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
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.
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)..
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
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- 2019 : 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).
2013-2018 : Arnout Grégoir (KU Leuven) The role of epigenetic modification in adaptive radiation (FWO PhD project)