Research Areas - Animal Ecology

We are focussed on understanding biodiversity of animals and how this is shaped by, and interacts with, environmental factors. Biodiversity here broadly refers to different aspects of biological variation, from genetic diversity over trait diversification to species diversity at both evolutionary and ecological time scales. We study a wide variety of animals, ranging from roundworms and insects over amphibians and fish to birds and mammals. Key environmental factors include biotic factors, such as competitors, mates, resources, predators, symbionts, pathogens and parasites, but also factors such as urban impact and climate variables (e.g. temperature). Traits includes physiological, morphological and life history traits as well as behaviours, the latter reflecting our strong behavioural ecology heritage.

Evolutionary processes are central to our research identity, which is strongly characterized by what is known as integrative biology. This involves studying our research themes at multiple organizational levels (ranging from molecules over genes and individuals to phenotypic traits and ecological communities), at several time scales (from evolutionary time to population dynamics), using a variety of different methodologies, techniques and approaches and integrating field and laboratory studies. Integrative biology is challenging, as it requires a broad range of theoretical and methodological expertise and experience, but history has shown that integrative and multidisciplinary approaches are often very successful. We strive to integrate, for example, a variety of state-of-the-art molecular genetic methods, mathematical modelling, experimental evolution, field and laboratory experiments, detailed phenotypic assays, long-term studies of natural populations and phylogenetic comparative methods.

We are a large research program and our research efforts are quite diverse. Many groups are broadly interested in evolutionary ecology or conservation biology, aiming at improving our understanding of the ecological causes and evolutionary consequences of variation among and within species. Specific research topics include life-history evolution, sexual selection, speciation, urban ecology, sexual conflict, mating system evolution and conservation genetics but also a range of other topics. Please visit the Research groups page for more in-depth accounts of our research efforts!