pistillata. PeerJ 5:e3802


  • 2015    MSc, Marine Biology, University of Groningen, Netherlands
  • 2012    BSc (minor), Climate Change: Science & Communication, University of Wageningen, Netherlands
  • 2012    BSc (major), Marine Biology/Ecology & Evolution, University of Groningen, Netherlands

Scientific and Professional Membership

​British Ecological Society

KAUST Affiliations

​Red Sea Research Centre, Reef Genomics

Research Interests Keywords

Genomics Marine ecology Marine microbiology