Ongoing projects

Who infects whom? Disentangling multi-host transmission of pathogens in rodent populations. 01/11/2020 - 31/10/2023

Abstract

Although most emerging infectious diseases are caused by animalborne pathogens that originate from wildlife, the ecological mechanisms that explain how these pathogens spread and persist in the natural environment remain unclear. This research gap arises from the practical challenges of gathering convincing field data due to the stochastic nature of epidemics and the fact that these are longterm, population-level processes. In this project, I propose to investigate how differences in rodent communities influence the prevalence, persistence and control of pathogens that infect multiplehost species. These mechanisms lie at the root of an ongoing debate in conservation biology: whether biodiversity loss will lead to an increase or decrease of infectious disease that might spillover from animals to humans. The work will be based on the analysis of a unique collection of rodent samples that were captured during earlier fieldwork performed in the DRC and Tanzania and will be tested on the presence of different pathogens. By combining this data collection with additional field experiments and mathematical models, my project will test three main hypotheses: (i) pathogens tend to infect multiple host species, (ii) pathogen persistence is often driven by a key host species, and (iii) targeting this key host species suffices for pathogen control.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

The role of microbial symbionts in host plant use and spectrum in oligophagous cucurbit feeding fruit flies (Tephritidae). 01/11/2020 - 31/10/2022

Abstract

Herbivorous insects are among the most species-rich groups of animals. Although it is not clear how this large diversity arose, one major factor is thought to be the evolutionary interaction between plants and insects. The wide variety of toxins in plants and of specialized detoxifying mechanisms in insects resulted in co-evolution and insect radiations. Nevertheless, different groups of specialized insects are sometimes observed in novel host plants. This might result in a series of host-plant shifts which might eventually result in speciation. The underlying mechanisms are largely unknown but it has been suggested that microbes could play a major role (the microbial facilitation hypothesis). There is increasing evidence that multicellular organisms are intimately associated with microbes, which can have a big impact on their phenotype. This project aims to investigate the microbial facilitation hypothesis by focusing on specialized frugivorous tephritid flies feeding on Cucurbitaceae plants that were recently observed on unconventional host plants. In a first phase, we will assess whether different cucurbit feeding fruit flies have similar microbiota and metabolic responses to cucurbits. Second, we will explore how the flies own metabolic machinery and their microbiota respond to novel host plants. In the last experiment, we will investigate how disrupting their microbiota affects insect fitness.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Rethinking aversion conditioning to reduce conflicts of interest between pastoralism and wolf conservation. 01/11/2020 - 31/10/2022

Abstract

Grey wolves (Canis lupus) have recently recolonized large parts of western Europe, where they had been extinct for over a century. Although this is considered a conservation success, it has also led to livestock depredation as an unwanted side-effect. Presently, there are no methods to sustainably reduce depredation in vast pastoral areas where livestock fencing is not feasible or ecologically desirable, which threatens the coexistence of wolves and pastoralism. Here I propose to test the effectiveness of aversion conditioning in wild wolves to prevent sheep depredation. Using those principles, I intend to test and develop new methods that can be used in various pastoral regions across Europe and that can condition free ranging wolves to (i) avoid cues that could be equipped on sheep and (ii) to avoid sheep prey because of condition food aversion and/or (iii) to avoid sheep wearing an aversive cover. Autonomous conditioning traps will be dispatched around pastures and inside wolf pack territories and monitored by camera traps. Those conditioning traps should allow wolf self-delivery punishment and would provide self-conditioning experience. If efficient, such measures could help preventing depredation where current methods either conflict with habitat connectivity, fail, or need support.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Mastomys natalensis hybrid zones as natural laboratories to investigate the limits of arenavirus spread. 01/10/2020 - 30/09/2022

Abstract

The Natal multimammate mouse is probably the most widespread African rodent. In West-Africa it carries Lassa virus, which can be transmitted to humans and can cause lethal haemorrhagic fever; in other regions of Africa it carries closely related arenaviruses, but these are not pathogenic to humans. These viruses seem to be restricted to certain geographic regions because they are specific to genetically different subgroups of this mouse species. In Tanzania, three of these subgroups carrying three different non-pathogenic viruses come into contact. It is therefore an ideal place to investigate what happens to these subgroups when they meet and how this affects their arenaviruses. More specifically, I will describe the divergence of the host subgroups, characterise the hybrid zones where the subgroups come into contact, assess the association of different arenaviruses with their host subgroups and study arenavirus evolution and viral load in the hybrid zones. This research will yield insights into speciation processes and help to understand the geographic distribution and evolution of arenaviruses, which is crucial to predict future emergences and to plan interventions.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Uncovering the origin of recent and future zoonotic epidemics in tropical Africa (OMEGA). 01/09/2020 - 31/08/2030

Abstract

OMEgA studies emerging zoonotic diseases in Afrotropical mammals by investigating the ecology of the infections and the evolutionary aspects of the diversity of the pathogens and their associated natural hosts. Our two main objectives are to (i) unravel how the phylogeography, evolutionary history and ecology of hosts can provide insights about the diversity, origin and distribution of these zoonotic pathogens; (ii) discern which ecological mechanisms and environmental changes (climate, landscape, biodiversity loss, …) may facilitate host switching of pathogens or maintain host specificity, even in the absence of a strong molecular barrier. To address these questions, we will use Next-generation sequencing (NGS) methods to screen specimens and tissues from museum collections as well as freshly collected material for the presence of pathogens, to verify the hosts' taxonomy, the phylogenetic and ecological relationships among host species, and the distribution ranges of genetically discrete host populations. The resulting information on the hosts' taxonomy, biology, the transmission ecology of reliably identified pathogens inferred from their presence, diversity, host specificity and evolution will allow us to answer the profiles' main objectives. These findings will not only increase our fundamental knowledge on parasites/pathogen diversity, but also address important One Health aspects as they will shed new light on the conditions that result in zoonotic pathogens switching hosts from wildlife humans. Crucially, our results will contribute towards a better understanding of the relative contributions of anthropogenic global changes (climate change, erosion of tropical forests, changing landscape and human activity patterns) to the emergence of novel zoonotic pathogens, some of which pose potential global health risks.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Avoiding a local wildlife reservoir of SARS‐CoV‐2 in Belgium. 01/06/2020 - 31/05/2021

Abstract

SARS‐CoV‐2 has its origin in an Asian bat species, but it is now clear that it can infect various unrelated mammal species in addition to humans. Given the circulation of the virus among humans, they may transmit it to wildlife; should this happen, a new reservoir may emerge that will be extremely difficult to control. This should be avoided, but it is not yet clear which naturally occurring species in Belgium are susceptible to the virus. Virus entry in a host cell happens through binding to the ACE2 protein, and is further facilitated by the host's furin and TMPRSS2 proteases; these proteins occur in all species, but their sequences (and thus the structural properties that are required for interaction with the virus) may differ, and that determines whether the host is susceptible to infection. To determine which species possibly can become infected, we will determine the sequences of the involved genes for the different Belgian mammal species. In collaboration with the protein specialists of the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences we will map the possible structural and functional implications of variations in amino acid sequences and on this basis evaluate which native mammals potentially could become a reservoir. Based on this, specific measures can then be developed to avoid the creation of such a reservoir.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

BIODIV-AFREID: Biodiversity changes in African forests and Emerging Infectious Diseases: should we worry? 01/03/2020 - 28/02/2023

Abstract

This project will investigate how biodiversity conditions (dis)favour spill-over of infectious agents into human populations in African forests. This is crucial for predicting and controlling the risk of new outbreaks under changing biodiversity scenarios. In order to investigate this process, we propose 1° to link changes in biodiversity to changes in communities of reservoirs and the pathogens they carry and 2° to link differences in these reservoir communities to human health. The proposed research activities will focus on Monkeypox and Ebola viruses but a broader spectrum of pathogens will be included so that we can cover a range from pathogens that are relatively common in a variety of small mammals (MPXV) to pathogens that are rare and found in very few species only (EBV). The proposed study will be conducted in DR Congo and Côte d'Ivoire, in areas where these emerging diseases have been observed before and make optimal use of the large sample collections that have been collected earlier in these areas by the consortium partners.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

BioRodDis: Managing biodiversity in forests and urban green spaces. Dilution and amplification effects of rodent microbiome and rodent-borne diseases. 01/02/2020 - 31/01/2023

Abstract

Our project aims at elucidating the interlinkages between biodiversity and diseases at local and European scales using standardized assessments of biodiversity and disease risks. This project will address this issue by integrating new key research directions, i.e. host microbiome and multiple pathogen diversity levels on one hand, seasonal and multi-annual dynamics on the other hand, including climate change scenarios, and interactions with socioeconomic contexts. These scientific questions are an essential prerequisite to improve existing modelling of the relationship between biodiversity and diseases, and to develop a framework, which enables to provide predictions with regard to the human and animal health impacts of ecosystem management practices, biological conservation strategies and/or climate changes on human and animal health. As such, these questions must and will be addressed in collaboration with main local and European stakeholders and policy makers. Our results will be disseminated to a larger audience, through a wide array of communication channels, and considering appropriate language and national/socio-professional specificities of the different members of the public targeted.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Formulating "best practices" and a decision tree for the use of animal-friendly pest control methods for rats and mice. 01/02/2020 - 30/04/2021

Abstract

The Flemish Government has commissioned a study on animal-friendly pest control methods agains rats and mice. The roject is run by INBO, UAntwerp has been subcontracted as an external advisor for this project.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Co-infections, heterogeneity and behaviour: models and real rodents. 01/01/2020 - 31/12/2023

Abstract

Most epidemiological models for infections target a single pathogen, but in reality hosts are commonly infected by more than one pathogen. Moreover, many models assume random or even homogeneous mixing of individuals within defined categories and do not account for heterogeneity of host characteristics or behavioural changes as a consequence of infection. In this project, we will address these questions with an African rodent population as a model system. Using a vast set of existing capture-mark recapture data of multimammate mice Mastomys natalensis in Tanzania, with over 9,000 blood samples collected during monthly captures since 2007 and still ongoing, we will be able to investigate co-infections with several pathogens, describe positive and negative associations between these pathogens and carry out a longitudinal study on the dynamics of the transmission of these pathogens. Using experiments both in the lab and in large field enclosure (0.5 ha) we will collect data about the mutual interactions of the pathogens at the transmission level, and the effects of (co-)infections on contact rates and behavior (and vice versa), taking heterogeneity into account. These data and insights will be the basis for the development of mathematical models that take these issues into account.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Stress, sickness and sociality: What are the consequences of environmental stress for behaviour, individual fitness and parasite transmission? 01/11/2019 - 31/10/2023

Abstract

Outbreaks of zoonotic diseases (diseases transmitted from animals; e.g. Ebola) in recent years have highlighted the important role that wildlife may play in disease transmission. This is particularly true in situations where humans and animals live in close proximity, and where animals are stressed due to habitat modification. Transmission depends on whether an infected individual contacts a susceptible individual and the likelihood that a susceptible individual is then infected. Habitat alteration changes resource availability and distribution, with consequences for how often animals contact each other, and can increase stress, with consequences for disease susceptibility. Therefore, understanding how environmental stress is going to change disease transmission is of fundamental interest in disease ecology. Here, I propose to use the multimammate mouse to explore how environmental stress influences survival, behaviour and virus transmission. I will use a range of approaches to assess physiological responses to stress in both laboratory and field experiments, combined with state of the art devices to record behaviour in wild, free living rodents. A prolific breeder, the multimammate mouse hosts several zoonotic diseases, and thrives in human dominated landscapes. Therefore , not only is this a pioneering study which will deliver exciting fundamental insights, but understanding how disturbance influences transmission in this species is also of applied interest

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Tick-Bone Infections in the North Sea Region - A competence network to improve public service delivery based on a one health perspective full application in Call 9 (NORTH THICK). 01/09/2019 - 28/02/2023

Abstract

Ticks are the most important vectors for transmitting diseases, which may cause deaths and are frequently associated with long-term suffering and high costs. During the last decades, ticks carrying disease-causing microorganisms in humans and animals have increased in numbers and spread to new areas. Thus, the number of people and animals afflicted by tick-borne diseases are on the rise. The reasons are complex and may include climate change, increased urbanisation and other human influences on ecosystems. It is challenging for health services and authorities to be updated on optimal strategies for prevention and management of Borrelia infections and TBE, and to keep up with newer tickborne microorganisms and diseases, and to give adequate information to a concerned public. Evidence-based and cost-effective strategies for control of tick-borne diseases are currently the weakest chain in surveillance. NorthTick aims to meeting these challenges regarding tick-borne diseases, by providing a multi-disciplinary and transnational joint effort to improve public health service delivery regarding: (i) risk assessment (ii) efficient preventive measures (iii) optimal diagnostic strategies (iv) best patient management recommendations NorthTick will enhance cooperation between academic institutions, national/regional health authorities, patient organizations and other NGOs, industry and policy makers to develop and exchange knowledge on how to curb the rise in tick-borne diseases and associated burden on society.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Next generation animal tracking – deciphering the ecological code 01/01/2019 - 31/12/2023

Abstract

In recent years, large-scale scientific initiatives have spurred the development of affordable lightweight tracking devices such that movement data are now collected in unprecedented quantities for a huge variety of species. Yet, appropriate tools to exploit the full potential of these tracking data are lagging behind. However, if we really want to capitalize on big movement data we must invest in an enhanced inference, particularly by combining heterogeneous and very high resolution data streams. And we have to pay attention to spatio-temporal patterns in the clustering sequences of movements or behaviours, which have almost virtually been ignored. To this end, a multidisciplinary consortium was established uniting leading experts in animal behaviour, moving object analysis, space-time or species-distribution modelling, spatio-temporal visualisation, and pattern recognition. By bridging disciplines within and across research areas, this multidisciplinary consortium has both the capacity to promote the development of analytical tools as well as to boost population and community ecology by building a new, integrated framework for the interpretation of state-of-the-art tracking data. We will follow a sequential approach by initially synthesizing how short-term behavioural responses and phenotypic adjustments within individuals, as well as consistent among-individual differences, impinge on movement ecological processes. This will set the stage for exploiting the full potential of tracking data, to understand behavioural responses, conspecific interactions and decision-making.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Zoonosis and pest ecology research for sustainable livelihood at the human-wildlife interface in Omo Basin, Southern Ethiopia. 01/01/2019 - 31/12/2022

Abstract

The livelihood activities of rural communities in Ethiopia are performed at the expense of biodiversity in areas with a high degree of contacts between humans and the wildlife. This project is aimed at improving academic and research capacity at Wolaita Sodo University (WSU) focusing on ecological interactions at the human-wildlife interface and generating better knowledge of human-wildlife conflict to elucidate possible mitigation measures. The intermediate results (outputs) anticipated from the project include, description of the human-wildlife conflict and its economic impact, investigation of zoonosis epidemiology with emphasis on leishmania-sis, investigation of wetland to dryland shifts and its effects on small mammal populations and conflicts. The spatial and temporal data on human-wildlife conflicts will be collected. The results will be translated into policy briefs and disseminated to local communities, stakeholders and policy makers for actions. Improved human wellbeing (protected environment, enhanced crop productivity and better health) would be the key impacts envisaged by the project.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Prioritizing Lyme borreliosis risk areas for forest and nature management based on novel insights in tick ecology. 01/01/2019 - 31/12/2022

Abstract

Cases of Lyme borreliosis, a disease transmitted to humans by the castor bean tick (Ixodes ricinus), have increased in recent years. To take efficient action it is important to know at which locations, frequently visited by humans, infected ticks can be found. Other studies have shown that certain forest types contain more ticks than others but it is not known what determines the spatial distribution of ticks within a suitable area. In this PhD project, I will investigate the distribution of ticks within forest, with respect to the amount of visitors frequent each location. Subsequently I will examine why ticks end up in this specific location. One aspect that may lead to the observed tick distribution is the location where ticks drop off their hosts after feeding on them, be it deer or smaller animals. To look into this, I will investigate where in our study areas hosts spend their time and where ticks prefer to drop off. Lastly, we will determine in the field which circumstances lead to high mortality among ticks. In these circumstances, there is lesser for intervention. Our findings will be summarized and translated into management recommendations for forest managers and policy makers. This will allow them to organise and manage forests in a more efficient way and reduce tick densities more efficiently. This will save time and money and minimize public health risks for visitors.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Going viral: Using novel technology to explore contact behaviour and transmission dynamics in small rodents. 01/01/2019 - 31/12/2021

Abstract

Many animal species carry diseases which can spill over to humans, with severe health and economic consequences. Therefore, there is considerable interest in understanding how these diseases are maintained in wild animal populations. Like humans, many animals do not mix randomly with others, yet accurately quantifying contact behaviour data is hard, even for large or observable species, and often requires substantial investment of both time and money. For small, nocturnal species such as rodents, surveying contact behaviour in the wild has been impossible. We have developed cutting edge Social Contact Network (SCoNe) loggers that weigh less than 1.5g, can be attached as a collar for up to 28 days and can log interactions between up to 70 animals at a time. We will use these to investigate contact behaviour in the multimammate mouse in Tanzania to understand virus transmission. These mice transmit diseases such as Lassa fever and plague, and can have several litters a year of more than 20 young. As a result, they become extremely abundant, causing huge crop damage. Understanding how mice behaviour varies through population changes, and how this influences transmission will help protect crop yields and inform public health strategies, as well as answering fundamental questions about disease transmission. Due to their small size and open source design, SCoNe loggers will be easily adapted by other researchers, shedding light on behavioural interactions for a range of species.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

The link between animal personality and infection risk in natural populations of Mastomys natalensis infected with Morogoro arenavirus. 01/10/2018 - 30/09/2021

Abstract

Animal personality is the phenomenon that behaviour is consistent through time, meaning, for example, that some individuals are always more aggressive than others. Any behaviour can be defined as a personality trait, as long as it is repeatable through time, but personality traits are generally divided into five categories: boldness, exploration, activity, aggressiveness and sociability. Highly explorative individuals may be more likely to encounter mates and thus have high reproductive success, for example, but they may also be at an increased risk of encountering parasites, pathogens, and predators. These fitness costs of personality are understudied, but may have important implications for disease dynamics. Using the natal multimammate mouse (Mastomys natalensis) - Morogoro arenavirus study system, I will examine the possible links between personality traits, immune functioning, and infection risk. Specifically, I will 1) establish whether M. natalensis show evidence of consistent personality traits and if any traits are correlated, 2) investigate whether host personality traits are associated with viral infections in free-living populations, 3) determine whether there is a relationship between some personality traits and immune system function, 4) experimentally test whether infection alters the expression of personality traits, and 5) use epidemiological models to explore the potential effects of personality on virus transmission dynamics in free-living populations.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Past projects

The role of microbial symbionts in host plant use and spectrum in oligophagous cucurbit feeding fruit flies (Tephritidae). 01/11/2019 - 31/10/2020

Abstract

Herbivorous insects are the most diverse group of animals. Although it is not clear how this large diversity arose, one major factor is thought to be the co-evolution between plants and insects . The wide variety of defensive toxins in plants and presence of specialized detoxifying mechanisms in insects resulted in the formation of several species. Nevertheless, different groups of specialized insects are sometimes observed in novel host plants. So we get a chronology of diet range expansion followed by specialization on different plant species. The underlying mechanisms are largely unknown but it has been suggested that microbes could play a role in this process (the microbial facilitation hypothesis). Recently, it has become clear that multicellular organisms are intimately associated with microbes that live inside/on their bodies and can have a big impact on the animal. This project aims to address these questions by focusing on specialized frugivorous flies feeding on Cucurbitaceae plants that were recently observed on atypical host plants (Solanaceae). In a first phase, we will assess whether different cucurbit feeding fruit flies have similar microbiota and metabolic responses to cucurbits. Second, we will explore how the flies own metabolic machinery and their microbiota respond to novel host plants. In the last experiment, we will investigate how impairing their microbiota affects the capacity of the flies to attack plants.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Research in the field of conservation biology. 01/01/2019 - 31/12/2019

Abstract

Donation to the Universiteitsfonds in order to stimulate research in the field of conservation biology. The Department of Biology decides how to use these funds for for grants or salaries for researchers.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Mastomys natalensis hybrid zones as natural laboratories to investigate the limits of arenavirus spread. 01/10/2018 - 30/09/2020

Abstract

The Natal multimammate mouse is probably the most widespread African rodent. In West-Africa it carries Lassa virus, which can be transmitted to humans and can cause lethal haemorrhagic fever; in other regions of Africa it carries closely related arenaviruses, but these are not pathogenic to humans. These viruses seem to be restricted to certain geographic regions because they are specific to genetically different subgroups of this mouse species. In Tanzania, three of these subgroups carrying three different non-pathogenic viruses come into contact. It is therefore an ideal place to investigate what happens to these subgroups when they meet and how this affects their arenaviruses. More specifically, I will describe the divergence of the host subgroups, characterise the hybrid zones where the subgroups come into contact, assess the association of different arenaviruses with their host subgroups and study arenavirus evolution and viral load in the hybrid zones. This research will yield insights into speciation processes and help to understand the geographic distribution and evolution of arenaviruses, which is crucial to predict future emergences and to plan interventions.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Sabbatical leave 2018-2019 Prof. Erik Matthysen 01/10/2018 - 30/09/2019

Abstract

The overall aim of this sabbatical leave is to expand our research into responses of animal populations to climate change, and to explore new research avenues and collaborations. The model system is the seasonal timing (phenology) of insectivorous birds in relation to tree phenology, building on several long-term datasets that we have available. More specifically I will focus on the role of phenology at the level of individual trees, a hitherto understudied aspect of this complex system. The first specific aim is to analyse a unique and recently acquired dataset on phenology of 1600 trees in a long-term study site of bird populations. A side aim is to update my own research skills in analytical softwares. A second aim is to explore possibilities of remote sensing technique that would allow to charachterize individual tree timing at large scales, with the aim to set up novel collaborations and projects. A third specific aim is to increase the visibility of our research group in international collaborations by participating in expert workshops and joint international publications of longitudinal data. Finally I will engage in a thorough exhange of expertise concerning tree phenology and climate change with the PLECO group at University of Antwerp, an internationally leading group in this matter, with the aim to produce a perspective paper and new research proposals.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Abundance of ticks in the Antwerp peri-urban area: policy recommendations for planning of ecological corridors in relation to urban green and health. 01/03/2018 - 31/12/2018

Abstract

In this project we analyze previously collected field data on the abundance of ticks and prevalences of important pathogens. Ticks were collected in about 20 parks and forested areas in and around Antwerp. Based on the outcomes we make policy recommendations on how to deal with tick-borne health risks in an urban area.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Identification of Lyme borreliosis risk areas for forest and nature management based on novel insights in tick ecology. 01/01/2018 - 31/12/2018

Abstract

Cases of Lyme borreliosis, a disease transmitted to humans when bitten by the castor bean tick (Ixodes ricinus), have increased in recent years. To take efficient action it is important to know at which locations infected ticks can be found. In past research it has been shown that certain forest types contain more ticks than others. Up to now, however, it is not known what determines the spatial distribution of ticks within such a suitable area. In this PhD project, we will investigate the distribution of ticks on a fine scale, and examine what contributes to the ticks ending up in specific locations. One aspect that may lead to the observed tick distribution is the location where ticks drop off their hosts after they have fed on them, be it deer or smaller animals. To look into this, we will investigate where in our study areas hosts spend their time and, among these locations, where ticks prefer to drop off. Once detached from the host, ticks can still move around. We will confirm whether or not this movement is random. Lastly, we will determine in the field which circumstances lead to high mortality among ticks. In these circumstances, there is no need for intervention. Our findings will be summarized and translated into management recommendations for forest and natural area managers. This will allow them to design and manage greenspaces in a safer way and combat ticks in a more directed way, saving both time and money while minimizing public health risks of visitors.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

An assessment of the relation between carbon storage and biodiversity in the Yangambi Biosphere Reserve (DR Congo): the potential for biodiversity conservation in carbon conservation programs. 01/10/2017 - 30/09/2019

Abstract

Anthropogenic climate change represents a major threat to biodiversity as well as to human wellbeing. Climate change mitigation strategies such as the UN-REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) program aim at protecting and enhancing biosphere carbon (C) stocks, by conserving tropical rainforest systems. However, when forests are protected for their C stock, will the biodiversity (BD) be conserved as well? Components of forest BD may overlap to different degrees, trade off with, or be largely independent from those that intervene in C storage potential. Studies on the spatial congruence of C and BD find no consistent relationship. We argue this is probably due to the large scale analysis and the use of few BD parameters. In this project we will look into the relation between BD and C on a fine scale using data from in the Central Congo basin, an understudied region. The C stock and several species groups were sampled in up to 21 plots in the Yangambi Biosphere Reserve (YBR, DR Congo). We will first describe 'biodiversity', a fundamentally undefined term, with a set of BD parameters. Further, we will investigate the relationship between C and BD at both the level of the 21 study plots and, using spatial extrapolation, across the YBR as a whole. Lastly, we will assess the effect of several C conservation strategies on BD and test if it is possible to maximise both C and BD conservation.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Mastomys natalensis hybrid zones as natural laboratories to investigate the limits of arenavirus spread. 01/10/2017 - 30/09/2018

Abstract

The Natal multimammate mouse is probably the most widespread African rodent. In West-Africa it carries Lassa virus, which can be transmitted to humans and can cause lethal haemorrhagic fever; in other regions of Africa it carries closely related arenaviruses, but these are not pathogenic to humans. These viruses seem to be restricted to certain geographic regions because they are specific to different genetic lineages of this mouse species. In Tanzania three of these lineages carrying three different non-pathogenic viruses come into contact. It is therefore the ideal place to investigate what happens to these lineages when they meet and how this affects their arenaviruses. The first will yield insights on speciation processes and the second will help to understand the geographic distribution and evolution of Lassa virus, which is crucial to predict future emergences and to plan interventions.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Refine state of the art encounter loggers for use on Mastomys natalensis, a major agricultural pest and key host of zoonotic diseases in sub Saharan Africa. 01/09/2017 - 31/08/2018

Abstract

Understanding the processes underpinning behaviour such as competition, predation, sociality or disease transmission requires the ability to monitor in great detail the nature of interactions between individuals. Until recently, this has been restricted to large, captive or easily observable species. However, new advances in miniaturisation mean that it is now possible to gather datasets of unprecedented spatio-temporal resolution for ever smaller animals. Such systems need to be tested and calibrated to ensure that they do not fundamentally alter individual behaviour, and to ensure that data collected from such systems is free from bias.We have developed miniature tags which simultaneously transmit, and detect and log the transmissions of other tags. This project will allow us to test methods of tag attachment (ensuring that any stress to the animal is kept to a minimum), monitor physiological or behavioural changes caused by the tags (should be minimal to prevent changes to rodent behaviour after being tagged) and to calibrate the tags in a field realistic setting. We will use the tags to conduct a large, field realistic study which will parametrise highly detailed disease transmission models; design and construction of the tags will be open source to allow other researchers to also use the technology on other taxa.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Cat population management project. 01/08/2017 - 31/10/2018

Abstract

During 15 months a study will be conducted into possible management scenarios and their impact on stray cats in Flanders. The aim is to provide cities and communities with an instrument that identifies different management options for their areas. To this end, the theoretical cost-benefit model (Høgasen et al.) is adapted to the Flemish context. The project is a collaboration between the Laboratory of Ethology (Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University Ghent, Belgium - Prof. Christel Moons and Ciska De Ruyver), Odisee University (Belgium - Els Peeters), Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale (Italy - Paolo Dalla Villa), and the University of Antwerp (Belgium - Prof. Herwig Leirs and Lucinda Kirkpatrick). The project is financed by the Department of the Environment of the Flemish government.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Ecological research during the Ebola-outbreak in Likati, DRC, May 2017 26/06/2017 - 31/12/2017

Abstract

In May 2017 an Ebola-outbreak occurred in Likati, Bas-Uélé, DR Congo. In contrast to previous outbreaks, good information was available about the identity and whereabouts of the primary case (the person acquiring the infection from nature). This offered an opportunity for targeted ecological research looking for the potential reservoir of Ebolavirus. This funding allowed a team from UAntwerpen and RBINS to take a leading role in an an expedition together with several other Congolese and international experts.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Pest Management Tool for tomato and pepper in Europe (PeMaTo-EuroPep). 01/04/2017 - 31/03/2019

Abstract

Pest monitoring is the basis for good biological control. In this research project we will develop an ecological monitoring system, whereby the ratio of pest and beneficials in tomat and pepper greenhouses is taken into account in the decision support system. This ratio is indispensable to determine the control strategy.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Individual variation and evolutionary potential of parasite traits in a songbird-tick system: direct and indirect genetic effects. 01/01/2017 - 31/12/2020

Abstract

The interaction between parasites and hosts is generally considered as one of the main driving forces in evolution. Evolution can occur if individual characteristics ("traits") are at least partly inherited, and are subject to natural selection. Therefore, to study the evolution of parasite traits, it is necessary to follow the success of individual parasites throughout their life-cycle. In many parasite species this is nearly impossible, except in highly artificial laboratory conditions. We will study the variation and heritability of parasite traits in ticks that are specialized on songbirds. We will breed ticks in the lab, and allow individual ticks to feed once per stage (larva, nymph or adult) on great tits taken from a wild population. In this way we will have information on the genetic relatedness of individual ticks as well as individual birds used in the study. This allows us to study to what extent variation in parasite success (feeding success, survival, number of eggs) is due to genetic variation in the parasite, or genetic variation in the host, or a combination of both. We will also study whether ticks that are highly successful on great tits do less well on other birds, and vice versa. Similarly we will study whether great tits vary in their ability to resist, or at least tolerate infestation by ticks, and whether birds that do better against one tick, are also successful against other tick species.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Renforcement des capacités académiques face à la réponse et riposte aux épidémies de Monkeypox: discrimination et origine des fièvres éruptives en République Démocratique du Congo (RDC) 01/01/2017 - 31/12/2018

Abstract

This project focuses on strengthening the academic capacity of the University of Kisangani in response to and response to outbreaks of eruptive fevers in the Democratic Republic of Congo by training staff and students in epidemiology and epidemic management, and implementing a pilot project, targeting Monkeypox virus, with health personnel from the Aketi Health Zone (Bas-Uele Province). The project includes a research component concerning the zoonotic origin of the Monkeypox virus. The results of this project will lead to improved capacity to investigate and control outbreaks of eruptive fevers in the country.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

The link between animal personality and infection risk in natural populations of Mastomys natalensis infected with Morogoro arenavirus. 01/10/2016 - 30/09/2018

Abstract

Animal personality is the phenomenon that behaviour is consistent through time, meaning, for example, that some individuals are always more aggressive than others. Any behaviour can be defined as a personality trait, as long as it is repeatable through time, but personality traits are generally divided into five categories: boldness, exploration, activity, aggressiveness and sociability. Highly explorative individuals may be more likely to encounter mates and thus have high reproductive success, for example, but they may also be at an increased risk of encountering parasites, pathogens, and predators. These fitness costs of personality are understudied, but may have important implications for disease dynamics. Using the natal multimammate mouse (Mastomys natalensis) - Morogoro arenavirus study system, I will examine the possible links between personality traits, immune functioning, and infection risk. Specifically, I will 1) establish whether M. natalensis show evidence of consistent personality traits and if any traits are correlated, 2) investigate whether host personality traits are associated with viral infections in free-living populations, 3) determine whether there is a relationship between some personality traits and immune system function, 4) experimentally test whether infection alters the expression of personality traits, and 5) use epidemiological models to explore the potential effects of personality on virus transmission dynamics in free-living populations.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

An eco-evolutionary network of biotic interactions 01/01/2016 - 31/12/2020

Abstract

Diversity at all levels of biological organization is shaped by processes related to selection, drift, dispersal and - dependent on the level of organization - speciation/mutation. These ecological and evolutionary processes interact at small to large temporal and spatial scales and generate tightly linked eco-evolutionary dynamics. They thereby affect population responses to environmental change, including the potential for evolutionary rescue. To date, most of these insights are generated from theory and experimental work based on single species or small interacting units (two or three species, e.g. predator-prey). Species do, however, not live in isolation, but in interacting networks. These biotic interactions typically range from positive mutualistic interactions (pollinator or mycorrhizal networks), over neutral to negative antagonistic interactions (in foodwebs and disease networks). Despite the awareness that losses or changes of biotic interactions will eventually impact functional aspects of ecosystems (ecosystem health), they remain a neglected component of biodiversity. The eco-evolutionary dynamics of biotic interactions need to be considered if we aim to move the field of ecology towards a predictive science. Because interactions may evolve by selection in communities, and because the number of interactions exponentially increase with the number of species in networks, ecologists have most often considered them as a black box and rely on statistical approaches that lack a mechanistic foundation to forecast species' responses to global change. This FWO-funded research network aims to advance the field of eco-evolutionary interactions by stimulating advanced collaborations within the research community. The network brings together researchers that are specialized in the field of ecology and evolution, though tackling research questions by means of different approaches and model systems. The proposed multi-disciplinary research community includes both theoretical and empirical biologists, using various aquatic, terrestrial and microbial model systems, and integrates research groups with strong methodological and conceptual expertise in genomics and bio-informatics, network analysis and computation biology. The network will stimulate multidisciplinary collaborations in order to raise the level of eco-evolutionary research in Flanders and to foster its use in predictive ecology. This will be achieved by means of active research collaboration among partners, the organization of specialized workshops to develop conceptual perspectives and synthesis papers, and the organization of bi-annual symposia for graduates, postdoctoral fellows and staff.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

PeMaTo. 01/12/2015 - 30/11/2019

Abstract

This project represents a research agreement between the UA and on the onther hand IWT. UA provides IWT research results mentioned in the title of the project under the conditions as stipulated in this contract.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Systematic conservation planning in the high Andes of Bolivia: application of modeling tools for integrative management of natural areas. 01/10/2015 - 30/09/2017

Abstract

The main goal of this project is to evaluate and compare the performance and the constraints in the use of the two mostly used systematic conservation planning tools, Marxan and Zonation, in a tropical terrestrial setting. First, I will collect and process information on biodiversity, ecosystem services and socio-economy of the Tunari National Park of Bolivia. These data will then be used to model the potential suitability of the habitat under current and future predicted climatic scenarios. Finally, I will use Marxan and Zonation to generate a decisionsystem about conservation action for biodiversity and ecosystem services while taking into account anthropogenic and economical requirements, as well as habitat fragmentation and connectivity issues.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

An assessment of the relation between carbon storage and biodiversity in lowland rainforest in DR Congo 01/10/2015 - 30/09/2017

Abstract

Anthropogenic climate change represents a major threat to biodiversity as well as to human wellbeing. Climate change mitigation strategies such as the UN-REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) program aim at protecting and enhancing biosphere carbon (C) stocks, by conserving tropical rainforest systems. However, when forests are protected for their C stock, will the biodiversity (BD) be conserved as well? Components of forest BD may overlap to different degrees, trade off with, or be largely independent from those that intervene in C storage potential. Studies on the spatial congruence of C and BD find no consistent relationship. We argue this is probably due to the large scale analysis and the use of few BD parameters. In this project we will look into the relation between BD and C on a fine scale using data from in the Central Congo basin, an understudied region. The C stock and several species groups were sampled in up to 21 plots in the Yangambi Biosphere Reserve (YBR, DR Congo). We will first describe 'biodiversity', a fundamentally undefined term, with a set of BD parameters. Further, we will investigate the relationship between C and BD at both the level of the 21 study plots and, using spatial extrapolation, across the YBR as a whole. Lastly, we will assess the effect of several C conservation strategies on BD and test if it is possible to maximise both C and BD conservation.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Ecologically based management of rodent pest in maize and rice in East Africa. 15/02/2015 - 31/01/2018

Abstract

Rodent infestation poses a serious threat to smallholder farmers in both developed and developing countries where a large proportion of potential crop yield is lost. In Eastern Africa, there are about 161 species of rodents; however, the major rodent pest is M. natalensis. Seasonal changes in abundance of this species are highly dependent on rainfall and in particular on the timing of the rainy season. Management of rodent pests in eastern Africa relies mostly on use of chemical rodenticides which, however, often are applied only when damage has already occurred (and thus basically too late to have a significant effect on damage) or in contrast as part of a routine treatment (meaning that they are also applied when it is not necessary). Rodenticides used in this way are rarely economically and ecologically sustainable and currently the knowledge about rodent populations on individual farms is too limited to allow smarter approaches. Only for M. natalensis in maize in areas with a bimodal rainfall system, predictive models were developed earlier, and the Tanzanian Ministry of Agriculture successfully uses these models to preventatively initiate rodenticide-based control when outbreaks of M. natalensis can be expected. However, there is a need to evaluate their wider applicability in other cropping systems and for other species. Ecologically based rodent management uses knowledge about the pest species' ecology in order to reduce the damage experienced by farmers. It does not see the killing of rodents as an objective, but it does not exclude any approach, including the use of rodenticides. Obviously this requires a good knowledge of the species' population biology and behavior. Therefore, as a first objective, the data from this study will refine the prediction models and test them over a wider area and different rodent pest species in east Africa. Specifically for irrigated rice, an alternative novel approach in E. Africa is the "community-based Trap-Barrier-System (cTBS)", basically a system where rodents are trapped in a rice field that is planted a short period earlier than the surrounding fields, and therefore attracting rodents from a much wider area than the field itself. The system proved very successful in irrigated rice fields in SE Asia, increasing rice yields there by 10-25%. Its success depends on the population biology, behavior and movement patterns of the rodent species that cause the damage. This knowledge is still lacking for the species causing damage in rice fields in E. Africa. Therefore, the second major objective of the study is to investigate the feasibility and effectiveness of Trap-Barrier-Systems in rice fields. For both objectives, data will be collected from studies describing the rodent pest community and the involved species' ecology as well as controlled experiments. The project's coordination is taken care of by a research center in Tanzania where much earlier work has been done already, but then also extends its activities to an area in Uganda where serious rodent problems are reported but where local capacity to address the research is still limited. This study will be conducted in Tanzania (Morogoro and Dodoma regions) and Uganda (along Nile River) where farmers grow maize and rice as staple food. The results from this study will be presented to the scientific community (journal articles, conference participations) but also shared with agricultural authorities and of course shareholders like small and large farms (extension leaflets, radio and TV programmes, extension workshops).

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Transmission cycles of tick-borne Borrelia burgdorferi s.l. and rickettsial bacteria in a songbird tick community 01/02/2015 - 31/12/2015

Abstract

Bird-tick interactions supposedly affect the human risk of tick-borne diseases. Making use of diagnostic tests, this project aims to increase our understanding of the contribution of woodland songbirds and bird-specialized ticks in the terrestrial cycles of Borrelia burgdorferi s.l. and rickettsial bacteria by focussing on the competence of bird-specialized ticks to transmit these bacteria.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Modelling the risk of agricultural damage in Flanders as a consequence of wild boar (Sus scrofa) presence. 01/01/2015 - 31/12/2018

Abstract

Because of the strong increase of the wild boar population in the fragmented Flemish landscape, more and more agricultural damage is reported. This agricultural damage by the wild boar is the central issue of this PhD research. An impact inventarisation will give an insight about the financial consequences of agricultural damage by wild boars. Next, a model will be developed which makes it possible to assess the specific conditions which makes agricultural fields sensible for damage by the wild boar. Also, the development of a distribution model will make it possible to estimate the future distribution of the wild boar in Flanders. The combination of these research topics will make it possible to make a risk analysis about the consequences of the wild boar for the agricultural sector.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Landscape heterogeneity as a driver of evolutionary divergence in two rodent-borne RNA-viruses: a multi-scale approach. 01/01/2015 - 31/12/2018

Abstract

Evolutionary divergence of directly transmitted virus lineages is often thought to occur either via codivergence with their hosts or due to the micro-evolutionary processes related to isolation by distance. Yet, in case of rapidly evolving RNA viruses with reservoir hosts that have distinct habitat preferences, landscape heterogeneity may be an important factor in virus divergence. Unpreferred host habitat is, through its effect on host density, expected to pose a barrier for virus gene flow, even in the absence of genetic isolation in the host. This is a consequence of host density thresholds for successful viral transmission. This project aims to investigate the role of multi-scale landscape patterns in shaping spatiotemporal patterns of viral divergence in two distinct rodent-borne RNA viruses: Puumala hantavirus in Europe and Mopeia arenavirus in Eastern Africa. On a short-term and regional scale, we will study how local land use patterns affect viral clustering through space. On a long term and continental scale we will investigate how virus success in different genetic host groups has led to the types of viruses currently present in these rodents and how this pattern is affected by historic changes in landscape patterns.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Transmission dynamics of tick-borne Borrelia and rickettsial bacteria in a songbird tick community. 01/01/2015 - 31/12/2017

Abstract

Although songbird-tick systems can affect the human risk of tick-borne diseases, little is known about the competence of birds and bird-specialized ticks to acquire, replicate and transmit tickborne pathogenic agents in the wild. This project aims at increasing our insights into the contribution of resident songbirds and bird-specialized ticks (Ixodes arboricola and I. frontalis) in the terrestrial cycles of Borrelia burgdorferi s.l. and several rickettsial bacteria by focussing on their infection risk and capacity to transmit the bacteria.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Poneroid Ants of Ecuador (Formicidae, Agroecomyrmicinae, Amblyoponinae, Ponerinae, Proceratiinae, Paraponerinae). 01/01/2015 - 31/12/2016

Abstract

Our general objective is to set up an information structure about the Poneroid ants existing in Ecuador. To achieve our objective we will combine the Ecuadorian and Belgian competences to investigate the specific status of as many Ecuadorian Poneroid species as possible.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

The velvet mite Allothrombium molliculum as natural enemy of pear psylla (Cacopsylla pyri): phenological population model and integration in orchard management. 01/01/2015 - 31/12/2015

Abstract

The impact of A. molliculum on populations of pear psylla will be studied, together with the impact of different aspects of orchard management on the populations of A. molliculum. A phenological population dynamics model of A. molliculum will be made based on counts in orchards. The model, which uses temperature data as input, can be used by pear growers to check whether they should change the timing of certain management practices to minimalize the damage on velvet mite populations and to unburden them during sensitive periods. This way the already present -but often strongly declined- velvet mite populations will be stimulated so they can be an important factor in the battle against pear psylla.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Transmission dynamics of tick-borne Borrelia and rickettsial bacteria in a songbird tick community. 01/10/2014 - 30/09/2017

Abstract

This project aims to increase our understanding, by focussing on: 1) the infestation risk of ticks in woodland songbirds, 2) the capacity of bird-specialized ticks to transmit Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria, the causative agents of Lyme disease in humans, and 3) the mechanisms of the spread of ticks and their diseases by woodland songbirds. The project focuses on two common hole-breeding songbird acting as tick-hosts, and three tick species with totally different life styles that commonly parasitize terrestrial songbirds in Europe and that co-occur in woodlands.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Domestic, peridomestic and wild rodent population ecology, their public health and pest importance in Wolita and Dawro zones, Southern Ethiopia. 01/10/2014 - 30/09/2016

Abstract

The general objective of this project is to reduce the burden of rodent pests on the livelihoods of farmer communities in Wolaita and Dawro Zones. The Development specific objectives are to document the local importance of rodents in agriculture and public health and increase awareness and preparedness among ties.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

First International Conference on Biodiversity in the Congo Basin (Kisangani, Democratic Republic of the Congo). 28/05/2014 - 31/12/2014

Abstract

This conference is an initiative of the 'Consortium Congo 2010' (the University of Kisangani, the Royal Museum for Central Africa, the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences and the National Botanic Garden of Belgium) and the 'Centre de Surveillance de la Biodiversité' in Kisangani to facilitate interactions and collaborations among Congolese, Belgian and international teams and experts involved in various fields of biodiversity-related research in the Congo Basin. http://congobiodiversityconference2014.africamuseum.be/

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Research in the field of ornithology. 01/01/2014 - 31/12/2019

Abstract

This project represents a formal research agreement between UA and on the other hand the client. UA provides the client research results mentioned in the title of the project under the conditions as stipulated in this contract.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Gone today but here tomorrow: investigating the behavioural and spatial processes potentially driving reemerging infections. 01/01/2014 - 31/12/2016

Abstract

In this project, I propose to examine how host metapopulations are distributed at low densities, to describe how host behaviour shapes this spatial distribution, and to test whether these processes can account for the re-emergence of infections following apparent extinctions.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Systematic conservation planning in the high Andes of Bolivia: application of modeling tools for integrative management of natural areas. 01/10/2013 - 30/09/2015

Abstract

The main goal of this project is to evaluate and compare the performance and the constraints in the use of the two mostly used systematic conservation planning tools, Marxan and Zonation, in a tropical terrestrial setting. First, I will collect and process information on biodiversity, ecosystem services and socio-economy of the Tunari National Park of Bolivia. These data will then be used to model the potential suitability of the habitat under current and future predicted climatic scenarios. Finally, I will use Marxan and Zonation to generate a decisionsystem about conservation action for biodiversity and ecosystem services while taking into account anthropogenic and economical requirements, as well as habitat fragmentation and connectivity issues.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Quantifying the transmission dynamics of two rodentborne viral infections in a variable environment. 01/10/2013 - 30/09/2015

Abstract

For a better understanding of the transmission of infections, an integrative approach can prove very useful. With the ultimate aim of creating stochastic, individual-based mathematical models of the transmission of a rodent-borne virus (Mopeia virus in the African multimammate mouse Mastomys natalensis), we will use laboratory as well as field experiments to collect the data necessary to feed the models. These models allow us to test fundamental epidemiological theories that have so far proven elusive to prove but are now, thanks to the unique field setup that will be used, possible to test.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Ecology of Lassa virus and related arenavirus in the natural host Mastomys natalensis. 01/03/2013 - 28/02/2019

Abstract

This is an interdisciplinary project submitted by a German anc! a Belgian partner with complementary expertise in vir% gy and ecology. It is concerned with studying the ec% gy of Arenaviruses that can cause hemorrhagic fever in humans. Our understanding of the transmission mode and viral dynamic of Arenaviruses in wild/ife, however, is very limited. The natural reservoir of some Old Word Arenaviruses, including Lassa virus, is reported to be rats of the genus Mastomys. /n addition, it is a/so not known whether different types of Arenaviruses differ in their pathogenicity in their natural hosts. The object of th is work is to use experimental models and field work to address the issues described above. A better understanding of this issue might help us to identify the risk factor for zoonotic transmission of Arenaviruses from animals to humans.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Land and water research for sustainable livelihood in the South Ethiopian Rift Valley. 28/02/2013 - 28/05/2013

Abstract

This project represents a formal research agreement between UA and on the other hand VLIR. UA provides VLIR research results mentioned in the title of the project under the conditions as stipulated in this contract.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Effects of Afrotropical rainforest fragmentation on lifehistory strategies in a cooperative breeding bird. 01/01/2013 - 31/12/2016

Abstract

We will study how the combination of territory quality, habitat fragmentation and isolation shape reproductive, dispersal, settlement, and territorial strategies in fragmented populations of a tropical, cooperative breeding bird species.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

The role of founder effects and genetic diversity of introduced populations in explaining the invasion success of non-native species. 01/01/2013 - 31/12/2015

Abstract

In this project, I will study the role of founder effects and genetic diversity of introduced populations in explaining the invasion success of non-native species. Here, I will use the use the invasion of Europe by ring-necked parakeets to study how founder effects influence levels of genetic diversity and structure of invading populations, and how this impacts invasion success.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Complex patterns of host-pathogen interaction: the role of behaviour in mediating the spread of infectious disease through structured host populations. 01/01/2013 - 31/12/2015

Abstract

In this project, I propose to examine fundamental questions of how the social and spatial structure of host populations affects the spread and persistence of an infectious disease and the behavioural mechanisms that drive this structure. To do so, I will use the quintessential infectious disease, plague (Yersinia pestis), and the major host of plague within Central Asia, the great gerbil (Rhombomys opimus).

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Real-time localization system for population studies of small birds. 01/01/2013 - 31/12/2014

Abstract

This project will develop a new real-time localization system for large-scale monitoring of movements of small free-living birds. The ultimate aim is to develop small miniaturised tags (max 1g) that send spatial information to detection modules in the field, which in turn send this information to a central receiving system. The objective of the current proposal is to clarify the limits and possibilities of this system.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Spatial and environmental determinants of eco-evolutionary dynamics: anthropogenic environments as a model (SPEEDY). 01/10/2012 - 31/12/2017

Abstract

The overall objective of SPEEDY is to obtain integrated insight into the responses of populations and communities to urbanization. The integrated nature of our research programme refers to the fact that we consider different biological levels (communities, populations) and we specifically address interactions between both ecological and evolutionary responses (eco-evolutionary dynamics). We also seek mechanistic explanations by looking at organismal traits, consider different stressors associated with urbanization, and perform concerted research on different organism groups and spatial scales. The research will translate into a capacity to provide improved predictions of responses of natural communities to urbanization by incorporating evolutionary responses.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Towards a knowledge-based reliable sustainable control of pear leaf flea in pear cultivation. 01/09/2012 - 31/12/2016

Abstract

This project represents a research agreement between the UA and on the onther hand IWT. UA provides IWT research results mentioned in the title of the project under the conditions as stipulated in this contract.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Eco-evolutionary dynamics in natural and anthropogenic communities (FWO Vis. Fel, Alexis RIBAS SALVADOR, Spanje). 02/01/2012 - 01/01/2013

Abstract

The aim of the project is to understand how concomitant infection with helminths and viruses affects the ecology and evolutionary outcome of host-parasite interactions. Concomitant infection, which refers to the situation where two or more infectious agents coexist in the same host, is frequent in nature (Cox 2001). The interaction between concomitant infecting parasites can modify host susceptibility, parasite load intensity and the pattern of parasite distribution within the host population (Cattadori et al. 2008). In parasite communities, the interaction can be direct, when parasites compete for the same resource (e.g. space or food), or indirect, when the host's immune response toward one parasite affects its ability to control a second parasite. Viruses and helminth parasites provoke different immune responses (TH1 in the case of viruses vs TH2 in the case of helminths) (Cox 2001). During concomitant infection there is a trade-off between these two types of responses - once the host invests in one type of response, its investment in the other is reduced leading to an indirect interaction between viruses and helminths via the host.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

The role of exploration and experience in the development of spatial behaviour: home ranges and dispersal in the Great Tit. 01/01/2012 - 31/12/2015

Abstract

Mobility is one of the most essential characteristics of life, and is closely linked with the acquisition and use of spatial information. We test two general hypotheses using field data and behavioural experiments on songbirds: (a) individuals build up spatial information in the course of their life which they use in subsequent movement decisions, and this creates carry-over effects between life stages; (b) individuals differ consistently in their use of spatial information, and this explains part of the within-population variation in mobility patterns.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Host-switching and co-speciation in the evolutionary history of two RNA viruses in Eastern Africa. 01/01/2012 - 31/12/2014

Abstract

Understanding the evolution and epidemiology of RNA viruses in their natural hosts is essential for disease emergence prediction and control. Arenaviruses and hantaviruses are (mostly rodent-borne) RNA viruses causing hemorrhagic fevers and neurological disorders in humans. They are well studied in Europe and the Americas but understudied in Africa. However recent discoveries of new viruses suggest they are highly diverse in Africa. Based on previous data, it has been assumed that both groups of viruses have had long co-evolutionary histories with their hosts. However, this has not been adequately tested for African arenaviruses, and a recent study of hantaviruses instead suggests a very short co-history of preferential host switching, which has massive implications for viral emergence and control. This project intends to fill the gap in scientific knowledge of these viruses in Africa by investigating their biodiversity, biogeography and evolutionary history in relation to their hosts.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Puumala hantavirus variation in heterogeneous environments in western Europe : ecological drivers and epidemiological outcomes 01/01/2012 - 31/12/2012

Abstract

This project aims to investigate how large and small scale genetic variation of Puumala virus (PUUV), a common hantaviral zoonosis in Europe, is linked to heterogeneity in PUUV epidemiology and potential micro-evolutionary patterns in Belgium. Secondly, want to identify the ecological drivers of the observed genetic variation in PUUV, taking into account reservoir host genetics.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Complex patterns of host-pathogen interaction: the role of behaviour in mediating the spread of infectious disease through structured host populations 01/01/2012 - 31/12/2012

Abstract

Contrary to the large, well-mixed theoretical populations on which the spread of infectious disease has traditionally been modelled, most wildlife and human populations are socially or spatially structured into distinct groups. This is significant, as infection transmission within a structured population will also depend on group dynamics including group connectivity via individual movements. But while theoretical studies have modelled the effects of population structure and connectivity on infection dynamics, the behavioural mechanisms driving connectivity have remained largely unstudied. This project will redress this fundamental issue, using the quintessential infectious disease, plague (Yersinia pestis), and one of its major hosts, great gerbils (Rhombomys opimus), to explore how social and spatial structures within populations affect infection dynamics. Specifically, this project aims to: 1) examine how the movements of great gerbils, their predators and other secondary hosts contribute to connectivity within structured great gerbil populations, and whether there are systematic differences in these measures in different landscapes; and 2) implement a large field experiment to test whether derived hypotheses of connectivity account for the spread of fleas (and potentially, therefore, of plague) through structured populations.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Borrelia infections in songbirds and bird-specialized ticks 01/01/2012 - 31/12/2012

Abstract

Songbird-tick interactions supposedly affect the human risk of tick-borne diseases. Making use of diagnostic tests, this project aims to increase our understanding of the contribution of resident woodland songbirds and bird-specialized ticks in the terrestrial cycles of Borrelia burgdorferi s.l. by focussing on the infection risk in birds, and the capacity of bird-specialized ticks to transmit Borrelia bacteria.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Host-parasite interactions between resident songbirds, ixodid ticks and Borrelia spirocheten. 01/10/2011 - 30/09/2014

Abstract

This project aims to increase our understanding, by focussing on: 1) the infestation risk of ticks in woodland songbirds, 2) the capacity of bird-specialized ticks to transmit Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria, the causative agents of Lyme disease in humans, and 3) the mechanisms of the spread of ticks and their diseases by woodland songbirds. The project focuses on two common hole-breeding songbird acting as tick-hosts, and three tick species with totally different life styles that commonly parasitize terrestrial songbirds in Europe and that co-occur in woodlands.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Complex patterns of host-pathogen interaction: the role of behaviour in mediating the spread of infectious disease through structured host populations. 01/10/2011 - 30/09/2014

Abstract

Contrary to the large, well-mixed theoretical populations on which the spread of infectious disease has traditionally been modelled, most wildlife and human populations are socially or spatially structured into distinct groups. This is significant, as infection transmission within a structured population will also depend on group dynamics including group connectivity via individual movements. But while theoretical studies have modelled the effects of population structure and connectivity on infection dynamics, the behavioural mechanisms driving connectivity have remained largely unstudied. This project will redress this fundamental issue, using the quintessential infectious disease, plague (Yersinia pestis), and one of its major hosts, great gerbils (Rhombomys opimus), to explore how social and spatial structures within populations affect infection dynamics. Specifically, this project aims to: 1) examine how the movements of great gerbils, their predators and other secondary hosts contribute to connectivity within structured great gerbil populations, and whether there are systematic differences in these measures in different landscapes; 2) implement a large field experiment to test whether derived hypotheses of connectivity account for the spread of fleas (and potentially, therefore, of plague) through structured populations; and 3) seek complex but coherent spatial patterns in the distribution of infected groups using point pattern analyses.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Study of developmental homeostasis in relation to different kinds of stress: Developmental and evolutionary consequences. 01/10/2011 - 30/09/2013

Abstract

Developmental homeostasis (or developmental buffering) is a key factor in evolutionary process because it can maintain phenotypic consistency in spite of environmental and genetic variation and because it can hide cryptic genetic variation from selection. Despite a large interest, the basis of canalization and developmental stability (DS), the two main components of developmental buffering, are little understood. The aim of the project is to investigate the relationship between canalization and DS and to gain insights into their basis by studying their patterns of variation in different model species.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Quantifying the transmission dynamics of two rodent-borne viral infections in a variable environment. 01/10/2011 - 30/09/2013

Abstract

For a better understanding of the transmission of infections, an integrative approach can prove very useful. With the ultimate aim of creating stochastic, individual-based mathematical models of the transmission of a rodent-borne virus (Mopeia virus in the African multimammate mouse Mastomys natalensis), we will use laboratory as well as field experiments to collect the data necessary to feed the models. These models allow us to test fundamental epidemiological theories that have so far proven elusive to prove but are now, thanks to the unique field setup that will be used, possible to test.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Evolutionary biology of arenavirus-rodent interactions. 01/10/2011 - 30/09/2013

Abstract

The evolutionary interactions of host-pathogen systems are a very interesting topic of fundamental biology, but also contribute to a better understanding of the ecology and epidemiology of infections. I will focus my research on Mopeia virus (MOPV), which is closely related to the dangerous human pathogen Lassa virus (LASV) and has the same rodent host, Mastomys natalensis. MOPV is not pathogenic to humans though, making research on this virus in natural populations of M. natalensis much more feasible. I am aiming to identify the basis of the MOPV-M. natalensis interaction, by performing infection experiments in a laboratory population of M. natalensis and by genotyping different strains of MOPV. After this, I will analyse the variability of these loci in host and virus genome in natural populations through time and space.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Puumala hantavirus variation in heterogeneous environments in western Europe: ecological drivers and epidemiological outcomes. 01/10/2011 - 30/09/2012

Abstract

We aim to investigate space-time genetic variation of PUUV in Belgium and how it is linked to heterogeneity in PUUV transmission efficiency, persistence and potential micro-evolutionary patterns. Second, we want to identify the ecological drivers of the observed PUUV variation, taking into account reservoir host genetics.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

International Congres "11th African Mammal Symposium (ASMS)". 26/05/2011 - 31/12/2011

Abstract

This project represents a formal service agreement between UA and on the other hand VLIR. UA provides VLIR research results mentioned in the title of the project under the conditions as stipulated in this contract.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

The return of the European beaver (Castor fiber) in Belgium as an invasive species, ecology and risk assessment. 01/01/2011 - 31/12/2014

Abstract

The European beaver (Castor fiber) was illegally reintroduced after an absence of more than one century. I will examine which habitat parameters are the most important for settling and determine which areas are suitable but unoccupied. Then I'll evaluate how easy/difficult these suitable areas can be reached. The effect of river characteristics on the dam building behavior will be analysed. Finally, we will determine a number of areas in Flanders where the dams potentially cause the most economical damage.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Biology and control of vector-borne infections in Europe (EDENext). 01/01/2011 - 31/12/2014

Abstract

We want to investigate the biological, ecological and epidemiological components of vector-borne diseases (VBD) introduction, emergence and spread, and to propose innovative tools for controlling them, building on the basis of acquired knowledge. Human behaviour and risk perception are an important component of VBD introduction, emergence and spread. The consequences triggered by VBD for human and veterinary public health in Europe are just starting to emerge in public awareness. We will also account for this aspect of human and veterinary public health in our project.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

The role of genetic variation in explaining the invasion success of nonnative species 01/01/2011 - 31/12/2012

Abstract

The invasion success of nonnative species depends on the interaction between life history characteristics of species and environmental characteristics. It however remains difficult to characterize the probability of successful species invasions, or to explain why some introductions are successful whereas others fail. This is, at least partly, due to the fact that, up to date, the role of genetic variation during species invasions has largely been ignored. Based upon the invasion of Europe by the Afro-Asiatic ring-necked parakeet (Psittacula krameri), this pilot study will assess whether genetic variation within a population relates to the pattern of population growth and geographic expansion of that population. This study will also test whether the genetic structure between European parakeet populations is linked to climate factors. This way, new information on the role of (intraspecific) genetic variation during biological invasions will be obtained. This knowledge can then be used to identify populations that are most likely to adapt to the current and future (climate) environments, or to gauge how the invasiveness of populations can change in reaction to climate change.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Evolution of intra-sexual colour polymorphism in female damselflies of different shape frequencies. 01/01/2011 - 31/12/2012

Abstract

This project represents a research agreement between the UA and on the onther hand IWT. UA provides IWT research results mentioned in the title of the project under the conditions as stipulated in this contract.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Congo basin integrated monitoring for forest carbon mitigation and biodiversity (COBIMFO). 15/12/2010 - 31/12/2016

Abstract

The main objective of het project is to get baseline reference data on the C stocks and biodiversity in pristine and intervened dense tropical forests of the Congo Basin and to increase our understanding in the relationship between both variables as a function of forest management (and the likelihood that the societies will preserve these stocks in the long-term).

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

The genetic and developmental basis of developmental buffering. 01/10/2010 - 30/09/2014

Abstract

Buffering is the process that minimizes phenotypic variation arising from genetic and environmental perturbations during development. It is considered an important process in evolutionary biology due to its ability to conceal genetic variation from selection, but nevertheless little is known about its genetic and developmental basis. This projects aims to fill this gap in our knowledge by examining the underlying processes of developmental stability in two unique vertebrate model systems. Developmental stability is the component of development buffering that acts at the individual level by buffering against random variation arising in the developmental process. It can be easily empirically determined by quantifying the level of fluctuating asymmetry, i.e. random deviations from perfect symmetry in a bilateral symmetric trait. To investigate the genetic and developmental basis of developmental stability, I will (1) investigate the associations between levels of fluctuating asymmetry and the presence and severity of congenital abnormalities in early deceased human fetuses (based on a hospital collection) and rabbit fetuses (experimentally exposed to teratogenic products) and (2) use genome-wide screening to detect mutations that influence the level of fluctuating asymmetry. It is expected that this multidisciplinary approach will indicate (1) developmental systems and (2) genetic pathways that affect developmental stability.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Evolutionary history of Old World arenaviruses and their murine hosts in Africa. 01/10/2010 - 30/09/2014

Abstract

Arenaviruses are viruses normally carried by rodents. Some of them are highly pathogenic to humans. They are divided into the New World (NW) and the Old World (OW) groups. Until recently, it was assumed that arenaviruses stay with the rodent species in which they are found (co-speciation). While a recent study on NW arenaviruses did not find any evidence to support this assumption, the only existing study on OW arenaviruses is not convincing one way or the other. Recent discoveries of new arenaviruses suggest that their evolutionary history is more subtle than previously thought with possible transfers between species depending on the relatedness of the hosts. My project aims to i) analyze a large number of existing rodent samples from East Africa to discover new arenaviruses and test the limits of host specificity; ii) sequence new strains/species of arenaviruses starting with two I found during my first FWO postdoctoral mandate. With this expanded data on OW arenaviruses, I will analyze the processes generating variation in arenaviruses and test for co-speciation and transfer events. I will also test for signals of the selective effect arenaviruses have on their hosts by analyzing polymorphism of the host cell receptor gene of OW arenaviruses.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

The role of niche conservatism, genetic variation and facilitative species interactions in explaining the invasion success of non-native species. 01/10/2010 - 30/09/2013

Abstract

By addressing several understudied aspects of invasions, this project aims to increase our understanding of invasion success. First, using data on bird introductions in Europe, I will assess the validity of the often used assumption of niche conservatism (i.e. the tendency of species to retain ancestral ecological traits), as niche shifts during invasion may allow species to occupy habitats different from the ones used in their native range. Second, I will use the invasion of Europe by ring-necked parakeets to study the influence of intraspecific niche variation on invasion success. Geographical variation in niche requirements can result in variation in speciesenvironment relationships, and ignoring this can lead to both over- and underestimates of the invasion potential. Lastly, most research on biotic interactions has focused on negative interactions (competition, predation). However, facilitation could be equally important and the recent colonization of European cities by different parakeet species offers an opportunity to study facilitation among invading species.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Soutien académique pour le développement de la recherche appliquée sur les petits mammifères nuisibles en R.D. Congo. 15/05/2010 - 14/05/2013

Abstract

Les obiectifs orincioaux sont de continuer a arneliorer le niveau scientifiaue dans le domaine de la biolonie des rongeurs notamment c o m e vecteurs de maladies et ravageurs des cultures ; de faciliter la recherche des etudiants et doctorants sur place; de creer une nouvelle synergie entre les commuoautes scientifiques intemationales, nationales et locales par la mise a disposition des oeuvres publiees a Kisangani.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

FWO Visiting Postdoctoral Fellowship (Joël WHITE, France). 01/05/2010 - 30/04/2011

Abstract

The general aim of this project is to study the processes contributing to the evolution of host specificity in parasites, using bird-tick interactions as a model system. One of the major aims is to study transmission of parasites within and among host species. Because parasites are nidicolous and therefore restricted to nest sites (cavities), the use of nest or roost cavities by hosts in response to parasite infestation plays a crucial role in transmission. Birds can avoid cavities with parasites by using different kinds of information: the current presence of parasites, their own previous experience in the nest site (personal information) or information obtained from observing other birds (social information) - which is perhaps less likely in the case of ectoparasites. By switching between parasitized and parasite-free nests, birds may actually carry parasites to noninfested sites and thereby enhance transmission of parasites between cavities and even among host individuals or species.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Population structure, transmission and host specificity in a nidicolous ectoparasite, the tick Ixodes arboricola. 01/01/2010 - 31/12/2013

Abstract

The aim of this project is to study host specialization and genetic structure in an ecologically specialized tick species, I. arboricola. This project will deliver novel insights into the evolution of host specialization in ticks and more generally in parasites, and the role of different mechanisms herein. In addition we will obtain detailed insights in host selection, transmission and dispersal in a group of ectoparasites with high societal relevance.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Evaluation of the applicability of developmental instability as risk marker in pharmatoxicological studies 01/01/2010 - 31/12/2011

Abstract

Developmental instability (DI), the sensitivity of a developing system to random noise, is assumed to reflect quality and 'health' of populations and individuals. In this study it will be evaluated for the first time whether DI can be applied as a reliable and sensitive marker for possible teratogenic effects in experimental animals in pharmatoxicological research.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Characterisation of genes involved in arenavirus - host interaction 01/01/2010 - 31/12/2011

Abstract

To determine genetic factors involved in the evolutionary outcome of arenavirus-rodent host interaction, I will characterise genetic markers involved in the cellular host-parasite interactions of three murid-arenavirus systems: Mastomys natalensis-Morogoro virus and two new arenaviruses I discovered in 2008 in Mus minutoides and Lemniscomys rosalia. I will then investigate the polymorphism of these markers in nature.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Study of the genetic basis of developmental instability in deceased human fetuses. 01/10/2009 - 30/09/2013

Abstract

Developmental instability (DI), the sensitivity of a developing system to random noise, is assumed to reflect quality and 'health' of populations and individuals. However, the literature is very heterogeneous and it is currently impossible to understand the reasons for this heterogeneity because of a lack of insights in the mechanisms that determine levels of DI. In this project we aim at gaining further insights in the mechanisms of DI.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Selection on dispersion-related traits in highly dynamic environments: the natterjack toad (Bufo calamita) as model species. 01/10/2009 - 30/09/2011

Abstract

This project tests the hypothesis that dispersal-related traits are subjected to different selective pressures depending on the isolation and lifespan of populations. Natterjack toads are used as a model species. Toads are collected in small isolated populations as well as larger network populations, and raised in a common environment. We measure traits that are potentially related to dispersal including development, morphology, locomotion, exploratory behaviour and habitat use. Using these data we study differentiation among populations as well as associations among traits. We also determine the extent of neutral (molecular) variation among populations.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Evolutionary biology of arenavirus-rodent interactions. 01/10/2009 - 30/09/2011

Abstract

The evolutionary interactions of host-pathogen systems are a very interesting topic of fundamental biology, but also contribute to a better understanding of the ecology and epidemiology of infections. I will focus my research on Mopeia virus (MOPV), which is closely related to the dangerous human pathogen Lassa virus (LASV) and has the same rodent host, Mastomys natalensis. MOPV is not pathogenic to humans though, making research on this virus in natural populations of M. natalensis much more feasible. I am aiming to identify the basis of the MOPV-M. natalensis interaction, by performing infection experiments in a laboratory population of M. natalensis and by genotyping different strains of MOPV. After this, I will analyse the variability of these loci in host and virus genome in natural populations through time and space.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Dispersal, parental care and personality traits in the Great Tit. 01/10/2009 - 30/09/2011

Abstract

The general aim of this project is to study how individual variation in behaviour, in offspring as well as parents, contributes to variation in dispersal in natural populations. We use the great tit as a model system using dispersal data from an ongoing population study in a fragmented woodland system. The study of personalities is based on previous research showing that a standardized exploration score provides information on heritable behavioural syndromes. We study how different aspects of spatial behaviour (dispersal, home ranges, family movements during parental care) are related to each other and to personality variation. This variation will be linked also to available fitness data (survival and reproduction).

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Separating history from natural selection during the co-evolution of hantaviruses and their rodent hosts in Europe. 01/10/2009 - 30/09/2010

Abstract

Hantaviruses and their rodent/insectivore hosts are often taken as textbook examples of parasite-host co-evolution. But after closer scrutiny, this relationship is actually not that straightforward: the genetic variation within hantavirus lineages shows topological patterns that are considerably different from those of the hosts. In Europe this could possibly be related to the recolonization pattern since the last ice age, but the reasons behind this pattern remain to be elucidated. The purpose of our study would be to try to unravel the evolutionary drivers (e.g. local adaptation and exctinction, co-speciation, host-switching,..) and their relative roles in shaping the current geographic and allelic distribution of the European hantaviruses and their hosts. The work will be done in close co-operation with several specialized research groups (a.o. the Center of Biology and Management of Populations in Montpellier), utilizing state-of-the-art methods in molecular evolutionary genetics.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Mate choice & patterns of adaptive variation in the European black vulture (Aegypius monachus). 01/09/2009 - 31/08/2013

Abstract

This project represents a formal research agreement between UA and on the other hand KMDA. UA provides KMDA research results mentioned in the title of the project under the conditions as stipulated in this contract.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Cost efficient modelling of denominator data for spatial epidemiological studies in extensive livestock systems 01/09/2009 - 31/08/2013

Abstract

This project represents a research agreement between the UA and on the onther hand IWT. UA provides IWT research results mentioned in the title of the project under the conditions as stipulated in this contract.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Visiting Postdoct. Fellow for the FWO-project: "Study of the role of selection history on the association between developmental instability and stress and fitness: habitat islands as model system". (Chavali VISHALAKSHI, India) 01/06/2009 - 31/05/2010

Abstract

With this project we aim at disentangling the role of (recent) selection pressures and evolutionary response on the levels of DI and its sensitivity as a measure of stress and fitness. We will compare patterns between traits that are under stabilizing selection and under recent or more ancient directional selection.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Habitat utilization, population dynamics of rodents and potential for transmission of zoonoses in agro-ecosystems and human settlements in the Tigrey region, Northern Ethiopia. 01/04/2009 - 31/03/2011

Abstract

Rodent population density changes at spatial and temporal scales due to environmental conditions, habitat type and interactions with the same or different species. It is important to understand the dynamics of these changes in northern Ethiopia. Objectives: (i) To establish habitat utilization of rodents in agricultural/non agricultural landscapes (ii) To investigate the population dynamics of rodent species (iii) To establish the burden of disease pathogens and the temporal variations of zoonotic agents in the rodent populations

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Study of the role of selection history on the association between developmental instability and stress and fitness: habitat islands as model system. 01/01/2009 - 31/12/2012

Abstract

With this project we aim at disentangling the role of (recent) selection pressures and evolutionary response on the levels of DI and its sensitivity as a measure of stress and fitness. We will compare patterns between traits that are under stabilizing selection and under recent or more ancient directional selection.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Infectious disease models: wildlife ecology, ecological disturbance and transmission to humans. 01/01/2009 - 31/12/2012

Abstract

Changing environmental conditions (e.g. climate) are likely to affect the ecology of infections, through changes in the abundance of susceptible natural host populations or by affecting transmission rates (directly or through vectors). This project investigates these effects, through observations, experiments and mathematical modelling, for five model infections selected for their different characteristics (hantaviruses in voles, plague in gerbils, arenavirus in African mice, dengue fever in humans, rotaviruses in vaccinated humans). The insights are used to evaluate potential changes in burden of disease, with or without control measures.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Population dynamics -and simulation of earwings in orchards: density dependence in a population of generalist predators. 01/01/2009 - 31/12/2010

Abstract

Earwigs, Forficula auricularia (L.) (Dermaptera, Forficulidae), are very important predators in fruit orchards. They are capable of suppressing outbreaks of pest species like pear psyllid and different aphid species, in apple and pear orchards. Earwigs could play an important role in integrated fruit orchards en could be an essential key factor in organic fruit growing. However, earwig populations are very unstable with large interannual variations in population size. Therefore, their practical use in control strategies stays very limited. To find solutions for this problem we are building a population model which will allow us to analyse the population with sensitivity analysis, so that critical periods in the life-cycle could be identified as targets for interventionbs. This should result into an optimal orchard management were abiotic and biotic factors and the impact of human actions on the earwig population are taken into account. The existing biological information needed to create such a model is not sufficient, especially where it concerns interactions with other species. Using a combination of field -and lab experiments, we will collect information about the model parameters for such interactions. In this project we will focus mainly on density dependent factors, like parasitism (by tachinids), predation, intra- and interspecific competition.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Layout and development of an ecological landscape model as a model instrument for the ecological infrastructure in the Antwerp port. 15/12/2008 - 15/07/2011

Abstract

This project will produce a landscape ecological model that allows to quantify the effect of planned or realised changes in the Antwerp Harbour area on the connectivity between natural animal populations. The model is based on analysis of least-cost paths as a function of landscape resistance. The model is parameterized for a number of target species including natterjack toad and bats with additional species to be determined. The project will deliver a practical instrument for monitoring the functioning of the Ecological Infrastructure in the harbour area.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Wildlife population ecology and human-wildlife interactions in and around Saadani National Park. 01/10/2008 - 30/09/2013

Abstract

The project is aimed at capacity development at the Department of Wildlife Management at the Sokoine University of Agriculture, in teaching as well as in research. This will be done by improving the zoology laboratory facilities, training Ph.D.- and M.Sc.-students and supporting studies on wildlife ecology and human-wildlife interactions in and around the recently established Saadani National Park. The vertebrate thuna of the park will be inventoried and the ecology of selected model species will be studied. This park is confronted by a number of ecological threats that are related to human livelihood issueg in neighboüring conununities such as blockage of wildlife migratory corridors, habitat loss and use of natural resources. Given the complexities of the threats, both ecological and social studies are crucial. The project will investigate the possible causes, éffects and costs of conflict between local social actors and the park. The specific developmental objective of the project is thus to create a scientific basis for better management of the Saadani ecosystem, within and around the park, while the overall academie objective is to attain academie excellence in wildlife management research and training at SUA.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Study of the mechanisms of developmental instability in deceased human fetusses and infants. 01/10/2008 - 30/06/2013

Abstract

Developmental instability (DI), the sensitivity of a developing system to random noise, is assumed to reflect quality and 'health' of populations and individuals. However, the literature is very heterogeneous and it is currently impossible to understand the reasons for this heterogeneity because of a lack of insights in the mechanisms that determine levels of DI. In this project we aim at gaining further insights in the mechanisms of DI.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Dispersal, connectivity and population viability of birds in a fragmental afrotropical rainforest. 01/10/2008 - 30/09/2012

Abstract

This project aims to model viability of threatened bird populations in highly fragmented biodiversity hotspot in Kenya, based on demographic data, behavioural observations and landscape connectivity analysis. The results will be integrated in a multidisciplinary study on reforestation priorities within the study area.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Studies to identify the reservoir of "Mycobacterium Ulcerans" in nature and its mode(s) of transmission to humans. 01/09/2008 - 31/03/2014

Abstract

Buruli ulcer (BU), a skin disease caused by Mycobacterium ulcerans, is endemic in Ghana. Until now little research has been carried out in Ghana to identify the reservoir of this disease. This project aims at carrying out research in order to acquire knowledge about the reservoir and mode(s) of transmission of BU in Ghana allowing the development of prevention strategies. This will lead to a sustainable decrease in morbidity of BU. The research will contribute to developing and promoting NMIMR as a recognised "centre of excellence" for the integrated study of BU at a high academic standard.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Population viability in fragmented rainforest: integrating individual-based modeling with landscape dynamics and connectivity. 01/01/2008 - 31/12/2011

Abstract

This project aims to study factors that affect the long-term population viability of Afrotropical bird species for which forest deterioration and isolation act synergistically at different spatial scales. We will parameterize and integrate spatially-explicit metapopulation-, forest- and landscape-models that encompass both fine-grained and coarse-grained dynamic processes.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Immuno-ecology of viral infections in the multimammate mouse Mastomys natalensis: characterisation of of class I and class II MHC genes.  01/01/2008 - 31/12/2009

Abstract

The overall aim of my research is to determine the intrinsic, extrinsic and genetic factors involved in the evolutionary outcome of Mopeia-Mastomys natalensis interactions in wild populations. In this context, I am planning to isolate and characterise MHC genes, orthologous to those found to be polymorphic and associated to RNA virus immune responses in other rodents.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Evolution of intrasexual colour polymorphism in female damselflies. 01/01/2008 - 31/12/2008

Abstract

Species showing multiple morphs present a challenge for evolutionary theory. Current explanations for the evolution of female-limited polymorphism do not suffice to account for the recently observed variation in female morph frequencies, which is far greater than previously appreciated. Focus on variation in density and frequency in relation to morph-specific fitness, behaviour and morphology should allow reaching a more general explanation.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Sabbatical leave within the framework of animal ecology. 01/01/2008 - 31/07/2008

Abstract

The purpose of this sabbatical leave is to answer a number of research questions using state-of-the-art statistical analyses on long-term datasets. This includes analyses of survival, population structure and heritability of traits. In particular I will study changes in life-history traits because of climate change and the role of genetic variation therein.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Evolutionary ecology of arenavirus-rodent interactions: the Mopeia virus and its host reservoir, Mastomys natalensis. 01/10/2007 - 30/09/2010

Abstract

The objectives of the project are to investigate i) the spatio-temporal patterns of MV occurrence in relation to M. natalensis dynamics and environmental factors in Tanzania and ii) the role of MV in the evolution of the reservoir host populations. More specifically, I will address the following questions : 1-Is there a spatio-temporal pattern in the occurrence of MV among M. natalensis populations in relation to their population dynamics? 2-What demographic traits influence the probability of an individual rat being or becoming virus antibody positive? 3- What habitat features are correlated to the presence of MV? 4- What is the evolutionary impact of MV on its host populations, especially on the MHC polymorphism?

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Selection of dispersion-related traits in highly dynamic environments: the natterjack toad (Bufo calamita) as model species. 01/10/2007 - 30/09/2009

Abstract

This project tests the hypothesis that dispersal-related traits are subjected to different selective pressures depending on the isolation and lifespan of populations. Natterjack toads are used as a model species. Toads are collected in small isolated populations as well as larger network populations, and raised in a common environment. We measure traits that are potentially related to dispersal including development, morphology, locomotion, exploratory behaviour and habitat use. Using these data we study differentiation among populations as well as associations among traits. We also determine the extent of neutral (molecular) variation among populations.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Dispersal, parental care and personality traits in the Great Tit. 01/10/2007 - 30/09/2009

Abstract

The general aim of this project is to study how individual variation in behaviour, in offspring as well as parents, contributes to variation in dispersal in natural populations. We use the great tit as a model system using dispersal data from an ongoing population study in a fragmented woodland system. The study of personalities is based on previous research showing that a standardized exploration score provides information on heritable behavioural syndromes. We study how different aspects of spatial behaviour (dispersal, home ranges, family movements during parental care) are related to each other and to personality variation. This variation will be linked also to available fitness data (survival and reproduction).

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Variation in female morph frequencies in a polymorphic damselfly: causes and consequences. 01/07/2007 - 31/12/2011

Abstract

Species showing multiple morphs present a challenge for evolutionary theory. Current explanations for the evolution of female-limited polymorphism do not suffice to account for the recently observed variation in female morph frequencies, which is far greater than previously appreciated. Focus on variation in density and frequency in relation to morph-specific fitness, behaviour and morphology should allow reaching a more general explanation.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Study of the genetic and molecular architecture of developmental instability in zebrafish (Brachydanio rerio). 01/01/2007 - 31/12/2010

Abstract

The genetic basis of developmental instability is only poorly understood. In this project, its evolutionary potential and genetic basis will be studies using classic quantitative genetic experiments, QTL mapping and micro-array analyses. Since developmental instability often increases with stress, we will determine its genetic and molecular architecture under different stress conditions.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Population dynamics -and simulation of earwings in orchards: density dependence in a population of generalist predators. 01/01/2007 - 31/12/2008

Abstract

Earwigs, Forficula auricularia (L.) (Dermaptera, Forficulidae), are very important predators in fruit orchards. They are capable of suppressing outbreaks of pest species like pear psyllid and different aphid species, in apple and pear orchards. Earwigs could play an important role in integrated fruit orchards en could be an essential key factor in organic fruit growing. However, earwig populations are very unstable with large interannual variations in population size. Therefore, their practical use in control strategies stays very limited. To find solutions for this problem we are building a population model which will allow us to analyse the population with sensitivity analysis, so that critical periods in the life-cycle could be identified as targets for interventionbs. This should result into an optimal orchard management were abiotic and biotic factors and the impact of human actions on the earwig population are taken into account. The existing biological information needed to create such a model is not sufficient, especially where it concerns interactions with other species. Using a combination of field ¿and lab experiments, we will collect information about the model parameters for such interactions. In this project we will focus mainly on density dependent factors, like parasitism (by tachinids), predation, intra- and interspecific competition.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Geographical modelling of the distribution of bubonic plague in Africa: an ecological study on different scale levels. 01/01/2007 - 31/12/2008

Abstract

Bubonic plague, caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, is a zoonose that prevails in small mammals and is transmitted by their ectoparasites, i.e. fleas. The disease occurs in natural foci spread all over the world. Up to present, the ecology of plague is still unknown; more specifically, the mechanisms that determine the presence of bubonic plague in specific regions are not well understood. This study aims at (1) contributing to the better understanding of the mechanisms that determine the presence of plague in certain regions, (2) establishing underlying ecological factors that influence the occurrence of plague and (3) identifying areas of potential plague risk in Africa. However, there is only little scientific knowledge to go by, it is difficult to formulate specific hypotheses, and consequently, also difficult to stipulate an exact scale level to work on. Therefore, the phenomena plague is studied on three different scale levels. On the first level ¿ the continental level -, the distribution of plague is considered on the continent Africa. During the last decades, Africa was characterized by a very high percentage (more then 90%) of all human plague cases. The plague problem is approached by means of a recent technique used in research concerning the ecology and epidemiology of infectious diseases, Ecological Niche Modeling (ENM). Ecological niches and potential geographic distributions are modelled using the Genetic Algorithm for Rule-set Prediction (GARP). In general GARP focuses on modelling ecologic conditions wherein a species, in this case bubonic plague, can maintain populations without immigration. Specifically, GARP relates ecological characteristics of occurrence points to those of points sampled randomly from the rest of the study region, developing a series of decision rules that best summarize factors associated with presence. As a final result, potential plague distribution areas are identified and demarcated. On the second level, the same ENM-approach is practiced for two endemic plague regions (Lushoto district, in Tanzania and Ituri district, in DRCongo) and their surroundings with this distinction that the resolution from the environmental GIS coverages is higher. In this way, other environmental variables could be studied and moreover, we could examine them in more detail. In addition, specific attention can be drawn to the transition between the plague region and their surroundings. Finally, on the third level, we focus on some villages in Lushoto district. Abiotic and biotic characteristics (soil characteristics like texture, soil humidity, soil temperature, etc.; landscape connectivity; rodent and flea species composition, climatic variables; population density in the villages and their hamlets; etc.) are collected and compared in some plague-positive and plague-negative villages in order to establish underlying ecological variables that are (partly) responsible for the presence of plague in a village.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Geographic variation in female morph frequencies in a polymorphic damselfly: causes and consequences. 01/01/2007 - 31/12/2008

Abstract

Current explanations for the evolution of female-limited polymorphism do not suffice to account for the recently observed geographic variation in female morph frequencies, which is far greater than previously appreciated. A preliminary genetic study allows exploring plausible reasons for the observed variation in morph frequencies. To reach more general understanding of this polymorphism I aim at exploring the consequences of the variation in morph frequencies on female morph behaviour and morphology.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Do organisms follow the route with lowest resistance? An evaluation of least cost connectivity models considering empirical data and individual based simulation models. 01/01/2007 - 31/12/2008

Abstract

Least-cost models are increasingly used as a simple GIS tool to quantify connectivity among habitat patches. While the method is easy to use, few data are available that allow a validation of model paths in relation to real dispersal paths. We use a combination of empirical data and behavioural simulations to test this.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Sexual selection in hermaphroditic land snails (Gastropoda, Pulmonata, Succineidae). 01/10/2006 - 30/09/2009

Abstract

This project uses the land snail Succinea putris to test several recent hypotheses on sexual selection and sperm-trading in hermaphroditic animals: 1) individuals assess the quality of their partner even during copulation, 2) individuals change the physiology of their partner to enhance their fertilization chances, 3) individuals allocate more to male structures at higher population densities and 4) reciprocal sperm-transfer not necessarily implements reciprocal fertilization.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Sexual conflict, parasites and the evolution of damselfly mating systems. 01/10/2006 - 31/07/2009

Abstract

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

The evolution of female-limited colour polymorphism in damselflies (Odonata, Zygoptera). 01/10/2006 - 30/09/2008

Abstract

Polymorphism is common in the natural world. In many damselfly species (Odonata) multiple female morphs are encountered in natural populations. Typically, two distinct morphs occur. While one female morph (called the andromorph) resembles the conspecific male in body colouration and sometimes behaviour, the other morph (called the gynomorph) is distinct. Recent studies suggest female polymorphism to be genetically determined and female morphs to face differential selective pressures. As such, it is widely believed that the polymorphism results from sexual conflict in which females have evolved traits to avoid excessive male harassment. The overall goal of my doctoral research is to come closer to understanding the maintenance and evolution of female-limited polymorphism. My main focus will be on evaluating the following questions: ¿Although a crucial assumption, evidence remains circumstantial on whether male harassment affects female fitness negatively, and does so differential with respect to female morph. This question will be studied experimentally by exposing female morphs to variable numbers of copulations and levels of male harassment while determining female morph longevity and fecundity. In addition levels of male harassment will be quantified in natural populations that differ in male densities and female morph frequencies. Also, I will evaluate whether female morph behaviour is variable under such different densities and frequencies. ¿Quantifying the spatial and temporal variation in female morph frequencies and male densities. This will be achieved through standardised sampling in natural populations using fixed transects or a uniform sample technique with an insect net. ¿Differences in body colouration and/or behaviour may have relevance for a species' thermal ecology, especially for ectothermic insects such as damselflies. Generally darker individuals heat up faster then paler ones which allows them to achieve a higher activity level (e.g. predator avoidance, egg maturation) under unfavourable weather condition, ultimately resulting in fitness advantages. Thus, I will study thermal characteristics of males and female colour morphs under laboratory conditions and in the field. ¿Several hypotheses suggest female morphs to vary in costs and benefits under different environmental conditions and assume female morph fitness to be variable. I will study variation in female morph condition (by determining several long-term and short-term signals) under varying environmental conditions (throughout an entire flight season). Different signals may indicate individual condition during different periods within an individual's lifetime. Body size and developmental stability (fluctuating asymmetry) reflects past (larval) history, whereas short-term signals depend on current nutritional status and are highly sensitive to changes in the environment.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

The adaptation ability of small mammals to utilise newly created habitats in fragmented rainforest: ecological and genetical backgrounds. 01/10/2006 - 30/09/2008

Abstract

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Sabbatical leave in order to fully adress the research challenges of REST (Remote Explosive Scent Training). 01/10/2006 - 30/09/2007

Abstract

Research on the application of Remaote Explosive Scent Detection (REST) using African pouched rats.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

The role of developmental homeostasis on the evolutionary potential of a complex trait: the skull of the multimammate rat (Mastomys natalensis) as model system. 01/07/2006 - 31/12/2010

Abstract

Morphological development is affected by deterministic (environment and genotype) and stochastic (developmental stability and canalisation) components. The latter potentially relates to stress and may play an important role in evolutionary processes. In this project the effects of foodstress on developmental stability and canalisation will be studied using the skull of the multimammate rat (Mastomys natalensis) as model system. The genetic basis of the stochastic components will be investigated.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Rodent dynamics and damage in rainfed crops in Tigray, northern Ethiopia: development and evaluation of rodent management strategies. 01/04/2006 - 31/03/2008

Abstract

Rodents are responsible for substantial damage to food and cash crops worldwide. Although several species are recognized as pests, there are no quantified estimates of crop losses due to rodents in most of Ethiopia. The presence of refuge habitats may have impact on the neighbouring fields with crops. Stone bunds are a farming and land management system with several advantages including soil and water conservation, increased yields of crops and a more sustainable farming practice. However, it is also claimed by farmers that the system has created good habitats for rodents. Control measures are taken only when rodent population densities are high and heavy damage is noticed in the field. In the proposed study, we will investigate the importance of rodents in fields with and without stone bunds and determine whether rodent problems undermine the advantages of increased crop yields in the stone bund fields. Further, the study shall examine the most appropriate strategies for management of rodents in these systems and how they can be integrated in an easy to adopt package.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Towards an ecological explanation for the focality of a vector-borne parasite infection, bubonic plague, in Lushoto, Tanzania. 01/01/2006 - 31/12/2009

Abstract

In the proposed project, we will investigate the hypotheses that the ecological factors responsible for the focality are the rodent and flea fauna composition and density, soil composition, microclimate (humidity, temperature, exposure), connectivity of the landscape or a combination of such elements. Testing these hypotheses will help us in understanding how pathogens spread (or are limited) within a host population. This will in turn be a basis to develop risk maps that can predict areas where plague could possibly establish itself permanently, or where human plague is more likely to occur.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Molecular phylogeography of Mastomys natalensis: an evolutionary framework for understanding rodent-borne diseases. 01/01/2006 - 31/12/2006

Abstract

The objective of this proposal is to complete the study of rodent-borne diseases by establishing an evolutionary framework of the host pathogen interactions. The phylogeography of the African multimammate mouse M. natalensis, reservoir for arenaviruses and other pathogens, will be realised using molecular markers. The results will be used to reconstruct the relationships among M. natalensis populations and investigate the co-evolution between M. natalensis and arenaviruses.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

The role of rodents and insectivores in the epidemiology of mycobacterial infections in Africa. 01/10/2005 - 16/02/2010

Abstract

To determine the role of rodents and insectivores in the epidemiology of mycobacterial infections in Africa, a large number of small mammals is captured in sites in Tanzania where mycobacterial infections are reported in humans and livestock. Different organs of these animals are tested using culture methods, PCR and acid fast staining. The isolated mycobacteria are compared with previously isolated mycobacteria in humans and livestock.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Mating conflicts in the hermaphroditic land snail Succinea putris (Gastropoda, Pulmonata). 01/10/2005 - 31/12/2007

Abstract

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Research team(s)

Dynamics in the population of the Common earwig in orchards: optimization of the presence of an essential predator. 01/07/2005 - 30/06/2009

Abstract

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Research team(s)

Impact of heavy metal contamination on grasslands. 12/05/2005 - 11/05/2007

Abstract

Grasslands are the Cinderella of environmental protection; they are often overshadowed by more favoured environments such as forests or heathland. However, there is a growing awareness among ecologists of the strong links that exist between above- and belowground parts of grassland ecosystem. Under the strong and persistent heavy metal contamination significant functional shifts in grassland ecosystems may result from disturbances of both their above- and below compartments. The aim of the project is to evaluate the impact of heavy metal contamination on the relative contributions of bottom-up and top-down forces acting within and between the different compartments of grassland ecosystems. The identification of the key components and the tracing of the nutrient flow will improve our understanding of the human impact on their functioning and persistence. The identification of sensitive indicators must enable us 1) to recognize early changes in the structural and functional components of the ecosystem and 2) to assess the health status.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Sexual selection in hermaphroditic animals: an example of the land snail Succinea putris (Mollusca, Pulmonata, Gastropoda). 01/05/2005 - 30/04/2009

Abstract

This project uses the land snail Succinea putris to test several recent hypotheses on sexual selection and sperm-trading in hermaphroditic animals: 1) individuals assess the quality of their partner even during copulation, 2) individuals change the physiology of their partner to enhance their fertilization chances, 3) individuals allocate more to male structures at higher population densities and 4) reciprocal sperm-transfer not necessarily implements reciprocal fertilization.

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Research team(s)

Dispersal, parental care and personality traits in the Great Tit. 01/05/2005 - 30/04/2009

Abstract

We aim to investigate the behavioural mechanisms underlying variation in dispersal in birds, i.e. the degree of movement between birth and reproduction. In particular we will study (1) the relation with heritable personality traits that determine the animals' response to unfamiliar situations and/or conspecific individuals (so-called "shy-bold" continuum), and (2) the influence of parental behaviour on dispersal of offspring, notably the extent of family movements preceding dispersal.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Perplexing variation in the mating system of endemic island damselflies (Insecta: Odonata): a first example of sex-role reversal in odonates? 01/05/2005 - 31/12/2006

Abstract

My research aims at a first ever report of sex-role reversal in damselflies. Benefits of the project include the potential for better understanding of the evolution and the variation in animal mating systems, in particular for closely related species. A strong character of the project is the multi-species approach whereby male and female behaviours and sex ratios of several species will be compared, ultimately, with understanding of the evolutionary relationships between the studied species.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Morphological and molecular species delimitations in selected East African murines (Mastomys, Arvicanthis en Lophuromys). 01/04/2005 - 30/09/2005

Abstract

Despite the fact that several African murines are known to spread diseases, and that some taxa are responsible for the destruction to the crops of African farmers, the taxonomy of these species is poorly known. The objective of this proposal is to combine craniometric and molecular methods to delimit and characterize some of these pest species. The result will be a tool ('DNA barcode) that allows the fast and accurate identification of these taxa, a precondition for their effective management.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Butterflies in fragmented forests as model organisms for the study of the relationship between developmental instability and genetic variation. 01/01/2005 - 31/12/2008

Abstract

Fluctuating asymmetry (FA), i.e. small directionally random differences between the left and right side of a bilaterally symmetric trait, is a potentially interesting and useful indicator of various forms of stress. Although definitions may vary with different sources in the literature, the underlying developmental mechanism assumes that during growth, the developmental pathway of a trait is disturbed (by the processed named 'developmental noise') and that there may be mechanisms that attempt to limit the effects of these disturbances (the process of 'developmental stability'). The joint effect of noise and stability are known as developmental instability (Dl), where higher instability results in a, on average, higher degree of asymmetry. Many studies have shown or found indications that FA (and thus presumably Dl) increases with environmental (parasites, abiotic factors) and genetic (inbreeding, break-up of coadapted gene complexes) stress (reviewed in several chapters in Polak, 2003). Because it has been suggested that the effects of stress on FA may become apparent before important fitness consequences are observed, FA may act as an 'early warning system' (sensu Clarke, 1995) and may form an important tool to identify populations and/or species that require conservation measures before extintion is inevitable. Although of enormous potential in theory, the practical appliction of FA in general and in a conservation biology context more specifically, has been hampered by the vast heterogeneity in the observed associations between FA and stress. More specifically, the lack of general guidelines that allow to predict if and when - for which species(-groups), forms of stress and morphological traits -FA can be expected to increase with stress, has limited its use and has provoked may debates in the recent literature. This project aims at investigating the usefulness of FA as bio-marker of the potentially negative effects of inbreeding in two relatively closely related butterfly species (Pararge aegeria and Cymothoe teita). P. aegeria is a relatively common European butterfly while C. teita is a threatened and endemic species of the Taita Hills, Kenia. Both species inhabit woodlands that have become intensively affected by fragmentation and degradation worldwide. P. aegeria will be intensively studied under both controlled lab conditions and in the field. This part of the research will allow us to explore and test some fundamental aspects of factors that affect the F A-heterozygosity association ( details of specific hypotheses follow below). To achieve this, we will (i) perform a breeding experiment under controlled conditions where levels of inbreeding will be manipulated experimentally, (ii) study the FA-inbreeding association in the field, (iii) measure FA for a range of different traits that vary in functional importance and (iv) estimate genetic variation using markers with different levels of selective neutrality (microsatellite vs. allozymes, where for the latter butterflies have to be killed). This type of research can only be performed in species like P. aegeria which is relatively common and can be reared and manipulated easily in the lab. In research on threatened species, like C. teita, experimental possiblilities are limited and one should attempt to limit the impact of the research activities on the organism. Therefore, we will limit research on C. teita to measuring FA through digital fotographs and the estimation of genetic variation using microsatellite markers only, based on DNA amplified from small tissue samples. These two non-invasive and non-lethal methods will first be developed and tested in P. aegeria in the lab and field. The fundamental insights obtained from P. aegeria with respect to the FA-inbreeding associations will allow us to carefully plan the work on C. teita and to evaluate the observed patterns. In this project we specifically aim at addressing a number of fundamental questions w

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Emerging diseases in a changing European environment. (EDEN) 01/11/2004 - 31/05/2010

Abstract

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

A bio-economical model for rodent control in Africa : a regional solution for a local problem ? 01/10/2004 - 30/09/2008

Abstract

Mastomys mice are the most important rodent pests in Africa. An existing, but site-restricted bio-economical model will be validated, for the first time under real field conditions and in cooperation with local farmers. Regional variation in population dynamics will be included in the model through the demographic analysis of existing capture-recapture data from 4 countries. The final model will provide a tool to formulate economical control strategies.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

The evolution of female-limited colour polymorphism in damselflies (Odonata, Zygoptera). 01/10/2004 - 30/09/2006

Abstract

Polymorphism is common in the natural world. In many damselfly species (Odonata) multiple female morphs are encountered in natural populations. Typically, two distinct morphs occur. While one female morph (called the andromorph) resembles the conspecific male in body colouration and sometimes behaviour, the other morph (called the gynomorph) is distinct. Recent studies suggest female polymorphism to be genetically determined and female morphs to face differential selective pressures. As such, it is widely believed that the polymorphism results from sexual conflict in which females have evolved traits to avoid excessive male harassment. The overall goal of my doctoral research is to come closer to understanding the maintenance and evolution of female-limited polymorphism. My main focus will be on evaluating the following questions: ¿Although a crucial assumption, evidence remains circumstantial on whether male harassment affects female fitness negatively, and does so differential with respect to female morph. This question will be studied experimentally by exposing female morphs to variable numbers of copulations and levels of male harassment while determining female morph longevity and fecundity. In addition levels of male harassment will be quantified in natural populations that differ in male densities and female morph frequencies. Also, I will evaluate whether female morph behaviour is variable under such different densities and frequencies. ¿Quantifying the spatial and temporal variation in female morph frequencies and male densities. This will be achieved through standardised sampling in natural populations using fixed transects or a uniform sample technique with an insect net. ¿Differences in body colouration and/or behaviour may have relevance for a species' thermal ecology, especially for ectothermic insects such as damselflies. Generally darker individuals heat up faster then paler ones which allows them to achieve a higher activity level (e.g. predator avoidance, egg maturation) under unfavourable weather condition, ultimately resulting in fitness advantages. Thus, I will study thermal characteristics of males and female colour morphs under laboratory conditions and in the field. ¿Several hypotheses suggest female morphs to vary in costs and benefits under different environmental conditions and assume female morph fitness to be variable. I will study variation in female morph condition (by determining several long-term and short-term signals) under varying environmental conditions (throughout an entire flight season). Different signals may indicate individual condition during different periods within an individual's lifetime. Body size and developmental stability (fluctuating asymmetry) reflects past (larval) history, whereas short-term signals depend on current nutritional status and are highly sensitive to changes in the environment.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Pyrethroid resistance in malaria vectors: KDR genvariation and detection. 01/10/2004 - 30/09/2006

Abstract

Malaria vector control is primarly based on the use of bed nets impregnated with pyrethroid insecticides. The appearance of insecticide resistance in a mosquito population can nullify the positive effect of the vector control. Appropriate monitoring of resistance to insecticides is an integral component of planning and evaluation of insecticide uses in malaria control programmes. The usual means of detecting insecticide resistance is a bioassay where a relative large number of insects has to be exposed, for a defined period of time, to an insecticide-impregnated paper. However, these bioassays are difficult to implement in field conditions. The main problems are the collection of an appropriate number of mosquitoes and the fact that a bioassay can be biased by fluctuations in temperature and age. Molecular detection systems for insecticide resistance can be usefull if the molecular resistance mechanism is known. Pyrethroids and DDT block the nerve-impuls conduction by preventing the para-type sodium channel from returning to their closed-gated configuration after an action potential. An important resistance mechanism, known as knockdown resistance or kdr, is due to a substitution in the S6 segment of domain II of the para-type sodium channel. Point mutations in the para-type sodium channel gene have been linked to kdr in several insects, including the African malaria vector An.gambiae. For An.gambiae, diagnostic PCR test have been developed for the detection of the kdr mutation. For this vector, the frequency of the kdr allele in a population was strongly correlated with the reduced mortality observed in a bioassay. The aim of this thesis is to develop diagnostic tests to detect the knockdown resistance in field populations of the African (An.arabiensis and An.funestus) and Southeast Asian (An.sundaicus, An.minimus, An.dirus, An.vagus and An.sinensis) malaria vectors. The diagnostic tests will be used to determine the kdr frequency in these vectors. Later, the developed tests will be used by the Malaria Control Programmes of Africa, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

The role of rodents in the epidemiology of mycobacterial infections in Africa. 01/10/2004 - 30/09/2005

Abstract

Mycobacteria can cause a variety of diseases, e.g. leprosy, tuberculosis and Buruli ulcer. Control of mycobacterial diseases is important because of the rising number of HIV-infected patients, especially in developing countries. Rodents can be a reservoir for mycobacteria and therefore a source of infection for humans and livestock. However, it is not yet clear how prevalent mycobacterial infections are in rodents and what their possible role is in the transmission of these infections. A better insight in the role of rodents will contribute to the understanding of the epidemiology of mycobacterial infections in densely populated areas with low levels of hygiene, e.g. in and around expanding cities in Africa. In this study we will try to make an inventory of the mycobacterial flora in rodents caught in and around an African city. The isolated strains will be compared, using molecular techniques, with mycobacteria isolated from humans and livestock. Until now, natural reservoirs have been poorly investigated, earlier studies focus primarily on either humans or livestock. In this study we include livestock because of its economical importance but mainly because it is a well documented source of infection for zoonotic tuberculosis. The final objective is to come to a better control of the disease with better control strategies through a better understanding of the ecology of these infections.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Les rongeurs à Kisangani : patrimoine, peste et pilote. 01/03/2004 - 28/02/2009

Abstract

The project aims to offer the University of Kisangani the opportunity to (re)build its international contacts. This will be done through a pilot project in the department of biology, studying the rodent biodiversity in the Kisangani area, changes in this fauna due to deforestation and rodents' role as pest species in agriculture. It is expected that this project, besides its own scientific value, also will support the new dynamism within UNIKIS.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Demographic and population dynamic modelling of small rodents in semiarid environments. 01/01/2004 - 31/12/2005

Abstract

For decades the relative importance of environmental (density-independent) factors and system intrinsic feedback mechanisms (density dependence) in determining population dynamics have been debated among ecologists. Small mammal populations have been intensely studied, stimulated by the remarkable cycles that were observed in voles and lemmings in the holarctic region. More southward, small mammal populations are not cyclic and these have received less attention. Population outbreaks of small rodents in western South America and eastern Africa (such as the leaf-eared mouse Phyllotis darwini and the African multimammate rat Mastomys natalensis) are correlated with years of unusually high rainfall and increased primary production. The population dynamic patterns however appear to be very different. Both small rodents respond positively to rainfall pulses, but there are important differences in the seasonal, density-dependent and density-independent structures. In the African multimammate mouse, the density-dependent processes are of first order, suggesting a direct effect of density on population growth. The existence of delayed density-dependence in leaf-eared mouse in Chile may imply some trophic interaction with predators. In order to understand the consequences of these differences, we will investigate how demographic processes respond to environmental variability for populations having direct and delayed density-dependencies of varying strength. In addition, we need to understand the functional dependence of population growth rate on the degree of variation in demographic rates and to understand how these demographic rates have varied in the past.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Maintenance and evolution of intrasexual colour polymorphism in damselflies. 01/10/2003 - 30/09/2006

Abstract

Although, sexual variation is traditionally understood as being any difference exhibited between males and females, evolution has often resulted in the coexistence of alternative reproductive morphs within the sexes. Significant progress has been made in understanding within species coexistence of discrete male colour morphs, while female polymorphism is less understood. Typically, one of the female damselfly morphs is coloured like the male, while the other morphs are different. While one group of researchers argue that male-like females are functionally male mimics, others believe that males predominantly mate with the most common female morph in the population. Importantly, both field and experimental (using different insectaries with a range of densities and frequencies) studies support a relationship between population conditions (density, sex ratio, morph frequency) and morph-specific fitness correlates (i.e. survival, mating success). However, in order to explain the maintenance of female polymorphism, differences in morph-specific fitness should be encountered if fluctuations occur in population conditions. Unfortunately, only very limited information on spatial and temporal fluctuations in population conditions and related morph-specific costs and benefits is available. Our current understandings of emergence, maintenance and disappearance of multiple female morphs are even more limited. One way to examine the evolution of female polymorphism is to consider closely related species with known phylogenetic relationships. If species differ in presence/absence of multiple female morphs and in ecology then inspection of the phylogenetic tree will contribute to our understandings of female polymorphism.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Matching fund bij Europees project "Prevention of sanitary risks linked to rodents at the rural/peri-urban interface". 01/10/2003 - 31/12/2005

Abstract

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01/08/2003 - 31/07/2004

Abstract

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Research team(s)

Co-existence of multiple female morphs in damselflies. 01/05/2003 - 30/04/2004

Abstract

Explaining the co-existence of multiple morphs within a species remains a challenge for evolutionary theory. Recent research suggests arelation between population conditions and morph-specific fitness. The aim of this project is to determine whether spatial and temporal variation in population conditions and related morph-specific fitness may explain the maintenance of multiple female morphs in damselflies. Moreover, differences in morph-specific thermal ecologies wijl be related to variation in population conditions and fitness.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Prevention of sanitary risks linked to rodents at the rural/peri-urban interface. (RATZOOMAN) 01/01/2003 - 30/06/2006

Abstract

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01/01/2003 - 31/12/2004

Abstract

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Research team(s)

Diagnostics and control of rodent-borne viral zoonoses in Europe. (RODENT-BORNE ZOONOSES) 01/09/2002 - 31/10/2005

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01/06/2002 - 30/09/2004

Abstract

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Research team(s)

Population genetics of European periwinkles (Mollusca, Gastropoda: Littorinidae). 01/05/2002 - 30/04/2004

Abstract

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Research team(s)

Phylogeography of hermaphroditc terrestrial snails in Europe (Mollusca, Gastropoda). 01/05/2002 - 30/04/2004

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01/02/2002 - 31/03/2004

Abstract

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Research team(s)

Life history responses to time constraints and ecological constraints during the larval period in the damselfly Lestes viridis. 01/01/2002 - 31/12/2003

Abstract

When environments within the range of a species vary, it is unlikely that any single phenotype will confer high fitness in all situations. As a result most genotypes may express life history traits differently across environments. Moreover genotypes may also differ in reaction norms. The aim is to study life history responses to a combination of time constraints and ecological constraints imposed on larvae of Lestes viridis by using both the optimality and genetic approach.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Genetic differentiation in uniparental terrestrial slugs (Stylommatophora) 01/01/2002 - 31/12/2003

Abstract

In this project, I will investigate the taxonomy of two land gastropod species complexes, Carinarion spp. and Arion intermedius and study the evolutionary significance of the interaction between self- and cross-fertilization in the colonizing capacity, the phylogenetic and phylogeographic relationships among populations and genetic strains, the genetic differentiation and the genetical/morphological diversity in both complexes.

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Research team(s)

01/10/2001 - 30/09/2004

Abstract

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01/10/2001 - 31/08/2004

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Gene flow and effective population size in non-equilibrium conditions. 01/01/2001 - 31/12/2004

Abstract

Maintenance of genetic variation is a central aim to long-term management of free-living populations. Estimates of effective population size and gene flow often require assumptions on equilibrium between mutation, gene flow and drift, and are not applicable to strongly fluctuating or decreasing populations. In this project we use time series of genetic samples of birds and mammals to test methods calculating genetic parameters in non-equilibrium conditions.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Effects of environmental stress on the evolutionary potential of developmental stability . 01/01/2001 - 31/12/2004

Abstract

Developmental stability is assumed to reflect individual genetic quality. Individual developmental stability can be estimated with seeming ease, by small deviations from perfect symmetry (i.e. fiuctuating asymmetry). In this project we study the effe cts of environmental stress on the presumed association between individual genetic quality and both developmental stability and fiuctuating asymmetry.

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Research team(s)

The return of the European beaver (Castor fiber) in Belgium as an invasive species, ecology and risk assessment.

Abstract
The European beaver (Castor fiber) was illegally reintroduced after an absence of more than one century. I will examine which habitat parameters are the most important for settling and determine which areas are suitable but unoccupied. Then I''ll evaluate how easy/difficult these suitable areas can be reached. The effect of river characteristics on the dam building behavior will be analysed. Finally, we will determine a number of areas in Flanders where the dams potentially cause the most economical damage.
Funding :  IWT
Principal investigator: Leirs Herwig
Fellow: Swinnen Kristijn