Projects: Biodiversity & Evolutionary Adaptation

URBE Tape Station - F. Silvestre & A. Dennis

A FNRS Equipment Credit for a TapeStation system - an established, high-throughput automated electrophoresis platform for nucleic acid sample quality control. This will allow to develop new protocols in sequencing to understand adaptive ecology and physiology. (2024-2025) 

Epigenome stability in mangrove rivulus - F. Silvestre

FNRS Research Credit associated to the PhD thesis of Justine Bélik: assess the stability of DNA methylation over time in a highly homozygous and isogenic population of the mangrove rivulus, Kryptolebias marmoratus. Two major limitations of ecoepigenetic studies will be addressed: the degree of autonomy of epigenetic variation based on genetic variation as well as the stability of epigenetic variation at the population level. (2024-2025) Further information

RISE EXPO - EXPOsition of bdelloid rotifers to the vacuum of space and cosmic radiations outside the International Space Station (ISS) - B. Hespeels, A. Heusikin, J. Berthe


The epigenetic clock in the fast-living turquoise Killifish, Nothobranchius furzeri: a new tool in aging and environmental studies. - F. Silvestre


MAPPY - Multisectoral analysis of climate and land use change impacts on pollinators, plant diversity and crops yields – N. Dendoncker

The objective of this project is to study quantitatively the feedback processes linking pollinators, plant diversity and crop yields in the framework of climate and land use changes. The response of agricultural yields to climate change is critically dependent on these feedbacks that until now remain largely unexplored. In order to fill this gap, we will focus on studying interactions between three main sectors: biodiversity/nature conservation, forestry and agriculture. Within agriculture, the emphasis will be put on three sub-sectors: fruit crops, food/fodder crops and energy crops. We will use diverse types of crop and vegetation models to estimate the impacts of climate change on each studied sector in several case study regions in Europe. The study will be undertaken with local stakeholders, who will identify most relevant topics to be addressed by the consortium. The interdependencies between the sectors will be analysed through the dynamics of land use and land cover on the one hand and dynamics of pollinator communities on the other hand. (2019-2022) Read more

Pairwise interactions & community stability - ILEE-stability modelling - F. De Laender, T. Carletti, M. Holmes

Understanding community stability against episodic changes, as well as how stability is impacted by more gradual changes, is a pressing need. In this project we want to evaluate our capacity to predict stability, as well as the effects of important global change drivers thereon, from simple community models. To this end, we will parameterize community models with pairwise interactions and compare our predictions of stability against small and large perturbations of species densities, and this under various scenarios of two environmental changes (heat and pollution). We will combine experiments with a unique cyanobacteria system, mathematical modelling, and novel theory based on hypergraph theory. (2022)

EDEN - J. Yans

Collaboration with the University of Montpellier on a new project financed by the ANR (Agence nationale de la recherche, France): Life during past super-warm climate events - Evolutionary Dynamics of Early EoceNe mammals from Southwestern France (EDEN). The objective is to describe the evolution of fossils following the numerous climatic changes during the Paleogene (between 66 and 23 Ma), especially during rapid global warming intervals that are comparable to today’s situation and could contribute to predictive modelling of mammalian responses to present climate change. (2021)

RISE-2021 - B. Hespeels, K. Van Doninck

Bdelloid rotifer Adineta vaga: a new eukaryotic extremophile model organism to study the impact of radiation and micro-gravity on biological processes (2021)

ENORM: Evolution of bdelloid rotifer reproductive mode - K. Van Doninck


Bdelloids REplete Antioxidant SysTem - K. Van Doninck

Understanding the redox biology of manganese-based antioxidants in bdelloid rotifer Adineta vaga (2021-2022)

The epigenetic origin of behavioural traits variability in a self-fertilizing fish: the mangrove rivulus - F. Silvestre

One of the greatest challenges in evolutionary biology is to determine how epigenetic mechanisms contribute to phenotypic variability, on which selection can act. The general objective of the present project is to explore the extent to which epigenetic polymorphism contributes to repeatable and predictable among-individual differences in behaviour (individuality) in the self-fertilizing fish mangrove rivulus, Kryptolebias marmoratus. It is intimately connected to Valentine Chapelle’s thesis. (2020-2021, 2021-2022)

The evolutionary enigma of a mixed-mating system in a self-fertilizing vertebrate, Kryptolebias marmoratus - F. Silvestre

PhD thesis of Ivan Blanco to study the mating system of the only self-fertilising vertebrate, the mangrove rivulus Kryptolebias marmoratus. In this species, hermaphrodites can either self-fertilise or outcross with a male. The thesis aims at identifying how and why different populations favour different rates of males and outcrossing. First, the mechanisms of temperature-dependant sex determination in this species will be investigated, followed by identification of the advantages that outcrossing populations might benefit from. (2019-2021)

Corbicula LAB: Lake Biwa (Japan): a Corbicula biodiversity and hybridization hotspot - K. Van Doninck

PINT-BILAT-M (2019-2021)

GETREAL - Incorporating spatial and seasonal variability in community sensitivity into chemical risk assessment - F. De Laender

GETREAL is an international project, funded by Cefic’s LRI, aimed at understanding how spatial variability of community composition influences resistance and resilience against global change effects on coexistence and ecosystem function. It will incorporate stressor effects on resource utilization traits in bioenergetic models to make theoretical predictions. In this project, Frederik De Laender (URBE, Biology) collaborates with the universities of Landau (Ralf Schäfer, Martin Schmidt-Entling) and Wageningen (Paul Van den Brink) to investigate how spatial variability in community composition, as inferred from decades' worth of biomonitoring data, map to spatial variability of community vulnerability. It will further include a small number of dedicated experiments with freshwater diatom communities to test some of the model’s assumptions. In collaboration with the university of Sheffield (Lorraine Maltby) the implications of the findings for the conservation of ecosystem services will be assessed. (2019-2021)

The RotiChip: a microfluidic platform for microinjection, single organism sorting, live imaging, and micromanipulation of the stress resistant bdelloid rotifers - K. Van Doninck

Equipment funding (2019-2020)

Socio-economic impact scenario - N. Dendoncker

This is a contract, part of the EU-funded "LIFE Belgian Nature Integrated Project" within the framework of action D1 - "assessment of ecosystem restoration on local economy and population". The objective is to elaborate scenarios for the preparation and execution of integrated socio-economic impact assessments of nature restoration or development projects for future projects. All this will be tested in five case studies divided between Flanders and Wallonia to achieve an illustration of the socio-economic impact of the BNIP. (2018-2021) Read more

The epigenetic origin of behavioral traits variability in a self-fertilizing fish : the mangrove rivulus - F. Silvestre, V. Chapelle

PhD thesis (2018-2020)

BEST(Bdelloid Extreme Stress Tolerance): Bdelloid rotifers as a model organism to understand extreme stress tolerance - K. Van Doninck & R. Arora

PhD thesis (2018-2020)

DIVERCE - Does Intraspecific Variability modulate the impact of EnviRonmental Change on biodiversity and Ecosystem function? - F. De Laender

Ecosystems are increasingly exposed to multiple drivers of environmental change. If, how does intraspecific variability modulate the response of biodiversity (community composition) and ecosystem function to theses changes? (2018-2023) Read more

IMicroNet: Structure and functionality of the skin microbiota in rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) under various immune status - P. Kestemont, B. Redivo

Study of the resident bacterial community in the mucus of skin in rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) and the relationship that exists between this microbiota and immune system at the skin under stressful conditions (cognitive stress vs non-cognitive stress). (2018-2019) link

Oligocene and Miocene platyrrhine primates from Tarapoto, Peruvian Amazonia - J. Yans

Leakey Foundation, Partner, Leader: L. Marivaux (University of Montpellier). (2016-2020)

Accord cadre analyse des services écosystémiques en lien avec l'analyse du sol (TerrEye) - N. Dendoncker

Analyse ecosystem services coupled with the analysis of the top soil. (2016-2020)

BRAIN-BELBEES: Integrative analysis of Belgian wild bee decline to adapt mitigation management policy - N. Dendoncker

The general goals of the project are:
- to collect and analyze data on recent changes in wild bee populations in Belgium, and
- to assess the respective roles of different assumptions on the decline to identify field action combinations needed to restore pollination service in agro-ecosystems. (2014-2018) Read more

BRAIN-MASC: Modélisation et Analyse des impacts des changements de la Surface terrestre sur le Climat de la Belgique et de l'Europe occidentale - N. Dendoncker & V. Beckers

Study the feedbacks between climate changes and land surface changes in order to improve regional climate model projections at the decennial scale over Belgium and Western Europe and thus to provide better climate projections and climate change evaluation tools to policy makers, stakeholders and the scientific community. (2013-2017) Read more


Study the origin and evolution of the earliest modern vertebrates. (2016) Read more

De la Fertilité des sols à la Santé de la terre. - N. Dendoncker & L. Richelle

Develop a method to evaluate local soil quality based on scientific knowledge and experience of crop farmers near Córdoba, Spain. Methods used consist of a collective learning process followed by a participatory approach to control soil health. (2013-2018)

FIRST Spin-Off "AMMIB" and Project POC "Aedes" - K. Van Doninck & J. Marescaux

The implementation of EU legislation concerning ecosystems and biodiversity most often necessitates biological inventories. Morphological identifications for such species’ lists need skilled expertise, considerable time and money and may be inaccurate in describing hybrid, cryptic or exotic species. We apply the innovative method of environmental DNA (eDNA): organisms interact with their environment and leave behind traces of DNA. A simple water sample allows then a rapid determination of the species present. eDNA is a powerful tool for biodiversity monitoring.
Read more
Team: Karine Van Doninck, Jonathan Marescaux, Bruno Jacobs, Nicolas Debortoli, Thibaut Bournonville

Photo by P. Ryelandt

RHEA: Rotifers Highlight the Evolution of Asexuals: the mechanisms of genome evolution in the absence of meioisis - K. Van Doninck

How have bdelloid rotifers been able to persist despite the expected negative consequences of asexuality? What are the mechanisms that prevent genome deterioration and promote diversification in the absence of meiotic recombination? (2017-2022) link

GIRE-SAVA: Gestion Intégrée des Ressources en Eau de la région SAVA, Madagascar - F. De Laender

Sava, a region in NE Madagascar, suffers from floods, violent cyclones, landslides, erosion, tremendous loss of biodiversity but also droughts. The project proposes improved hydrologic management following different axes. (2017-2021) Read more

Myrmecophile metacommunities: integrating dispersal and food web interactions into spatial food-web networks - F. De Laender & T. Parmentier

The implications of space on the ecological network functioning has only recently been fully considered and virtually no studies have examined these in natural communities. Analyse a spatially distributed food web network by combining empirical studies with theoretical modelling. (2017-2020) link

Stress and behavioral traits in rivulus - F. Silvestre

Explore the plasticity of behavioural traits in isogenic lines of the mangrove rivulus (Kryptolebias marmoratus) and determine the role of methylation of DNA in regulating this plasticity. (2017-2018) Read more

Coexistence, Stress, and Aquatic ecosystem functioning - F. De Laender

Experiments with microcosms of phytoplankton will improve the understanding of how interactions between species determine the effects of environmental stress on biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. It will be tested how chemical products can affect ecosystem functions without affecting biodiversity. (2016-2020) Read more

RISE - Rotifer In SpacE - K. Van Doninck, B. Hespeels

Bdelloid rotifer Adineta vaga: a new eukatyotic extremophile model organism to study the impact of radiation and micro-gravity on biological processes (2016-2018; 2019-2020) Read more

Breaking bad? Genomic evolution and protective mechanisms in asexual bdelloid rotifers exposed to charged particle beams - K. Van Doninck, B. Hespeels, V. Baumle

(2016-2018) link

Partitioning effects of stress on ecosystem function - F. De Laender

Biodiversity affects ecosystem functioning in complex ways. Additive partitioning methods can quantify the effects. (2016) Read more (published article)

Predicting the effects of climate change on C sequestration by heathlands : the role of multi-trophic interactions between soil organisms - F. De Laender & W. Reyns

Study the effect of drought stress on soil carbon sequestration in heathlands by modeling food web dynamics. (2015-2019) Read more

Developmental plasticity of behavioral traits in the self-fertilizing fish Kryptolebias marmoratus : an integrative approach - F. Silvestre & A. Carion

Explore the plasticity of behavioural traits in isogenic lines of the mangrove rivulus (Kryptolebias marmoratus) and determine the role of epigenetic mechanisms. Hermaphrodites are capable of auto-fecundation offering the opportunity to study such traits in populations with very low genetic diversity. (2015-2019) Read more

Bdelloid Rotifers: "another Gift from Nature" - K. Van Doninck

ARC project (2014-2019)

Phenotypic plasticity without genetic diversity - F. Silvestre

Plasticité phénotypique sans diversité génétique: une approche épigénétique chez le rivulus des mangroves, Kryptolebias marmoratus, un hermaphrodite se reproduisant par auto-fécondation (2014-2018)

Biodiversity, ecosystem functioning and environmental stress - F. De Laender

Understanding how biodiversity affects ecosystem functioning for assessing the consequences of ongoing biodiversity changes. (2014-2016) Research output


Forest cover impact on water related ecosystem services. Methods and application at the regional scale (Wallonia, Belgium). - N. Dendoncker & D. Brogna

Study the impact of forests on ecosystem services linked to surface water focussing on availabitilies regarding quantity, quality and timing. (2010-2017) Read more