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)
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 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.
van Gils, J.A., van der Geest, M., De Meulenaer, B., Gillis, H., Piersma, T. & E.O. Folmer (2015). Moving on with foraging theory: incorporating movement decisions into the functional response of a gregarious shorebird. J. Anim. Ecol. 84, 554-564.
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.
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Find my PhD thesis here.
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
2015: MARES Grant (Erasmus Mundus, EU)
2013: Research Project Grant, TRC (Oman)
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)