Societal challenges with declining insect abundance and diversity and increasing problems with pest outbreaks are tightly connected. We do research on both of these challenges, aiming to contribute to integral solutions ánd to getting citizens and students to think about our relationship with nature.
Insects are vital in all of our ecosystems because of their diversity and vast numbers. Insects provide essential ecosystem services such as pollination of plants, control of pest insects or in nutrient and carbon cycles. Moreover, insects are important as food for other species, including birds, mammals and reptiles.
Today, insects suffer greatly because of climate change and increased land use intensity. Insect populations are declining at an alarming rate and insect biodiversity is going down globally. At the same time, some insect species become problematic because current conditions favour population outbreaks. Such insect outbreaks are often controlled by the application of pesticides, with further detrimental effects on the environment and biodiversity.
My research group investigates how we can restore (insect) biodiversity ánd reduce problems with pest insects at the same time. We do this for example by studying how the natural behaviours of insect parasitoids can be optimally exploited in biological control [see Smart parasitoid project] and by studying how landscape heterogeneity influences (functional) agrobiodiversity [see Maasheggen project].
Importantly, we are using our research on insects to inspire (green) vocational education [see Lectoraat]. Insects are great tools in education on ecology and system thinking because they provide concrete and relevant examples for a wide range of professions. Not only of interactions between organisms and functions in ecosystems but also of the relationship between humans and nature. Developing system thinking and an ecological mindset at all societal levels are important in the transition to a more nature-inclusive society.