Invasive species, such as the bull frog and certain species of freshwater fish, are colonizing Flanders and the rivers in Flanders at an amazing speed. These exotic collonizations often lead to a decrease or even the disappearance of local faunal and floral species.
Dr De Vocht and his team are investigating sustainable and environmental-friendly ways to decrease and eventually stop these exotic invasions.
American bull frog (Rana catesbeiana)
topmouth gudgeon (Pseudorasbora parva)
more info: dr. A. De Vocht
Benefit or threat: the presence of wild boar (Sus scrofa) in an urbanized protected area, such as the NPHK
Over the past decennia the distribution of wild boar (Sus scrofa) extended rapidly and in Flanders encounters with this species became more frequent. They are probably again present in Flanders through migration from Wallonia and the neighboring countries and through re-introduction. However, not all stakeholders embrace this growing population; especially farmers fear substantial damage to their crops and fences.
In 2006 the number of boars shot were estimated at two (Scheppers et al., 2013), while in 2013 this number was already 628 (Scheppers et al., 2014). The number of culling is often positively correlated to population densities; the increase in these densities can be attributed to several factors (Casaer & Van Den Berge, 2006). Firstly winters are less strong allowing for a higher survival rate of piglets and more frequent mast years. The latter increases the food supply and wild boars tend to get reproductive at an earlier stage. However, the population density in Flanders is not known. Therefor it is difficult to design proper management priorities and even effective hunting policies.
This research is performed in strong collaboration with dr. J. Casaer, Institute for Nature and Forest Research (INBO). Several master and bachelor thesis projects are on-going within this framework. If you are interested to perform research or an internship within this context, contact dr. N. Beenaerts
The conservation of the nightjar
The European Nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus) is a species of high European Conservation Concern (SPEC 2) and listed on Annex 1 of the Birds Directive (79/409/EEG). The most important breeding areas in Flanders are situated in the province of Limburg (Vermeersch & Anselin 2009), where larger areas of suited heathland habitats are still available, such as the National Park Hoge Kempen, Bosland and several military domains.
Being highly dependent upon these habitats (Vermeersch & Anselin 2009), the European Nightjar is a key breeding species, an excellent indicator species and unequivocal "umbrella species", meaning that its successful conservation means a successful conservation of the habitat as whole. Because of its cryptic life style, nightjars are hard to study.
Initial studies indicate that nightjar populations may respond rapidly to local management (Bowdern & Green 1991, Evens et al. 2012a), making them excellent "thermometers" of good management of heathland habitats.
A multi-disciplinary approach is used to gain the necessary knowledge in the ecology, microhabitat preference and behaviour of these birds.
Brief, the general goal is the development of an adaptive tool based on scientifically correct ecological information regarding priority target species to manage European protected habitats and their associated species in a cost-effective way such that the long term survival of the habitats and the species could be guaranteed.
Moreover to realize sound conservation targets for the nightjar in Flanders for a long period, the core population breeding in Flanders should be large enough (currently estimated at 20-30 breeding couples; Adriaens & Ameeuw, 2008). Recent research has shown that the traditional methodologies (i.e. counting of singing males, including sound use) lead to an overestimation of the population size. This can be improved by optimizing the methodologies, but also by knowing when we can speak about the nightjar population. Insight in the genetic variation and population genetic structure of the European nightjar will allow us to determine the identification of one or more populations and population sizes at different geographical and temporal levels.
This research is being performed using micro-satelites and in collaboration with UGent and DNA-samples from a plethora of countries worldwide.
Currently two PhD's and several master and bachelor thesis projects are going on the above and related topics. For more information you can contact Prof. dr. T. Artois.