Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics

Research themes

Theme I: Biodiversity and Evolution

The main question of Theme I research is how patterns in biodiversity can be explained from underlying processes: speciation and extinction, dispersal and the (dis)appearance of geographical barriers, reproductive isolation and hybridisation of taxa.  

A major part of the research in Theme I concerns the analysis of phylogenetic and biogeographic patterns in order to reconstruct evolutionary trends in the animal and plant kingdoms. Developments in this field are fuelled by modern techniques. DNA data provide an almost endless source of information on the history of species and populations. New analytical methods allow us to reconstruct past processes with unprecedented resolution. But signals are not always easy to interpret, especially if genome duplications, incomplete lineage sorting and/or hybridisation events among divergent taxa occurred in the past.

In micro-evolutionary studies, we aim to understand not only how new species arise, but also which traits change during the process. For instance, speciation may be accompanied by host shifts, or changing reactions to ambient conditions such as temperature. Knowledge from genomics research on model species is highly beneficial for these studies, by indicating which genes might be involved in adaptation to a new situation.

Another topic studied relates to the question what makes a species vulnerable to extinction. This is a critical issue in the light of the rapid deterioration of contemporary natural ecosystems and the increasing rate of extinction of species. Therefore Theme I conducts many studies that are related to biodiversity evaluation, nature conservation and restoration as well as the sustainable use of biodiversity.

Facilities that are used include laboratories for DNA analyses and microscopy, a GIS studio and an ultramodern greenhouse.

The following Research Groups of IBED participate in Theme I:

In addition, the following Endowed Chairs are part of Theme I:

  • Mycology
  • Forensic Biology

Theme II: Geo-Ecology

The main research question of Theme II is Research is how the physical and chemical properties of the environment function, interact and affect the living organisms in an ecosystem at spatiotemporal scales of molecules and seconds to continents and eons.

The domain of Geo-ecology is where rock, soil, water, atmosphere and life interact.  This work relies heavily on the interpretation and analysis of experimental data and observations using spatial modelling and computational methods (using GIS and Remote Sensing technologies).

At the landscape level IBED studies fluvial processes and vegetation changes as affected by climate fluctuations and human activities, from Quaternary time series spanning ten-thousands of years to recent changes in irrigation. At an intermediate scale the temporal and spatial distributions of species are studied in relation to weather and landscape properties. At the molecular level research concentrates on the fate of mostly organic micro-pollutants, based on a thorough understanding of their chemical properties. Although these examples are quite different, they have in common that their behaviour depends on the interplay between biotic and abiotic processes. Such interplay leads to temporal stability or transient behaviour, to formation of spatial patterns by self-structuring or patterns driven by external environmental heterogeneity and human activities. Many related problems of modern society, such as climate change, degradation of soils, adverse effects of land and water use and production of waste, are also being studied.

Main facilities include laboratories for chemical analyses using a variety of methods (chromatography, mass-spectrometry), a GIS studio, and facilities for experimentation and GRID computing.

The following Research Groups of IBED participate in Theme II:

In addition, the following Endowed Chairs are part of Theme II:

  • Marine Biogeochemistry
  • Chemistry of (Emerging) Water Contaminants
  • Functional Biodiversity

Theme III: Community Dynamics

The main research question of Theme III evolves around understanding the dynamics of natural communities functions in the face of the diversity and behaviour of the organisms present in the system.

Species interact with their environment and with each other in complex communities. They compete for limiting resources, hunt down prey, and avoid attack from parasites. Classic theories ignore much of the complexity of these communities. Yet, there are major feedbacks between species and their environment (nutrients, energy, toxins), species exhibit genetic and physiological variability (age, size, metabolism), and spatial structure can be decisive in food-web interactions. It is increasingly realized that these aspects have major impacts on the dynamics and species composition of natural communities.

IBED research in Theme III combines advanced mathematical models, laboratory experiments and field studies to unravel the complexity of species interactions. Topics include the dynamics of planktonic and benthic organisms in marine and freshwater ecosystems, the response of communities to toxins in their environment, the dynamics of plant herbivores and their natural enemies, trophic interactions and regime shifts in food webs, and the spread of human and livestock diseases.
The insights gained are vital in the assessments of potential strategies for nature conservation, the management of wild life and harvested populations, water management strategies, control of pests in agriculture, as well as the emergence and spread of (virulent strains of) diseases.

The following Research Groups of IBED participate in Theme III:

In addition, the following Endowed Chair is part of Theme III:

  • Marine Microbiology

Published by  IBED

Webmaster IBED

6 February 2014