Visser is widely recognized as a world-leading expert on the ecological and evolutionary impact of anthropogenic environmental changes. Firstly, he has performed absolute forefront research in understanding how climate change disrupts natural systems, using long-term studies on wild species. His work on phenological mismatch within food chains has turned his model species, the great tit, into the poster child for climate change impact. Visser was the first to use genomic selection to create selection lines for timing of reproduction in a wild vertebrate, and use these to integrate work on epigenetic regulation of gene expression, fitness consequences of timing in the wild, with the impact of climate-change on population numbers.
Secondly, he established a unique study on the impact of another anthropogenic environmental change, artificial light at night, on a range of wild taxonomic groups, focussing on how adjusting the colour of night lighting can reduce the negative impact of light at night. He has a world-wide unique, eight times replicated set-up of 20 lampposts in nature and the results of this study have already been implemented in the official guidelines for outdoor illumination.
He is furthermore involved in a wide range of projects, including an Origins Centre project on how to make evolution predictable, bringing together long-term data on populations of individually known birds (SPI-Birds) to make such data FAIR, and more recently he has taken the lead in using data from Long-Term Ecosystem Research sites in the Netherlands (LTER-NL).
Recently, he has taken up a leading role in building a Large-Scale Research Infrastructure named LTER-LIFE. LTER-LIFE aims to provide researchers with the tools to build so-called Digital Twins of entire ecosystems, starting with the Veluwe en the Wadden sea ecosystems. These Digital Twins will be used to better understand the functioning of ecosystems and to carry out scenario studies that can be used to forecast the effects of different climate change scenarios or the impact of mitigation measures, such as nitrogen reduction. The project will start mid-2023 and is funded for the first 10 years by NWO.
Together, these research lines show Visser’s unique strength to bring people together around the crucial next question and sets-up targeted, large-scale experiments that advances the field; working in the wild, under controlled conditions and in the molecular laboratory.
Visser has been awarded a NWO-VICI and an ERC Advanced grant, and has been elected as a member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences (KNAW). He is co-founder and inaugural president of the Netherlands Society for Evolutionary Biology (NLSEB). Prof Visser has published 242 papers, resulting in an h-index of 70 and >19000 citations making him a Publons Highly Cited Researcher.