Liesbeth Bakker appointed as Special Professor Rewilding Ecology in Wageningen

Published on
April 23, 2020

The Executive Board of Wageningen University & Research has appointed Dr Liesbeth Bakker as special professor of Rewilding Ecology. Her appointment is effective as of 1 February 2020. The chair and research projects have been made possible with the support of NIOO-KNAW and Rewilding Europe. The special chair is housed within the Wildlife Ecology and Conservation Group, led by Prof. Frank van Langevelde.

Prof. Bakker’s special university chair is the first Rewilding Ecology chair in Europe. For Prof. Bakker, rewilding ecology means to study the outcomes of rewilding as a new ecosystem restoration technique and the underlying ecological mechanisms that explain rewilding outcomes.

About Liesbeth Bakker

Prof. Liesbeth Bakker (Credit: Perro de Jong)
Prof. Liesbeth Bakker (Credit: Perro de Jong)

Liesbeth Bakker (born 1973) studied Biology at the University of Groningen where she graduated cum laude in 1997. After her Master study, she moved to Wageningen University where she did her PhD under the supervision of Prof. Frank Berendse and Prof. Han Olff on the impact of large and small herbivores on plant diversity, landscape structure and nutrient cycling. During a few years, she held several postdoc positions studying plant-animal interactions at the universities of Edmonton (Canada) and Nebraska (USA).

De hoeveelheid wilde dieren en de biodiversiteit lopen wereldwijd sterk terug. Daarom zijn herstelmaatregelen urgent en noodzakelijk.

Back in the Netherlands, she joined the Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW) for research on plant-animal interactions and aquatic ecology, partly funded by a personal NWO-VENI grant. From 2015 onwards Liesbeth Bakker is Senior Scientist at the Department of Aquatic Ecology at NIOO in Wageningen.

Restoring ecosystems

This study field is of importance because worldwide steep declines in wildlife abundance and biodiversity call for urgent action. Rewilding is a new ecosystem restoration technique aimed at restoring the role of natural processes as drivers of ecosystem functioning. This could involve, for instance, allowing more room for water level dynamics or improving land-water connections as well as facilitating the return of missing large herbivores or carnivores in ecosystems. As such, rewilding could contribute to improving biodiversity and wildlife abundance and also to nature-based solutions to mitigate the consequences of climate change, such as reducing risks of flooding or the incidence of wildfires.

Grote grazers

“We are now seeing the practice of rewilding gaining momentum and starting to deliver real impact across Europe, but the science of rewilding is lagging. Advancing the science of rewilding can help the practice of rewilding, and vice versa”, Prof. Bakker explains.

Creating floodplains for fish and wetland birds

In her research, Prof. Bakker will investigate the outcomes of rewilding and the underlying ecological mechanisms and focus on land-water connections and the engineering impacts of wildlife on ecosystems. Examples of the foreseen work include studies on how rewetting or connecting land and water by creating floodplains results in habitat and food for fish and wetland birds and how large herbivores contribute to biodiversity.

As a coordinator, Prof. Bakker will work to connect members of the scientific community across Europe focused on rewilding ecology, thereby forwarding rewilding's scientific agenda, and study rewilding as an innovative and progressive approach to conservation.

In teaching, Prof. Bakker will spend most of her time in supervising master's students engaged in rewilding-related internships.