Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics

Photographer: onbekend

dr. W.M.G. (Wouter) Vansteelant

Guest Researcher
  • Faculty of Science
    IBED
  • Visiting address
    Science Park A
    Science Park 904  Amsterdam
    Room number: C4163A
  • Postal address:
    Postbus  94248
    1090 GE  Amsterdam
  • W.M.G.Vansteelant@uva.nl

I am a Ph. D. candidate at the Computational Geo-ecology Unit of IBED, working under supervision of prof. dr. ir. Willem Bouten and dr. Judy Shamoun-Baranes (co-supervisor).

Research interests.

As a keen birder I have long been fascinated by nature, ecology and the beautiful complexity of natural systems. Animal movement is a particularly intriguing field in ecology, aiming to understand how individual animals decide to move through their environment in search of resources, and how behavior of individuals translates into population dynamics and species distributions.  My research currently focuses on bird migration ecology and for my Ph.D. thesis I am using the UvA-Bird Tracking System to study how weather and environment influences the flight behavior and migration performance of indidivual European Honey Buzzards  Pernis apivorus at multiple scales ... 'from thermal to flyway'.

Since 2008 I have been active in migratory bird research and conservation as a board member and education officer in Batumi Raptor Count (BRC). 

From thermal to flyway with European Honey-Buzzards --> Project webpage 

Honey Buzzards travel by gliding over the landscape on flexed wings and are able to maintain their altitude by regularly soaring in thermal convective cells. Soaring helps to limit the need for energetically costly flapping flight and allows these birds to make extremely 'fuel efficient' marathon migrations.

That said, Honey-buzzards are specialist insectivorous predators which only have a short time window during summer in which they can rear healthy young in the temperate forests of Europe. Because they travel to Europe all the way from sub-Saharan Africa by soaring, they are very much at the mercy of weather conditions en route to make the journey on time.

From a breeding population of Honey Buzzards in the Netherlands we (UvA and Stichting Boomtop) have fitted about 20 Honey Buzzards with high-resolution GPS-loggers to study what the migratory itineraries of Honey Buzzards look like, and how they are affected by weather at the scale of minutes and meters to the scale of seasons and continents. We also monitor reproductive success in our study population to establish how weather conditions during migration affect individual fitness.

Batumi Raptor Count --> BRC webpage / BRC Facebook

BRC is a research and conservation project working on migratory birds (of prey) at the eastern Black Sea coast of the Republic of Georgia and consists of a highly dynamic and forward-thinking team of young biologists and nature enthusiasts. With BRC we have set up a sustainable volunteer-based monitoring of migration birds of prey in the third largest bottleneck for migrating birds of prey in the world. With over 40-50 volunteers we monitor the migration of > 1 million birds of prey from mid August through October each autumn. Since 2008 BRC has grown to become a reputable conservation initiative in the Caucasus region, and in the birding community worldwide.

From monitoring data collected by BRC I study how weather affects the migration routes and timing of birds of prey along the eastern flyway. Honey Buzzards are the most common bird of prey migrating through Georgia (>450,000 per year). In my Ph. D. I will also link the behavior of individual Honey Buzzards observed from GPS tracking with the population-level migration dynamics observed at important migration hot-spots such as Batumi Raptor Count.

A passion for outreach & conservation.

It is my strong belief that scientists have a duty to communicate their research to a broad audience. I have, therefore, committed to several initiatives which work around citizen science.

Vogel het Uit! --> VhU webpage / VhU Facebook

In 2013 we won the Academic Year Prize to communicate our cutting-edge bird movement research to a broad public in the Netherlands with a team of scientists and students from UvA and partner organisations, lead by my supervisor Judy Shamoun-Baranes. As a team member in this project I had to pleasure to lecture about 'Vogel het Uit!' and the use of GPS-loggers for ecological research on birds at Lowlands University 2014.

'Vogel het Uit!' won the Academic Year Prize on October 24th 2013 and will be developing an interactive website and mobile app through which users can follow the life stories of individual birds which we are studying the Netherlands with the UvA-Bird Tracking System. App users will even be able to experience the travels of our birds in the field through an augmented reality interface, and we will be crowd-sourcing for scientific information with our users.

Popularizing birds and bird-watching in the Caucasus

Since 2010 Batumi Raptor Count has been working increasingly hard on conservation issues such as the widespread practice of illegal shooting of migratory birds along the Black Sea coast. We work with rural communities and other regional stake-holders to develop a strong eco-tourism sector in southwestern Georgia, to build capacity among regional conservationists and to develop popular education and outreach programs for regional youth.

My main activity in conservation has so far been focused on education. Some important achievements which I coordinated since 2010 and supported by a.o. OSME, YIA (EU Commission), Rufford Small Grants, PBNF, IJsvogelfund (VBN), ... include:

  • Raptors of Ajaria - an educational booklet on migrating raptors at the Black Sea coast for Georgian school curriculum (12-14 years)
  • Raptor migration in the classroom - a school education project developed by Mary Nasilyan and Rozita Aghamalyan for their M .Sc. thesis at the American University of Armenia. Reached > 200 pupils from 4 regional schools in 2012.
  • Birds and Biodiversity Camp & Environmental Education Exchange: two 2-week courses for students from the Caucasus region (Georgia, Armenia and Turkey)

CURRICULUM VITAE

Project Involvment :

Batumi Raptor Count ( www.batumiraptorcount.org )

- 2008 - now

- Board Member

- Active Board Member since 2008/2009. Contributions involved fund raising; managing volunteer resources; creating and maintaining international partnerships; on-site coordination of migration monitoring;  teaching 'summer course' for regional conservation students; etc.

My most recent involvments with BRC include coordination of fund-raising, organizing an international 2-week migration & conservation summer course, data management and coordinating research (e.g. developing count manual) with international research partners.

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Internships:

Hawk Mountain Conservation Leadership Internship

-15 March - 15 June 2011

- Acopian Center for Conservation Learning, PA (United States)

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Courses / Summer Schools / ...:

Summer Course Computational Geo-Ecology 2010: Animal Movement Analysis .

- 5-9 July 2010

- University of Amsterdam (The Netherlands).

Summer Course Computational Geo-Ecology 2011: Inverse Modelling

- 28 june - 7 july 2011

- University of Amsterdam (The Netherlands).

CANMOVE 2011: Animal Migration

- 18 Oct - 28 Oct 2011

- Lund University (Sweden).

Boundary Layer Dynamics

- Nov - Dec 2011

- Wageningen University & Research Center -- Meteorology & Air Quality (the Netherlands).

Atmospheric Modelling

- Mar - Apr 2012

- Wageningen University & Research Center -- Meteorology & Air Quality (the Netherlands).

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Education:

Masters in Biology (Cum Laude)

- Minor: Scientific Research / Majors: Ecology ; Evolution

- 2008 - 2010

- University of Ghent (Belgium).

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2017

  • Shamoun-Baranes, J., Liechti, F., & Vansteelant, W. M. G. (2017). Atmospheric conditions create freeways, detours and tailbacks for migrating birds. Journal of Comparative Physiology A. Neuroethology Sensory Neural and Behavioral Physiology, 203(6-7), 509-529. DOI: 10.1007/s00359-017-1181-9  [details] 
  • Vansteelant, W. M. G., Shamoun-Baranes, J., McLaren, J., van Diermen, J., & Bouten, W. (2017). Soaring across continents: decision-making of a soaring migrant under changing atmospheric conditions along an entire flyway. Journal of Avian Biology, 48(6), 887–896. DOI: 10.1111/jav.01298  [details] 
  • Vansteelant, W. M. G., Shamoun-Baranes, J., van Manen, W., van Diermen, J., & Bouten, W. (2017). Seasonal detours by soaring migrants shaped by wind regimes along the East Atlantic Flyway. Journal of Animal Ecology, 86(2). DOI: 10.1111/1365-2656.12593  [details] 

2015

  • Vansteelant, W. M. G., Bouten, W., Klaassen, R. H. G., Koks, B. J., Schlaich, A. E., van Diermen, J., ... Shamoun-Baranes, J. (2015). Regional and seasonal flight speeds of soaring migrants and the role of weather at hourly and daily scales. Journal of Avian Biology, 46(1), 25-39. DOI: 10.1111/jav.00457  [details] 

2014

2011

  • Verhelst, B., Jansen, J., & Vansteelant, W. (2011). South West Georgia: an important bottleneck for raptor migration during autumn. Ardea, 99(2), 137-146. DOI: 10.5253/078.099.0203  [details] 

2016

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