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About me


Exploring a big chunk of granite in Western Australia (Walga Rock, Cue area).

Bram Vanschoenwinkel

I am a community ecologist / evolutionary biologist with strong interests in spatial community and population dynamics. I like to use simple insular habitats such as ponds and inselbergs as model systems to test theories.

In 2014 I got the opportunity to start up my own research entity at Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) and set up this website to provide an overview of the different research lines me and my students are currently involved in. I try to regularly post new research results.

A bit of history


Sampling temporary wetlands in the Western Cape (South Africa)

I completed my master thesis under the supervision of Luc Brendonck at KU Leuven. Working on temporary wetlands in the Cape Region, I got interested  in spatial community dynamics and the emerging field of metacommunity ecology and the advantages simple aquatic habitats have as model ecosystems. Consequently, building further on the pioneer work of Luc, Maitland Seaman and Merlijn Jocqué and inspired by the new concept of metacommunity ecology outlined by Mathew Leibold a PhD was conceived to study metapopulation and metacommunity dynamics in the simple environment of temporary rock pool communities in the subtropics. A second line of research within my PhD, which can be considered as one of the core interests of my promoter, dealt with survival strategies of fairy shrimp in the variable environment of temporary rock pools. For this, I first of all developed a hydrological model to reconstruct exactly how variable these environments are and studied adaptive trait variation in a fairy shrimp model species along a gradient of hydrological stability.


My ex promoter Luc Brendonck in his natural habitat: a temporary rock pool

During my post doc I further expanded my research on metacommunities to different model systems trying to synthesize diversity generating processes across spatial scales. I am currently working on spatially hierarchical metacommunities and exploit information provided by global biodiversity databases. Together with Falko Buschke we are applying insights from metacommunity ecology to larger spatial scales to bridge the gap between ecology and biogeography.

The research on survival strategies in variable environments has been expanded to include other model systems. Jane Reniers is studying risk spreading strategies in frogs, Tom Pinceel focuses on bet hedging strategies in temporary pond crustaceans while Arnout Grégoir is interested in life history adaptations that enable African kilifish to survive in seasonal savanna pools. Additionally, the hydrological modeling framework is currently expanded by Karen Tuytens.

I currently still share some PhD students with my ex-promoter Luc Brendonck at KULeuven but I am expanding my team in Brussels with new work on bromeliad metacommunities (Mathil Vandromme) and network connectivity (Evelien Deboelpaep)..

Academic career

2001 – 2003 Bachelor in Biology, KULeuven, Belgium                                 

2003 – 2005  Master in Biology, KULeuven, Belgium                                 

Thesis: Biodiversity aspects of temporary wetlands in the Western Cape (South Africa)

2005 – 2009 PhD in Biology, KULeuven, Belgium

Thesis: Dispersal, metapopulation and metacommunity dynamics in a rock pool model system

2009-2010 Postdoctoral researcher (one year grant), KULeuven research Fund, Leuven Belgium, PDM Kort)

2010-2013 Postdoctoral researcher (three year grant), FWO Fund for Scientific Research Flanders, Brussels, Belgium

2013-         Professor in Ecology at VUB (Vrije Universiteit Brussel), Brussels, Belgium

Student projects supervised

Bachelor projects supervised: 

2006      Hanne Vandewaerde (KULeuven) Belang van endozoöchore dispersie door de Afrikaanse klauwkikker (Xenopus laevis) in een Anostraca metapopulatie

2007      Marc Gistelinck (KULeuven) Het golfbaleffect: kan rusteimorfologie van Anostraca bijdragen tot winddispersie?

2007      Tim Vandecaetsbeek (KULeuven) Ecto-en endozoöchore dispersie van zooplankton via het wilde zwijn (Sus scrofa) in de Camargue, Zuid-Frankrijk.

2009      Arnout Grégoir (KULeuven) De geografische verspreiding van Triops species.

2009      Elien Spooren (KULeuven) Olifanten als dispersievectoren van zooplankton in de Afrikaanse savanne.

2010      Merel Oeyen (KULeuven) Eco-evolutionaire dynamieken: verbanden tussen soortendiversiteit en genetische diversiteit.  

2011      Lore Geeraert (KULeuven) Invloed van licht op het onluikingsproces bij Streptocephalus sirindhornae.

2011      Anouk D’Hont (KULeuven) Het effect van licht op de ontluiking van anostrakenrusteieren.

2011      Véronique Clauwaert (KULeuven) Persistentie vann amfibieën in onvoorspelbare omgevingen

2012      Han Dewyspelaere (KU Leuven) Reproductive bethedging

2012      Reinhard Strubbe (KU Leuven) De genetische structuur van amfibieënpopulaties.

2012     Yannick Van de Weyer (KU Leuven) Does size matter? Variable offspring provisioning in Rana

               temporaria along gradients of habitat predictability and stability.

2014     Yannick Coeckelberghs (VUB) Local and regional drivers of diversity patterns in Swedish rock pools

2014     Nene Lefaible (VUB) Investigating the potential adaptive origin of buoyancy in zooplankton resting eggs

2014     Jonathan Favaits (VUB) Assessing potential impacts of nutrient addition by vertebrates on diversity patterns in rock pool communities in the Australian outback

2015     Llewelyn Buidin (VUB)

2015     Loïc Gillerot (VUB)

2015     Jill Eeckhout (VUB)

 Master projects supervised:

 2007      Saïdja Gielen (KULeuven) Het belang van winddispersie in rotspoel metagemeenschappen

2008      Hanne Vandewaerde (KULeuven) Genetic structure of fairy shrimp populations on South African inselbergs

2008      Aurora Geerts (KULeuven) The evolution of bet hedging as a survival strategy in unpredictable environments

2010      Tom Pinceel (KULeuven) Phylogeography and metapopulation genetics of fairy shrimp in inselberg habitats

2010      Jane Reniers (KULeuven) Conservation biology of fairy shrimp in West European landscapes

2012      Pieter Deckers (KULeuven) Kilifish as a model to study the evolutionary ecology of dormancy

2012      Joeri Uten (KULeuven) Hedging one’s bets: the relative importance of genetic variation and maternal effects

2012      Wim Verlinden (KULeuven) Risk strategies and reproductive tradeoffs in amphibians inhabiting unpredictable environments

2013      Alexander Lamon (KU Leuven) Life history evolution and evolutionary bet hedging in African killifish

2015     Mathil Vandromme (VUB)

2015     Nathalie Massa (VUB)

2015     Daniel Montecinos (VUB)

2015     Michiel Van Herp (VUB)

PhD projects supervised

 2010-2015  : Jane Reniers (KULeuven) Managing reproductive challenges in time constrained environments – amphibian life history variation from clutch to landscape (FWO PhD project), March 2015

2010-2014  : Tom Pinceel (KULeuven) Dormancy, dispersal and evolution in temporary waters (PhD project included in FWO research project), November 2014.

2011-2014  : Falko Buschke (KULeuven) The processes underlying continental-scale biodiversity patterns – mechanisms at the interface of ecology and biogeography (Erasmus Mundus PhD grant), November 2014.

2012-  : Karen Tuytens (KULeuven) Development of a spatially integrated model for the management of surface water in dryland areas with applications for wildlife management and malaria control (IWT PhD project).

2013-  : Arnout Grégoir (KU Leuven) The role of epigenetic modification in adaptive radiation (FWO PhD project)

Editorial work

Associate editor of international ecological journal “Acta Oecologica” : 2011 – 2014