The Department of Animal Ecology (AnE) has as its unifying theme of research the behavioural and evolutionary ecology of animals and it carries out fundamental ecological research with an open eye to society’s needs. In our research we aim to understand the causes and consequences of the average and the variance in life-history traits, such as timing or reproduction, parental care and aging.
To understand the causes of variation in these traits we use field based experiments or bring animals into our outstanding animal facilities to study the underlying physiology. Variation in traits is also studied using avian genomics where we aim to identify the genes associated with life history trait variation.
The consequences of this variation are assessed using our long-term population studies where we can measure fitness and link this to trait values as well as by manipulation of traits in the wild and to look at the impact on fitness. We are also studying the variation in time and space of population numbers and population composition, such as the age structure or the genetic variation within populations. These processes are linked to survival and reproduction of individuals. Within our research we aim to integrate processes at the level of genes, physiology, behaviour, and the population within a clear evolutionary framework (see Fig. 1).
At present six senior and three junior scientists run their own research lines within AnE. These nine research lines each have a ‘group page’. There are also two group pages of former senior researchers that still have close links to AnE.
AnE has a long-standing tradition of field based studies on individually known animals, using hole-breeding passerines and water birds as model species. In recent years, this work has been complemented with detailed studies of birds in our excellent aviary and water bird facilities. Furthermore, we have recently started genomics work on wild birds. Our experimental work is complemented with modelling and finally, all our data are stored in a unique relational data warehouse. Together, these facilities form AnE’s unique triangle of long-term populations in the wild, amenities for studying animals under controlled conditions, and avian genomics tools set within a theoretical framework and integrated using a unique database (see Fig. 1).
AnE carries out fundamental ecological research but our research has a clear significance for society. Our basic and strategic research contributes to our knowledge of the natural world and we communicate our finding to the general public in magazines, newspaper, on the radio and TV. We also participate in the Centre for Avian Population Studies (CAPS), this is the knowledge centre for research on bird populations in the Netherlands. Furthermore, our research contributes to a better understanding of the impact of society on ecological processes, such as climate change impacts and the effects of artificial light. Lastly, our research on animals also has a clear relation to human biology, with projects on parental care and aging.
But AnE is more than its research, it is also a group of dedicated scientists, assistants, animal care takers, post-docs, PhD students and Master students that work hard to understand the ecology of the animals.