Erik Poelman appointed as professor holding a personal chair

Published on
September 5, 2022

The Executive Board has appointed Erik Poelman (42) as professor holding a personal chair in the Entomology chair group of the Plant Sciences Group at Wageningen University & Research. The appointment takes effect on 1 September.

Poelman studied Biology in Wageningen, started as a PhD candidate with the Entomology chair group in 2004, and has been an associate professor since 2017. Among students he is known as an enthusiastic and committed lecturer. He has also made a name for himself as a scientist nationally and internationally with research into the defensive strategies of plants attacked by insects as well as the natural-selection-driven evolution of plants, insects, and their attack and defence strategies.

Poelman: “Most plants are attacked by a large variety of insects. Plants often depend on insects for pollination as well, and natural enemies such as parasitic wasps can help the plant defend itself against herbivorous insects. My team is getting to the bottom of how plants deal with all of these interactions, and in doing so we consider plant defences as advanced risk-management strategies. This is because, in a response to an actual attack, the plant must also assess the risk and even prepare itself for attacks by future assailants. In short, plants cannot use all their defences at once if they want to survive.”

Ecology-based agriculture

The arms race and collaboration between plants and insects fascinates Poelman immensely. His research is therefore largely driven by curiosity. At the same time, he hopes that the insights of his research group will also contribute to a sustainable agriculture that maintains biodiversity on our planet.

“Both the EU and the Dutch government want to reduce the use of nutrients and pesticides. We therefore need resilient, ecology-based production systems as well as crops that, due to plant breeding, are more resistant to insect attacks and other forms of stress. With the fundamental knowledge that we gain, our research group wants to contribute to bringing about this transition.”


This is also why Poelman took the initiative to lead a partnership for CropMix, a project financed by the National Science Agenda (NWA) about crop production based on ecology and crop diversity. That team now consists of more than 30 research associates from various disciplines and over 50 representatives from field farming, government, crop protection organisations, agriculturalists, nature organisations, banks, food chain partners, and green education. “Over the next five years, we will roll out a €10 million programme that will integrate ecology, technology, economics, farmer, and consumer adoption behaviour, and transition studies to achieve the goals of sustainable crop production and biodiversity.”