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Personal profile

Biosketch

I am an integrative behavioural and evolutionary ecologist studying the evolution of social behaviour and life history patterns in social animals, to discover why and how animals cooperate or compete. My research focuses on behaviour as this is the level at which organisms interact most directly with their physical and social environment. I integrate empirical and theoretical studies to obtain deeper knowledge of the evolution of adaptive behavioural responses. I focus on long-term studies of wild birds in naturally varying environments; these are complemented by experimental studies at the individual and local population levels (also on non-avian model systems). My first main achievement is that, starting in 1985, I established one of the most prominent model systems in evolutionary ecology: the Seychelles warbler. Warblers normally produce one chick per nest and can be cooperative breeders, in which more than two individuals are engaged in raising the single offspring. My work on Seychelles warblers (and other social systems) substantially advanced the advanced the fields of behavioural ecology and social evolution.

My research focuses on four groups of questions:

1. What drives the evolution of group living and cooperative breeding?.

2. What drives the evolution of sex allocation?.

3. Does sociality affect senescence?

4. Is social flexibility a powerful mechanism to cope with a rapidly changing world?

I publish regularly in the fields of evolutionary biology, behavioural biology, zoology, ecology, and genetics, but also in theoretical biology, biodiversity conservation, environmental sciences, immunology and endocrinology, and occasionally in psychology, molecular biology and medical science. I have published (and co-edited) two books on social evolution. Starting January 2020, I am a member of the Editorial Board of the journal Behavioral Ecology.

Teaching

I very much enjoy teaching, education and to inspire students for biology through active discussions  during my lectures. I coordinate and lecture in two main courses: Genetics, Ecology & Evolution (BSc course), and Behaviour, Ecology and Evolution (MEME-Top Master course). Besides I lecture in Evolutionary Ecology, Biodiversity and Conservation at the BSc level, and Research Proposals for Evolutionary Ecology at the MSc level.

I encourage BSc, MSc and PhD students to come up with their own ideas for research. I am mentor of several MSc students during their projets.

My research group consists of ca. 10 PhDs and 2 postdocs on a yearly basis. Together with my PhD students and postdocs, I am supervising quite a number of Bachelor and Master research projects. I stimulate my students, including BSc and MSc, to publish their research as first author in peer-reviewed international journals. I aid them to find jobs and with grant applications. 

Brief outline of teaching activities and initiatives:

  • Thesis supervision: >40 BSc students, >170 MSc students, 43 PhD students graduated
  • Major initiatives: Set up two international teaching curricula at the BSc and MSc level, Faculty of Science and Engineering, University Groningen; two one-semester programmes (Genetics, Ecology & Evolution and Behaviour, Ecology & Genetics) that started in September 2018. In total I have set up and taught >21 different courses at undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate level
  • Educational committees: I have participated in the curriculum committees of 3 BSc and 2 MSc program­mes, my research institute’s educational committee, and several teaching reform committees.

Other interests

I love basic camping the whole year round, hiking, racebiking and long-distance running.

I like carpentry.

External positions

No external positions

Collaborations and top research areas from the last five years

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