I am a Conservation Biologist and my research focuses on the ecology and conservation of felids. My interests lie in the study of movement and habitat use patterns of felids, and on how these patterns are affected by different levels of anthropogenic disturbance. Within the field of conservation biology, I am interested in applying this information for the development of efficient and holistic conservation strategies for wildlife, particularly in the development of biological corridors and other management strategies that promote long term population viability. For my PhD I will be focusing on the development of spatially explicit simulation models that allow us to maintain healthy jaguar populations in the long term.
For large carnivores in fragmented landscapes, connectivity is a conservation priority to secure population viability and genetic diversity. This applies also to the jaguar, Panthera onca, in Middle America. In this region, the species has been extirpated from 67% of its former range and some of its local populations show first signs of genetic isolation. Thus, safeguarding and restoring connectivity of jaguar populations is critical for achieving long-term viability in this region. To support management for connectivity, we need to understand how the species’ movement is influenced by individual traits and the structure and configuration of the landscape. While data on movement and habitat features is needed for this endeavor, is not sufficient by itself. Agent-based modeling provides a more integrative framework that allows us to integrate knowledge on the biology of the species, its spatial distribution, its adaptive behavior, demographics, and the landscape features that restrict its movement.
The main purpose of my research is the development of a spatially explicit agent-based movement and population viability model to understand jaguar functional connectivity in the complex heterogeneous landscape of Middle America. This model will focus on answering two main questions: how do pathways for jaguar connectivity emerge from the interaction between the species’ movement behaviour, demography and the landscape structure in this region? And, what management and restoration strategies maximize populations’ connectivity and long term viability?
My model will be parameterized and tested with existing data and validated independently using genetic information. Elements of participatory modeling will be implemented during the research process, in which interim versions of the models will be discussed with jaguar experts and stakeholders from the study region, to ensure that the model output can be directly used to support management and planning for jaguar conservation. The final model will provide strategic feedback to the current conservation actions performed within the Jaguar Corridor Initiative in Middle America, improving the ecological realism and functionality of jaguar corridors, as well as the prioritization for protection and restoration of the critical linkages within the corridor that will most likely secure both jaguar movement and population viability.
I am interested in interdisciplinary research connecting agroecology, animal behavior and biodiversity studies. My current interest focuses on the behavior and movement of arthropods and how they interact with their environment. Although the current insect crisis is well-known, little is understood about how insect behaviour is affected by anthropogenic changes such as agricultural habitat homogenization and it´s feedback mechanisms.
Arthropods can act as a mobile link, transporting microorganisms, like fungal spores, attached to their body (ecto-zoochory) or inside their guts (endo-zoochory) and connecting different populations or habitats1-4. This makes an understanding of the role of arthropods in our agricultural landscape even more important, because it could not only help to support farmland arthropods and species associated with them, but could also help to control crop diseases like Fusarium Head blight (FHB) that is caused by a phytopathogenic fungi.
Arthropods are known to move between semi -natural and agricultural habitats and provide numerous functional links this way, e.g. like pest control5. On the one hand many of them are ground- dwelling, like the ground beetles, and so they live close to dead plant material, a known source of phytopathogenic fungi. On the other hand they can travel short distances or even longer by flying and therefore act as a potential dispersal mechanism for fungal spores. On agricultural fields, by fungi infected host plants are likely to interact with ground beetles that may substantially affect plant diseases by influencing fungi spread. Numerous ground beetles are potential vectors of FHB disease pathogens, their effectiveness might vary between species and taxa depending on their traits, like diet, morphology and habitat. There is a need for an integrated approach, connecting ground beetle movement behavior and mechanisms for arthropod-mediated crop disease.
For my project I will work with ground beetle species, which differ in their preferred habitat, morphology and diet. Based on that, I investigate their potential as a vector for FHB causing fungal spores and therefore as a mobile link between semi-natural habitats and agricultural fields. The PhD project builds upon extensive previous work on carabid species occurrence and habitat use as well as on fungal disease occurrence and spatial spread, which until now have been analyzed separately from each other.
The key objectives of the PhD Project are to
(i) identify and quantify carabid movement pattern between agricultural fields and neighboring semi -natural habitats (Kettle- holes) by trapping
(ii) analyzing fungal species community associated with the carabids due to ecto- or endozoochory (Spores attached to body parts and spores that survived the digestive system of the beetle)
1. Moyo P, Allsopp E, Roets F, Mostert L, Halleen F. Arthropods Vector Grapevine Trunk Disease Pathogens. Phytopathology. 2014;104(10):1063-1069. doi:10.1094/PHYTO-11-13-0303-R
2. Drakulic J, Bruce TJA, Ray R V. Direct and host-mediated interactions between Fusarium pathogens and herbivorous arthropods in cereals. Plant Pathol. 2017;66(1):3-13. doi:10.1111/ppa.12546
3. Theron-De Bruin N, Dreyer LL, Ueckermann EA, Wingfield MJ, Roets F. Birds Mediate a Fungus-Mite Mutualism. Microb Ecol. 2018;75(4):863-874. doi:10.1007/s00248-017-1093-9
4. Kluth S, Kruess A, Tscharntke T. Insects as vectors of plant pathogens: Mutualistic and antagonistic interactions. Oecologia. 2002;133(2):193-199. doi:10.1007/s00442-002-1016-3
5. Alignier A, Raymond L, Deconchat M, et al. The effect of semi-natural habitats on aphids and their natural enemies across spatial and temporal scales. Biol Control. 2014;77:76-82. doi:10.1016/j.biocontrol.2014.06.006
Large changes in Earth’s climate are apparent, and there is some evidence that populations and communities respond to climate change. In order to tackle this issue, I study the effect of different levels of climatic variation on population and community dynamics, by using theoretical modelling. I also try to understand tipping points and early warning in populations and communities, by studying fluctuations in traits and demographic rates.