Plain English summary
Migratory bird ecologist Theunis Piersma investigates various wader species. ‘However, I do not restrict my research to just the Wadden Sea. That is because the Wadden Sea mudflats are no more and no less than a link in a far larger system. Via birds such as red knots, Eurasian spoonbills and bar-tailed godwits, the Wadden Sea mudflats are linked with Siberia, Greenland, Southern Europe and West Africa. Through these birds, everything we do here influences what happens elsewhere in the world, and vice versa.’
‘One of the birds with such an international effect is the bar-tailed godwit. In the breeding grounds in Siberia, the climate is warming up faster than anywhere else. This means that bar-tailed godwits have to arrive on the tundra earlier and earlier for their chicks to encounter the richest food supplies of insects emerging from the tundra. In the Wadden Sea, we can see this ‘being in a hurry’ by the speed at which the birds replenish their fuel stores in spring, the stores that carries them through 5000 km of nonstop flight to snow-covered tundra. Right here, en route from West Africa, they need to eat about half their body weight, which they mainly do on a diet of lugworms. Now, because the period they can remain here is getting shorter, they often depart underweight and therefore with a higher risk of perishing during the migratory flight.’
‘Sometimes, you learn the most about your own environment by comparing it with others. We therefore follow various waders on different migratory routes throughout the world, for example by using solar-powered miniature satellite-transmitters which regularly convey the birds’ geographical positions. For instance, we attach transmitters to bar-tailed godwits in the wadden areas of Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, Oman, North-west Australia and New Zealand. Thanks to that international work, it has become crystal clear how unique the Wadden Sea is. It is a vital link for a great number of birds migrating between the Arctic region and Africa. Such knowledge reveals the global ecological network, but at the same time, it also places a particular responsibility on our shoulders for ensuring that the Wadden Sea is managed well.’Read more +
Habitat selection and distributional ecology; organismal design; marine biology; physiological, behavioural, population and community ecology; evolutionary and molecular ecology; animal migration; evolution. I am a firm adherent of an integrative biology in which the organism in its natural world takes centre stage in the search for evolution-based explanations.
From Oct. 2014: Rudi Drent Chair in Global Flyway Ecology, Conservation Ecology Group, Groningen Institute for Evolutionary Life Sciences (GELIFES), University of Groningen, The Netherlands and Senior Research Scientist at the Department of Marine Ecology of NIOZ Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research.
From June 2012: Professor of Global Flyway Ecology in the Animal Ecology Group at the Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Studies, University of Groningen and Senior Research Scientist at the Department of Marine Ecology of NIOZ Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research.
From June 2003: Professor of Animal Ecology at the Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Studies at the University of Groningen and Senior Research Scientist at the Department of Marine Ecology and Evolution of the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ).
July 1996 - June 2003: Senior Research Scientist at the Department of Marine Ecology of the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ) (0.9 fte) and Associate Professor at the Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Studies at the University of Groningen (0.2 fte).
June 1994 - June 1996: Research Biologist at NIOZ, Texel
April 1988 to October 1992: University of Groningen, PhD position in Behavioural Biology, Zoological Laboratory, in co-operation with Department of Coastal Systems at NIOZ ; December 1993-May 1994: Temporary contracts as Editor and Research Biologist at NIOZ
August 1985 - February 1987, June-August 1987: Research Biologist at the Rijksdienst voor de IJsselmeerpolders, Lelystad (Scientific department)
September 1984: Consultant (Wader & Benthos specialist) with DHV, NEDECO in South Korea l
Contributing to the Animal Ecology Group, University of Groningen (staff of 5 scientists and 7 technicians, and ca. 7 postdocs, more than 20 PhD students, and over 10 MSc students)
Scientific leader of the WaddenSea research team at NIOZ, Texel, managing more than 20 people including 2 research scientists, 5 technicians, 2 postdocs, 9 PhD students, and several MSc students
Scientific coordinator/PI/co-PI of 18 current national and international research projects
Regular advisor of national and international governmental and non-governmental agencies on issues of conservation and management of nature and natural resources, especially in relation to marine wetlands and cultural landscapes
Piersma, T. & van Gils, J.A. (2011). The Flexible Phenotype. A Body-centred Integration of Ecology, Physiology, and Behaviour. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Lok, T., Veldhoen, L., Overdijk, O., Tinbergen, J.M. & Piersma, T. 2017. An age- dependent fitness cost of migration? Old trans- Saharan migrating spoonbills breed later than those staying in Europe, and late breeders have lower recruitment. Journal of Animal Ecology, 86, 998–1009.
Piersma, T., Lok, T., Chen, Y., Hassell, C. J., Yang, H.-Y., Boyle, A., Slaymaker, M., Chan, Y.-C., Melville, D. S., Zhang, Z.-W. & Ma, Z. (2016) Simultaneous declines in summer survival of three shorebird species signals a flyway at risk. Journal of Applied Ecology 53, 479–490.
Bijleveld, A.I., MacCurdy, R.B., Chan, Y.-C., Penning, E., Gabrielson, R.M., Cluderay, J., Spaulding, E., 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. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 283, 20151557.
Ma, Z., Melville, D.S., Liu, J., Chen, Y., Yang, H., Ren, W., Zhang, Z., Piersma, T. & Li, B. (2014) Rethinking China’s new great wall. Massive seawall construction in coastal wetlands threatens biodiversity. Science 346, 912-914.
1980: BSc in Biology-B5 (palaeontology as additional specialization), University of Groningen
1984: MSc in degree Biology, University of Groningen, (cum laude; upper 3%)
1994: PhD in degree Biology, University of Groningen (supervisor: Prof. Dr R.H. Drent, (cum laude)
1989: Winner of the Herman Klomp Prize for Dutch Ornithology, awarded jointly by Netherlands Ornithologists’ Union, SOVON-Bird Monitoring Netherlands and Vogelbescherming-BirdLife Netherlands(1.5 k€)
1994: Winner of the Dutch National Zoology Prize, awarded by the Netherlands Zoological Society (NDV) (3 k€)
1996: Recipient of the prestigious 5-year PIONIER-award of the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) (0,9 M€)
1998: Elected Corresponding Fellow of the American Ornithologists’ Union
2000: Research award from the Committee for Research and Exploration of National Geographic Society, Washington, D.C., for work on shorebirds in Northwest Australia (an 8-page feature called ‘Tale of the Hot Knot’ featured the Feb. 2003 issue of National Geographic Magazine) (50 kUSD)
2001: Elected as Member of the Fryske Akademy (FrisianAcademy of Arts & Sciences), Ljouwert
2001: A new subspecies of Red Knot from the New Siberian Islands was named Calidris canutus piersmai (by P.S. Tomkovich in the Bulletin of the British Ornithologists’ Club 121: 257-263)
2002: Named as one of the six most promising Dutch scientists (‘Toppers met stip’) in Elsevier Magazine (16 March 2002), on the basis of citation-scores (CWTS, Leiden)
2004: Recipient of the biannual national Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds Prijs voor Natuurbehoud (Dutch Nature Conservation Award from the Prince Bernhard Cultural Fund) (50 k€)
2004: Winner of the Ornithologenpreis of the German Ornithological Society
2004: Recipient of the first Luc Hoffmann Medal for Excellence in Science and Conservation, awarded by Wetlands International 2007: Elected Corresponding Member of the German Ornithological Society
2007: Elected Corresponding Member of the German Ornithological Society
2007: Subject of a Dutch National TV documentary based on a prize-winning script by Helmie Stil, called De Wereld is Plat: door de vogelkijker van Theunis Piersma (subtitled in English: The World is Flat, through the telescope of Theunis Piersma), produced by Selfmade Films, Utrecht
2009: Elected member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW, Amsterdam)
2011: Recipient of ALW-NWO TOP-subsidie (‘Shorebirds in space’)
2014: NWO Spinoza-Award
2017: Marsh Award for International Ornithology by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO).
2018: Rudi Drent-leerstoel (University of Groningen, Faculty of Science and Engineering)
(Co-)authorship of 315 ISI-recognized publications (with >7,000 citations) since 1984, 16 of which have been cited 100 times or more; current H(irsch)-index is 45
(Co-)author of 14 books, and >460 contributions to the popular press, working papers, reports and other non-peer-reviewed publications
(Co-)advisor of 25 completed PhD theses, and 18 in progress >90 invited and plenary lectures in the last decade
Editor in Chief of Ardea, the scientific journal of the Netherlands Ornithologists' Union
Follow the work of Global Flyway Network on twitter @globalflyway or at www.teamPiersma.org
Knooppunt Waddenzee', 'Reisvogels' & 'Marathon Migrants' at www.bornmeer.nl