Research Topics

ILEE combines a large panel of competences in fundamental and applied sciences. This allows a significant contribution to the understanding of the evolution of life. To face current and furture environmental challenges, we search for sustainable solutions, integrating ecological, technological, socio-economic and historical/cultural perspectives.

Evolution, Adaptation and Biodiversity

Since four billion years, life on earth has been evolving and changing in response to environmental changes.
Species arise, disappear, expand and adapt - it is a continuous arms race in which the biological diversity is fluctuating constantly.

Today, environmental change is often driven by human activities such as pollution, nutrient enrichment, climate change or habitat modifications. Organisms need to cope with new conditions, acclimate and adapt, with consequences for the composition of the community and biodiversity as well as ecosystem functioning at different spatial scales. Fundamental questions arise related to the evolution of asexual reproductive modes and to understand the factors contributing to genomic variation and adaptation.

At ILEE, we combine ecological theory with models, data from field campaigns, and experimental setups to address these topics. We also focus on a mechanistic understanding of biological processes using physiological, behavioural, proteomic and epigenetic endpoints. Evolutionary processes, sexual and asexual reproduction are investigated at population level (experimental and natural ones).

Photo credit: Frédéric Silvestre

→ Publications

→ Projects

→ Posters

Pollution and Environmental Toxicology

Various chemical, biological and physical agents have harmful effects on living organisms.
One of the most urgent task to improve live on earth and guarantee the future of ecosystems is to identify, evaluate and finally control toxic agents that harm living organisms and our environment.

Multiple stressors (chemical, physical or pathogenic stress) and/or pollutants (pesticides, pharmaceuticals, endocrine disruptors, neurotoxins, atmospheric residues) act on individuals but also on ecosystems. Research aims at the analysis of gas composition, detection and understanding of the responses of physiological, immune, nervous or reproductive systems of organisms or the reaction and change of ecosystem functioning.

A further objective is the development of technological solutions, such as specialised instruments for molecular spectroscopy, innovative materials including photochemical and -voltaic devices or bioinspired materials

At ILEE, we use aquatic organisms (fish, crustaceans and amphibians) as bioindicators under natural or captive and experimental microcosmic conditions to study immune and organismic phenotype responses (assessed at the gene expression level). We further combine conceptual studies, based on mathematical models, with specific case studies based on experiments with plankton in microcosms.

Photo credit: C. Mayer

→ Publications

→ Projects

→ Posters/Presentations

Characterization and Management of Natural Resources

Responsible use of natural resources is essential to guarantee their supply for future generations.
Today, raw materials from the subsoil are found in a large variety of objects we use every day. Smartphones, solar panels or lithium batteries contain rare-earth metals or minerals. These are considered non-renewable resources since their exploitation is much faster than their replacement.

If not done responsibly, the extraction and processing of such elements causes heavy environmental problems. By prospecting these geological resources (water, metals and raw materials) and integrating human utilisation over centuries, from antiquity to the electronic age today, we aim at a better understanding of the relationships between natural resources, architecture and art. This is a first step to improve their enduring management.

Research focus is put on petrography, mineralogy and geochemistry of supergene ores, as well as the mapping and modelling of aquifer and karstic flow processes.
Beyond that, another objective of ILEE is the sustainable use of renewable resources.

Research opts for the sensible productivity of cultured freshwater species but also the restoration of aquatic ecosystems including the conservation of endangered species (salmon and eel). The quality of surface water is traced with ecological indicators such as diatoms and macro-invertebrates.

Photo credit: UNamur / Geoffroy Libert

→ Publications

→ Projects

Ecosystem services

The various benefits that ecosystems provide to humans freely are known as ecosystem services.
One can distinguish four different types of ecosystem services (ES):
  • Provisioning services including the supply of food, raw material (wood, biofuels, etc.), water and medicinal resources
  • Regulating services such as the regulation of air quality and soil fertility or pollination
  • Supporting services that provide habitat for species or maintain biodiversity
  • Cultural services that are non-material benefits to humans providing recreational, touristic or spiritual activities and inspiration

The concept of ES stems from a strong sustainability framework and its first aim was to help preserve biodiversity. Today, it is increasingly used to foster sustainable landscape management and planning, to increase well-being of local actors.

In order to achieve this, inclusive integrated valuation frameworks are developed. These frameworks combine different types of values (social, economic, biophysical), and include local stakeholders in a participatory way. A key focus at ILEE lies on the issue of social valuation of ES, assessing trade-offs and synergies between ES and actors to improve local ES governance.
Methodological approaches include ES mapping, modelling, and integrated ES assessments.

Photo by C. Mayer

→ Publications

→ Projects

Sustainable Plant and Animal Production

Looking for alternatives of chemical and pharmaceutical products is essential to face the challenges in plant and animal production.
Pesticides, fertiliser or antibiotics are widely used in agriculture with all negative consequences concerning environmental and health problems we are facing today.  

The genome of plants still bares millions of secrets concerning functional traits and their variability. Molecular methods such as association breeding studies are powerful to identify the genetic basis causing phenotypic variation. Thereby, agronomic performance of edible crops could be enhanced or characteristics of economic interest can be improved. Further, the control of diseases is critical for plant production and signal transduction plays an important role in plant defence.

At ILEE, we study elicitor molecules of biological origin that stimulate plant defences against both biotic and abiotic stresses. This method offers environmentally friendly alternatives to increase resistance of plants against pathogen attacks. A spin-off company was created pursuing this purpose - FytoFend S.A. 

In aquaculture, special emphasis is put on the search for alternatives to the use of antibiotics and chemicals through immuno-stimulation methods. Concerning fish nutrition, attention is directed towards the use of plant ingredients instead of fish meal and oil. Cultured freshwater species should be diversified and animal husbandry be optimized to improve fish welfare. Temperate (Eurasian perch, pikeperch, trout) as well as tropical species (striped catfish, African catfish, tilapia) are considered by research efforts.

Photo from pixabay

→ Publications

→ Projects

Environmental Impacts on Human Populations

Populations are dynamic - Understanding and measuring these dynamics is important for disaster response, economic planning and controlling epidemics.
Many interactions exist between the environment and human population dynamics. Global warming and climate change will probably cause tremendous migration in the future.

Droughts, land use, environmental and health risks influence the distribution of human populations and their migration. Groups of differing vulnerability react differently to certain hazards. Spatial scales and geographical contexts (Burkina Faso, Senegal, Ecuador, Philippines, etc.) further influence population dynamics but also disease risks

The focus of our research lies on the interaction between environment and migration at the household or individual level, as well as on the interactions between the different agents responsible for the transmission of vector-borne and zoonotic diseases (humans, vectors, animal hosts and the environment). We use innovative methods (resilience indicators, game, focus groups, census, etc.) to capture the high complexity and integrated approaches to spatial issues in epidemiology.

 map by worldpop

→ Publications

→ Projects

Environmental History and Law

Since man arrived on earth he began to influence and alter his environment.
Urbanisation and industrial revolution probably had the most severe impacts on nature in history. In return, natural disasters such as droughts, earthquakes or volcanic eruptions affect human life.  

Environmental law includes treaties, regulations, directives that address these effects, pollution being one of the major aspects. Its beginnings date back to ancient Rome, principally to protect human health. Basic to modern environmental law is a set of mobilized principles (e.g. precaution, prevention, “polluter pays”) and accentuation at international level (for example the European Law concerning environment).

At ILEE, we focus on the perception of human impact on urban and rural areas between the 18th and the 20th century. Socio-historical aspects relate to the history of the local products (“produits du terroir”). Further emphasis is put on the pollution of rivers and the relationships between men and animals.  

Our geographic scope is Belgium and other European countries but also the South (Democratic Republic of the Congo, Philippines).

Photo credit: Frédéric Silvestre

→ Publications

→ Projects

Environmental and Natural Resource Management in the South

ILEE collaborates with partners located in Southern countries: Africa, Central and South-America and South-Eastern Asia.
Research focus is put on the following topics:
  • Characterization and sustainable management of natural resources
  • Production of aquatic ecosystems and the sustainable development of aquaculture
  • Impact of environmental changes on human populations
  • Environmental history

→ Publications

→ Projects

 

 

 

 

 Photo from pixabay