Four new PhD fellows can embark on FWO PhD adventure at GCE

It’s that time of the year again: the final results for the new PhD fellowships awarded by FWO. At the Global Change Ecology Centre, we’re proud that also this year, 4 new PhD candidates reached this early career milestone. Grants are perfectly divided over the strategic and the fundamental research fellowships.

Fundamental research fellowships

Wim De Kesel (research group Evolutionary Ecology) will study arthropod borne viruses (arboviruses) (e.g., Dengue, Zika, Chikungunya, …) in Africa. These viruses routinely cause disease epidemics in humans. His PhD project focuses on where and in which African mammalian wildlife these viruses occur. Specifically, he will investigate the differences between small (e.g. rodents) and large mammal hosts (e.g. primates) and the effect of host movement (terrestrial vs. flight) on arbovirus prevalence.

Wim at work in Tanzania

Laura Steinwidder (research group Plants and Ecosystems) will focus on enhanced weathering. The weathering of silicates captures CO2. As the natural weathering process is extremely slow, the focus of enhanced weathering is on speeding up this process, thus contributing to active inorganic carbon capture from the atmosphere. Laura’s project will investigate specifically how soil organic carbon dynamics are affected. A potential shift in organic carbon stocks is essential to understand the full carbon balance, and will affect soil fertility and therefore also crop productivity and yields.

Laura Steinwidder taking samples in the enhanced weathering experiments

Strategic basic research fellowships

Arthur Vienne (research group Plants and Ecosystems) will also focus on enhanced weathering, but from a more applied perspective. He will focus on optimization of the quantification methods for assessing the carbon storage potential. Such issues of verification and reporting are a key challenge remaining for the large scale application of the technique. Specifically, he will focus on the potential to apply enhanced weathering in combination with afforestation projects. This brings the potential to increase the permanent carbon storage in afforestation programmes. Arthur will also investigate whether the additional key nutrients brought into the soil can stimulate plant productivity.

​  Arthur Vienne preparing new experiments for urban enhanced weathering applications

Stijn Van de Vondel (research group Plants and Ecosystems, in cooperation with Geobiology) will focus on micro-climate research. He will build on the large amount of data acquired in the ‘CurieuzeNeuzen in de Tuin’ citizen science project. This project enabled the deployment of an extensive and internet-enabled microclimate network in gardens and nature reserves across Flanders. Harnessing this network’s power, Stijn will quantify how the urban blue-green space can help mitigate weather extreme impacts (e.g. heat, drought, extreme rainfall). Additionally, to facilitate large-scale microclimate measurements anywhere and anytime, Stijn will develop novel ways for managing and controlling, processing and analysing the data streams resulting from these ‘smart’ networks. 

Stijn Van de Vondel discussing on the installation of sensors in nature reserves.

Stijn Van de Vondel discussing on the installation of sensors in nature reserves.