Last January professor Annemarie van Wezel started as the new director of the Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics (IBED). What are her first impressions of the institute? And what is her vision for the future, now that she has been around for almost half a year?
The first thing Van Wezel mentions when asked about the main strength of IBED, is the combination of different biological fields within a single institute. “We combine Ecology with Earth sciences and Environmental sciences. That “triple E” combination is quite unique. And we have Evolution too, as the fourth E. These different specialties combined add up to a sum greater than its parts, it makes our research lines unique. We also have enough critical mass to attract very talented people, who publish in the top most journals of their fields.”
Van Wezel’s words are reflected by the report of the international peer-review committee that reviewed the institute in 2017. The committee gave IBED the highest possible score on all three aspects of the assessment: Quality, Relevance and Viability. During a recent visit in March, the International Scientific Advisory Committee (ISAC) of IBED was just as positive.
From the 2018 report: “The Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics (IBED) performs ecological and evolutionary research at scales from the individual organism to the globe. Its research contributes new knowledge to society that helps clarify the interconnectedness of nature and the relationship of humans to the ecosystems that support them. (..)During this past evaluation period IBED has maintained its excellent record of publishing high quality research products, averaging more than 300 publications per year. An impressive number appear in the most visible interdisciplinary journals and many others appear in the leading journals in ecology. (…) IBED scientists have robust international reputations and many are seen as thought leaders in their fields.”
“I recognize all the points from the review. When I joined, I found the institute in an excellent condition,” comments Van Wezel. “As the report also mentions, people here are so enthusiastic and involved, on all levels. That makes working here great. The decision to re-organize the institute in four departments, made a few years ago, has also turned out really well. I am very proud of the IBED’s excellent review scores. But of course, the challenge now is to keep up these positive developments.”
Van Wezel sums up a number of focus points she wants to work on in the coming years. “One of the things we are already working on, together with our scientific advisory committee, is trying to further integrate the four IBED departments. We are trying to define the most important overlying themes. For example, themes like biodiversity management, or urban ecology.”
Further enhancing collaborations is another focus point. “Within this university we already collaborate a lot with other institutes, like SILS, HIMS and IVI. And we are part of the Amsterdam Green Campus initiative. But I believe there is also still room for improvement”, says Van Wezel. “Especially when it comes to collaboration between the different Dutch universities. In my opinion it is very important to have shared initiatives, organize things together, to transform our culture of individual excellence towards also working together in excellent consortia. That is how we can put The Netherlands on the map internationally when it comes to biodiversity research. Especially here in this densely populated country, it is great to show how you can still preserve biodiversity amongst all these people, the industry, the intensive farming.”
Finally, Van Wezel wants to focus more on science-to-policy interfaces. She explains: “We are already great at obtaining grants for fundamental research. But next to this important basis I would love to see more applications concerning applied projects. As I mentioned before, urban biodiversity is one of our strengths, and we already collaborate with the municipality of Amsterdam in this field. It would be great to expand this to a national and European level. And to increase our strength in the field of circular economy, which together with maintaining biodiversity is one of the great challenges of the future. Scientific excellence remains our top-most priority. But that doesn’t mean all of our research has to be fundamental, as more applied research can be just as important and excellent.”