Where is Waldo: the wild boar edition Oct 04, 2018
Mevrouw Jolien WEVERS
Imagine waking up one day, only to discover that the home you have lived in for your entire life has suddenly and irreversibly changed. All around you, there are new elements that can cause you harm and you simply cannot escape it. This overwhelming scenario happens every day to wildlife all around the world, even in Belgium. Today on World Animal Day we talk with Jolien Wevers, a Ph.D. student at UHasselt, who tries to gain a better understanding of how we can right our wrongs.
“The wildlife and its habitat cannot speak, so we must and we will.” – Theodore Roosevelt.
For her Ph.D. research, Jolien studies one specific animal: the wild boar. “It’s a collaboration between Hasselt University and the Institute for Nature and Forest Research that goes all the way back to my bachelor thesis. Back then I looked at the habitat use of wild boars in the National Park Hoge Kempen and if we were able to study them using wildcameras. My current research topic builds upon the expertise we gained back then.”
Animal migration is often if not always a consequence of the animal making a tradeoff between fulfilling its basic needs (feeding and drinking, mating, …) and the stress impulses of encountering potential predators. “I study the impact of these habitat factors, such as food availability and hiding places, and human activities, like hunting and recreation, on the movement behavior and spatial use of wild boars.”
A HERCULEAN TASK
In order to achieve this goal, Jolien uses over 40 infrared cameras that are constantly moved to randomly picked locations. “A task that has provided me with more bruises, ticks and scratches than I can count.” The resulting pictures are then uploaded into the online database (Agouti) of the University of Wageningen after which she looks at each individual picture and identifies the species, gender and age of each animal.
“Through statistical models, I try to look for connections between the number of observations and the human and natural variables. All of this can be quite a hassle if you know that 1.5 years into my project there are already 800,000 photographs. However, I really enjoy having a diversified Ph.D. From wandering through the forest and heathland of the national park to managing my data and other students, my Ph.D. has it all. On top of that, working in the national park feels like coming home for me as I grew up nearby and used to explore every square inch of it when I was young.”
A CLOSE ENCOUNTER
The amount of encounters with boars has drastically increased over the past years, due to their population growth and the fragmented way of living in Flanders, which causes environmental chaos. The National Park Hoge Kempen is a perfect example of a close association between humans and animals because it serves both the role of recreational and nature preservation area. On top of that, it is one of the locations where the repopulation of wild boars was started.
“The rise in encounters can be seen as something positive because it indirectly indicates the success of our nature conservation efforts. On the other hand, it also results in a lot of nuisance (traffic accidents, damage to crops, …). It is therefore of great importance to create a correct management to minimize the negative encounters without endangering the wild boar population.”
“However, this is still difficult at the moment given the many ecological parameters for which we know very little. My research provides us with a new piece of the puzzle, which can, in turn, lead to better management. After my Ph.D. I would love to continue doing research in this amazing environment. And with the introduction of the lynx and wolf, who knows what kind of interesting scientific projects lie ahead.”
Jolien Wevers is affiliated with the ‘Zoology: Biodiversity and Toxicology’ group within the Centre of Environmental Sciences of Hasselt University, where she prepares her Ph.D. under the supervision of prof. Tom Artois and dr. Natalie Beenaerts. The Ph.D. project is executed in collaboration with dr. ir. Jim Casaer from the Institute for Nature and Forest Research (INBO) and is funded with a BOF-scholarship. The cameras are funded through Lifewatch infrastructure.