Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research
Royal Netherlands
Institute for Sea Research
Phone number
+31 (0)222 369 573
Senior Scientist

Dr. Jan van Gils

Senior Scientist


  • Carrying capacity
  • Climate change
  • Energy budgets, digestion, foraging
  • Information use
  • Predator-prey interactions

Research interests

In the current biodiversity decline, predators are often the first to disappear. Predators are thought to play a positive role in biodiversity maintenance as they prevent certain prey species in achieving dominance, relaxing resource competition among prey, hence promoting prey growth rates, prey coexistence and diversity. Losses of species at the highest trophic levels in communities may therefore cause extinctions and shifts in size structure at lower trophic levels. However, this role of predators is still often underappreciated, largely because many ecosystems have already lost their top-predators and/or human-induced disturbances now blur the positive predation effects. Most of all, the role of migrant predators structuring communities along their migratory route has mostly been neglected.

Aiming to fill this knowledge gap, we study the role of molluscivore shorebirds for intertidal benthic communities, with a focus on the pristine and uninhabited Banc d’Arguin (Mauritania). On their way to and from Mauritania, these shorebirds (re)fuel in the Dutch Wadden Sea, an area that has lost much of its value due to human disturbance (notably bottom-disturbing fisheries). Therefore, molluscivore shorebird numbers are on the decline, both in the Wadden Sea and in West-Africa, and we are investigating whether the benthic community changes observed at Banc d’Arguin may in fact represent ‘spatial knock-on effects’ of human disturbance in the Wadden Sea. Recently, in parallel with the project in Mauritania, a project on crustacean-eating crab plovers in Barr al Hikman (Oman) has started. 



From 2015: Lecturer, MSc programme Marine Biology, University of Groningen (ad honorem)

From 2014: Senior Scientist at NIOZ

2010-2014: Tenure Tracker at NIOZ (NWO-VIDI grant)

2006-2010: Postdoc at NIOZ (NWO-WOTRO grant)

2006-2007: Postdoc at Bristol University, UK (NWO-TALENT grant)

2003-2008: Postdoc at NIOO (KNAW-Vernieuwingsfonds)

1997-2004: PhD-student at NIOZ/University of Groningen (NWO-PIONIER grant)


Key-publications (5)

Rakhiemberdiev, E., Duijns, S., Karagicheva, J., Camphuysen, C. J., VRS Castricum, Dekinga, A., Dekker, R., Gavrilov, A., ten Horn, J., Jukema, J., Saveliev, A., Soloviev, M., Tibbitts, T.L., van Gils, J.A. & T. Piersma (2018). Fuelling conditions at staging sites can mitigate Arctic warming effects in a migratory bird. Nature Commun. 9, 4263.

van Gils, J.A., Lisovski, S., Lok, T., Meissner, W., Ożarowska, A., de Fouw, J., Rakhimberdiev, E., Soloviev, M.Y., Piersma, T. & M. Klaassen (2016). Body shrinkage due to Arctic warming reduces red knot fitness in tropical wintering range. Science 352, 819-821.

van Gils, J.A., van der Geest, M., Leyrer, J., Oudman, T., Lok, T., Onrust, J., de Fouw, J., van der Heide, T., van den Hout, P.J., Spaans, B., Dekinga, A., Brugge, M. & T. Piersma (2013). Toxin constraint explains diet choice, survival and population dynamics in a molluscivore shorebird. Proc. R. Soc. B 280, 20130861.

van der Heide, T., Govers, L.L., de Fouw, J., Olff, H., van der Geest, M., van Katwijk, M.M., Piersma, T., van de Koppel, J., Silliman, B.R., Smolders, A.J.P. & J.A. van Gils (2012). A three-stage symbiosis forms the foundation of seagrass ecosystems. Science 336, 1432-1434.

Piersma, T. & J.A. van Gils (2011). The Flexible Phenotype: A Body-Centred Integration of Ecology, Physiology, and Behaviour. Oxford University Press, Oxford. 238 p.

Please find my complete list of my publications on:

Google Scholar



Find my PhD thesis here.



Professional education

2004: PhD Mathematics and Natural Sciences, University of Groningen (cum laude)

1996: MSc Biology, University of Groningen (cum laude)

1990: BSc Biology, University of Groningen (cum laude)

1989: Athenaeum B, Theresialyceum, Tilburg


Awards and Prizes

2018: ALW Open Competition, NWO

2017: Netherlands Polar Programme Grant, NWO

2015: MARES Grant (Erasmus Mundus, EU) 

2013: Research Project Grant, TRC (Oman)

2011: ALW Open Competition, NWO

2009: VIDI Grant, NWO

2007: Dutch Zoology Prize, Royal Dutch Zoological Society

2006: WOTRO Integrated Programme, NWO

2005: Rubicon Grant, NWO

2004: Best PhD Thesis in Functional Ecology Graduate School


Remote sensing and geospatial data analysis of Barr al Hikman intertidal ecosystem (TRC grant, Oman)

Fragile biodiversity linkages: production and consumption in a nutrient-poor seagrass-dominated intertidal ecosystem, the Banc d’Arguin, Mauritania (NWO-WOTRO grant) 

Linked news

Monday 15 October 2018
Waddenzee sleutel tot succes rosse grutto
De hoeveelheid voedsel in de Waddenzee bepaalt of rosse grutto's met succes op en neer kunnen vliegen naar hun broedgebied in Siberië. Tot die conclusie komen NIOZ-onderzoeker dr. Eldar Rakhimberdiev en collega’s in het jongste nummer van het…
Monday 08 October 2018
Wapenwedloop in 'oerwadden' in Midden-Oosten
In het Sultanaat Oman, aan de zuidoostkust van het Arabische Schiereiland, is door het Koninklijk Nederlands Instituut voor Onderzoek der Zee (NIOZ) voor het eerst een uitgebreide fauna-inventarisatie gemaakt. De Nederlandse bioloog Roeland Bom deed…
Monday 13 August 2018
Opwarming Russische toendra treft kanoetenkuiken
Kanoeten, of kanoetstrandlopers, zijn Arctische trekvogels, net als brandganzen en drieteenstrandlopers. Ze trekken vanuit hun zomerbroedgebied in het Noordpoolgebied via de Waddenzee naar hun overwinteringsgebied in de West-Afrikaanse tropen.…
Monday 16 April 2018
WADfilm: Voorjaarstrek van de kanoeten
In de Waddenzee leven alle dieren, vogels, planten het zand, het weer en de seizoenen in één adembenemende film. Ruben Smit, maker van de Nieuwe Wildernis, legde het leven in de Waddenzee vast voor zijn nieuwe natuurfilm: 'WAD; overleven op de grens…
Tuesday 30 May 2017
Kanoeten gedragen zich in Afrika anders dan in de Waddenzee
Voedselvoorkeuren en sociaal gedrag wereldwijd verschillen tussen culturen. Dat geldt ook voor vogels, stelt Thomas Oudman, RUG-promovendus aan het NIOZ Koninklijk Nederlands Instituut voor Onderzoek der Zee. In zijn proefschrift vergelijkt hij het…

Linked blogs

Monday 26 June 2017
Waddentrekkers | Waddenflyways 6
Touch-down for bar-tailed godwit '54' - Back to what we know from previous fieldwork
Wednesday 07 June 2017
Waddentrekkers | Waddenflyways 5
Knot Paula: Ellesmere Island, touch down!
Wednesday 24 May 2017
Waddentrekkers | Waddenflyways 4
African and Arabian bar-tailed godwits cross on their way to the breeding grounds!

NIOZ publications

  • 2018
    Bom, R.A.; de Fouw, J; Klaassen, R.H.G.; Piersma, T.; Lavaleye, M.S.S.; Ens, B.J.; Oudman, T.; van Gils, J.A. (2018). Food web consequences of an evolutionary arms race: Molluscs subject to crab predation on intertidal mudflats in Oman are unavailable to shorebirds. J. Biogeogr. 45(2): 342-354.
    Bom, R.A.; van Gils, J.A.; Oosterbeek, K.; Deuzeman, S.; de Fouw, J; Kwarteng, A.Y.; Kentie, R. (2018). Demography of a stable population of crab plovers wintering in Oman. J. Ornithol. 159(2): 517-525.
    de Fouw, J; van der Heide, T.; van Belzen, J.; Govers, L.; Cheikh, M.A.S.; Olff, H.; van de Koppel, J.; van Gils, J.A. (2018). A facultative mutualistic feedback enhances the stability of tropical intertidal seagrass beds. NPG Scientific Reports 8(1): 10.
    Gommer, R.; Bom, R.A.; Fijen, T.P.M.; van Gils, J.A. (2018). Stomach fullness shapes prey choice decisions in crab plovers (Dromas ardeola). PLoS One 13(4): e0194824.
    Read more
    Oudman, T.; Piersma, T.; Ahmedou Salem, M.V.; Feis, M.E.; Dekinga, A.; Holthuijsen, S.; ten Horn, J.; van Gils, J.A.; Bijleveld, A.I. (2018). Resource landscapes explain contrasting patterns of aggregation and site fidelity by red knots at two wintering sites. Movement Ecology 6(24).
    Rakhimberdiev, E.; Duijns, S.; Karagicheva, J.; Camphuysen, C.J.; VRS Castricum; Dekinga, A.; Dekker, R.; Gavrilov, A.; ten Horn, J.; Jukema, J.; Saveliev, A.; Soloviev, M.Y.; Tibbitts, T.L.; van Gils, J.A.; Piersma, T. (2018). Fuelling conditions at staging sites can mitigate Arctic warming effects in a migratory bird. Nature Comm. 9: 4263.
    Zhang, S.-D.; Ma, Z.; Choi, C.-Y.; Peng, H.-B.; Bai, Q.-Q.; Liu, W.-L.; Tan, K.; Melville, D.S.; He, P.; Chan, Y.-C; van Gils, J.A.; Piersma, T. (2018). Persistent use of a shorebird staging site in the Yellow Sea despite severe declines in food resources implies a lack of alternatives. Bird. Cons. Intern. 28(4): 534-548.
  • 2017
    Kronfeld-Schor, N.; Visser, M.E.; Salis, L.; van Gils, J.A. (2017). Chronobiology of interspecific interactions in a changing world. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. (B Biol. Sci.) 372(1734): 20160248.
  • 2016
    Bijleveld, A.I.; MacCurdy, R.B.; Chan, Y.-C; Penning, E.; Gabrielson, R.M.; Cluderay, J.; Spaulding, E.L.; Dekinga, A.; Holthuijsen, S.; Ten Horn, J.; Brugge, M.; van Gils, J.A.; Winkler, D.W.; Piersma, T. (2016). Understanding spatial distributions: negative density-dependence in prey causes predators to trade-off prey quantity with quality. Proc. - Royal Soc., Biol. Sci. 283: 1828.
    Compton, T.J.; Bodnar, W.; Koolhaas, A.; Dekinga, A.; Holthuijsen, S.; Ten Horn, J.; McSweeney, N.; van Gils, J.A.; Piersma, T. (2016). Burrowing Behavior of a Deposit Feeding Bivalve Predicts Change in Intertidal Ecosystem State. Front. Ecol. Evol. 4: 19.
    de Fouw, J.; Govers, L.; van de Koppel, J.; van Belzen, J.; Dorigo, W.; Sidi Cheikh, M.A.; Christianen, M.J.A.; van der Reijden, K.J.; van der Geest, M.; Piersma, T.; Smolders, A.J.P.; Olff, H.; Lamers, L.P.M.; van Gils, J.A.; van der Heide, T. (2016). Drought, mutualism breakdown, and landscape-scale degradation of seagrass beds. Curr. Biol. 26(8): 1051-1056.
    de Fouw, J.; van der Heide, T.; Oudman, T.; Maas, L.R.M.; Piersma, T.; van Gils, J.A. (2016). Structurally complex sea grass obstructs the sixth sense of a specialized avian molluscivore. Anim. Behav. 115: 55-67.
    Hoye, B.J.; Munster, V.J.; Huig, N.; de Vries, P.; Oosterbeek, K.; Tijssen, W.; Klaassen, M.; Fouchier, R.A.M.; van Gils, J.A. (2016). Hampered performance of migratory swans: intra- and interseasonal effects of avian influenza virus. Integrative and Comparative Biology 56(3): 1-13.
    Oudman, T.; Bijleveld, A.I.; Kavelaars, M.M.; Dekinga, A.; Cluderay, J.; Piersma, T.; van Gils, J.A. (2016). Diet preferences as the cause of individual differences rather than the consequence. J. Anim. Ecol. 85(5): 1378-1388.
    Van der Zee, E.M.; Angelini, C.; Govers, L.; Christianen, M.J.A.; Altieri, A.H.; van der Reijden, K.J.; Silliman, B.R.; van de Koppel, J.; van der Geest, M.; van Gils, J.A.; van der Veer, H.W.; Piersma, T.; de Ruiter, P.C.; Olff, H.; van der Heide, T. (2016). How habitat-modifying organisms structure the food web of two coastal ecosystems. Proc. - Royal Soc., Biol. Sci. 283(1826): 20152326.
    van Gils, J.A.; Lisovski, S.; Lok, T.; Meissner, W.; Ozarowska, A.; de Fouw, J.; Rakhimberdiev, E.; Soloviev, M.Y.; Piersma, T.; Klaassen, M. (2016). Body shrinkage due to Arctic warming reduces red knot fitness in tropical wintering range. Science (Wash.) 352(6287): 819-821.
  • 2015
    Bijleveld, A.I.; Twietmeyer, S.; Piechocki, J.; van Gils, J.A.; Piersma, T. (2015). Natural selection by pulsed predation: survival of the thickest. Ecology 96(7): 1943-1956.
    Bijleveld, A.I.; van Gils, J.A.; Jouta, J.; Piersma, T. (2015). Benefits of foraging in small groups: An experimental study on public information use in red knots Calidris canutus. Behav. Process. 117: 74-81.
    Duijns, S.; Knot, I.E.; Piersma, T.; van Gils, J.A. (2015). Field measurements give biased estimates of functional response parameters, but help explain foraging distributions. J. Anim. Ecol. 84(2): 565–575.
    Duijns, S.; van Gils, J.A.; Smart, J.; Piersma, T. (2015). Phenotype-limited distributions: short-billed birds move away during times that prey bury deeply. Royal Society Open Science 2: 1-11.
    Oudman, T.; Hin, V.; Dekinga, A.; van Gils, J. (2015). The Effect of Digestive Capacity on the Intake Rate of Toxic and Non-Toxic Prey in an Ecological Context. PLoS One 10(8): e0136144.
    Ruthrauff, D.R.; Dekinga, A.; Gill, R.E.; van Gils, J.A.; Piersma, T. (2015). Ways to be different: foraging adaptations that facilitate higher intake rates in a northerly wintering shorebird compared with a low-latitude conspecific. J. Exp. Biol. 218: 1188-1197.
    van Gils, J.A.; Ahmedou Salem, M.V. (2015). Validating the Incorporation of 13C and 15N in a Shorebird That Consumes an Isotopically Distinct Chemosymbiotic Bivalve. PLoS One 10(10): e0140221.
    van Gils, J.A.; van der Geest, M.; De Meulenaer, B.; Gillis, H.; Piersma, T.; Folmer, E.O. (2015). Moving on with foraging theory: incorporating movement decisions into the functional response of a gregarious shorebird. J. Anim. Ecol. 84(2): 554–564.
  • 2014
    Ahmedou Salem, M.V.; van der Geest, M.; Piersma, T.; Saoud, Y.; van Gils, J.A. (2014). Seasonal changes in mollusc abundance in a tropical intertidal ecosystem, Banc d'Arguin (Mauritania): Testing the 'depletion by shorebirds' hypothesis. Est., Coast. and Shelf Sci. 136: 26-34.
    Bijleveld, A.I.; Massourakis, G.; van der Marel, A.; Dekinga, A.; Spaans, B.; van Gils, J.A.; Piersma, T. (2014). Personality drives physiological adjustments and is not related to survival. Proc. - Royal Soc., Biol. Sci. 281: 20133135.
    Bom, R.A.; Bouten, W.; Piersma, T.; Oosterbeek, K.; van Gils, J.A. (2014). Optimizing acceleration-based ethograms: the use of variable-time versus fixed-time segmentation. Movement Ecology 2(6): 1-8.
    Duijns, S.; van Gils, J.A.; Spaans, B.; ten Horn, J.; Brugge, M.; Piersma, T. (2014). Sex-specific winter distribution in a sexually dimorphic shorebird is explained by resource partitioning. Ecol. Evol. 4(20): 4009–4018.
    Oudman, T.; Onrust, J.; de Fouw, J.; Spaans, B.; Piersma, T.; van Gils, J.A. (2014). Digestive Capacity and Toxicity Cause Mixed Diets in Red Knots That Maximize Energy Intake Rate. American Naturalist 183(5): 650-659.
    Piersma, T.; MacCurdy, R.B.; Gabrielson,, R.M.; Dekinga, A.; Cluderay, J.; Spaulding, E.L.; Oudman, T.; van Gils, J.; Winkler, D.; Bijleveld, A. (2014). Fijnmazige positiebepaling van individuen in groepen : de principes en drie toepassingen van TOA-tracking. Limosa (Amst.) 87: 156-176
    van den Hout, P.J.; van Gils, J.A.; Robin, F.; van der Geest, M.; Dekinga, A.; Piersma, T. (2014). Interference from adults forces young red knots to forage for longer and in dangerous places. Anim. Behav. 88: 137-146.
    van der Geest, M.; Sall, A.A.; Ely, S.O.; Nauta, R.W.; van Gils, J.A.; Piersma, T. (2014). Nutritional and reproductive strategies in a chemosymbiotic bivalve living in a tropical intertidal seagrass bed. Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser. 501: 113-126.
  • 2013
    Onrust, J.; de Fouw, J.; Oudman, T.; van der Geest, M.; Piersma, T.; van Gils, J.A. (2013). Red Knot diet reconstruction revisited: context dependence revealed by experiments at Banc d'Arguin, Mauritania. Bird Study 60(3): 298-307.
    van Gils, J.A.; van der Geest, M.; Leyrer, J.; Oudman, T.; Lok, T.; Onrust, J.; de Fouw, J.; van der Heide, T.; van den Hout, P.J.; Spaans, B.; Dekinga, A.; Brugge, M.; Piersma, T. (2013). Toxin constraint explains diet choice, survival and population dynamics in a molluscivore shorebird. Proc. - Royal Soc., Biol. Sci. 280(1763).
    Yang, H.-Y.; Ma, Z.-J.; Hua, N.; van Gils, J.A.; Zhang, Z.-W.; Piersma, T. (2013). Economic design in a long-distance migrating molluscivore: how fast-fuelling red knots in Bohai Bay, China, get away with small gizzards. J. Exp. Biol. 216(19): 3627-3636.
  • 2012
    Bijleveld, A.I.; van Gils, J.A.; van der Meer, J.; Dekinga, A.; Kraan, C.; van der Veer, H.W.; Piersma, T. (2012). Designing a benthic monitoring programme with multiple conflicting objectives. Methods Ecol. Evol. 3(3): 526-536.
    Folmer, E.O.; van der Geest, M.; Jansen, E.; Olff, H.; Anderson, T.M.; Piersma, T.; van Gils, J.A. (2012). Seagrass-Sediment Feedback: An Exploration Using a Non-recursive Structural Equation Model. Ecosystems 15(8): 1380-1393.
    Leyrer, J.; Lok, T.; Brugge, M.; Dekinga, A.; van Gils, J.A.; Sandercock, B.K.; Piersma, T. (2012). Small-scale demographic structure suggests preemptive behavior in a flocking shorebird. Behav. Ecol. 23(6): 1226-1233.
    van der Heide, T.; Govers, L.L.; de Fouw, J.; Olff, H.; van der Geest, M.; van Katwijk, M.M.; Piersma, T.; van de Koppel, J.; Silliman, B.R.; Smolders, A.J.P.; van Gils, J.A. (2012). A three-stage symbiosis forms the foundation of seagrass ecosystems. Science (Wash.) 336(6087): 1432-1434.
    van Gils, J.A.; van der Geest, M.; Jansen, E.J.; Govers, L.L.; de Fouw, J.; Piersma, T. (2012). Trophic cascade induced by molluscivore predator alters pore-water biogeochemistry via competitive release of prey. Ecology 93(5): 1143-1152.
  • 2011
    Acou, A.; Rivot, E.; van Gils, J.A.; Legault, A.; Ysnel, F.; Feunteun, E. (2011). Habitat carrying capacity is reached for the European eel in a small coastal catchment: evidence and implications for managing eel stocks. Freshwat. Biol. 56(5): 952-968.
    Piersma, T.; van Gils, J.A. (2011). The Flexible Phenotype: a body-centred integration of ecology, physiology and behaviour. Oxford University Press: Oxford. ISBN 9780199233724. 1-248 pp.
    Quaintenne, G.; van Gils, J.A.; Bocher, P.; Dekinga, A.; Piersma, T. (2011). Scaling up ideals to freedom: are densities of red knots across western Europe consistent with ideal free distribution? Proc. - Royal Soc., Biol. Sci. 278(1719): 2728-2736.
    van der Geest, M.; van Gils, J.A.; van der Meer, J.; Olff, H.; Piersma, T.; van der Meer, J.; Piersma, T. (2011). Suitability of calcein as an in situ growth marker in burrowing bivalves. J. Exp. Mar. Biol. Ecol. 399(1): 1-7.

Linked projects

Impact of avian migrant predators
Jan van Gils
Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research - Veni/Vidi/Vici
Project duration
1 Feb 2010 - 31 Jul 2017
Cascading predator-prey effects
Jan van Gils
Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research
Project duration
1 Oct 2010 - 30 Sep 2017
Jan van Gils
Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research
Project duration
1 Feb 2018 - 31 Jan 2022