Thesis subject

MSc thesis topic: Why do animals make the “wrong” choices? Using drone data to understand the changing landscape of vulnerable herpetofauna.

Animal population dynamics are strongly influenced by so-called source–sink dynamics. Habitat quality is likely to vary among patches and it is therefore important to consider how the number of low quality patches (sinks) might affect a population.

Anthropogenic habitat alteration has affected ecosystems worldwide, generally causing habitat loss and fragmentation and decreasing habitat quality. Where human habitat modification leads to animals preferring a habitat that leads to reduced fitness, this is an ecological trap. The aim of the overarching study (the PhD study) is to find out if artificial structures (related to water retention) are functioning as an ecological trap for herpetofauna (reptiles and amphibians). The first goal is to establish weather the animals do have a choice, therefore the two habitat types – natural and artificial – should be studied in the wider landscape. The natural habitat type consists of both temporary and permanent ponds. Currently, it is not known where the temporary ponds are located and when they form. Since the study area is located in mountainous terrain, a drone is used to find the temporary ponds. Ultimately, the aim is to find out where both habitat types are located in the landscape and in relation to each other. It is important to know what (environmental) variables are important for explaining the occurrence and abundance of the habitat types. The acquired drone data can be used together with existing data to develop amongst others probability maps, that will give insight in where natural ponds are likely to develop. Besides helping to establish if the artificial structures do indeed function as an ecological trap, these maps will provide important insights that are useful for conservation.


  • Acquiring drone data from mountainous study area (dependent on start date, this is already (partly) done)
  • Analysing drone data together with other environmental data to explain habitat type occurrence and abundance
  • Making useful probability maps for the occurrence of the habitat types


  • Robertson, B. A., & Hutto, R. L. (2006). A framework for understanding ecological traps and an evaluation of existing evidence. Ecology, 87(5), 1075–1085.
  • Hale, Robin, & Swearer, S. E. (2016). Ecological traps: current evidence and future directions. Proceedings: Biological Sciences, 283(1824), 1–8.


  • If you wish to join the fieldwork (flying the drone) a good physical condition is required
  • Experience with mapping is preferred

Theme(s): Sensing & measuring; Integrated Land Monitoring