Thesis at the NIOO: a multitrophic experience
For my study biology I did a minor MSc thesis at the laboratory of Nematology. However, instead of walking around at the Radix building, I cycled daily to a small village called Heteren, at the other side of the river Rhine, to carry out my research at the NIOO-KNAW. This is the Netherlands Institute of Ecology, and it was here that I did my research on invasive plants and soil biota.
As the name of the institute implies, the research carried out is placed in an ecological context. Therefore the research, but also the people that walk around, are very diverse. You could almost say that I interacted in a whole multitrophic web inside the system that is formed by the institute: I encountered microbiologists, who inhabited some specific part of the labs; terrestrial ecologists who are mainly to be found in the greenhouses, although they also interact at the lab-level; and some animal ecologists who fluttered by every now and then but mostly inhabited the aviaries. In the end, when the whole community moved to their new spot in Wageningen, a new level was added: those of the fresh water systems. And of course, this whole NIOO-community itself interacts at even higher trophic levels, for instance with the Wageningen University and as a part of that, the laboratory of Nematology.
Also for my research it meant that I looked at more than nematodes only. Actually, I used a whole soil inoculum added to my plants, which naturally contained all kinds of nematodes, but also bacteria, fungi etc, both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ for the plants. The plants I used were exotics, and these plants not naturally occurring in the Netherlands came here at different points in time. And while I interacted with all the people around me to get my experiments started and going, I tried to find out how these plants interacted at their own trophic levels and whether plants from longer ago were bothered more by enemies or not.
Although in the end my results were not as I expected (but doesn’t that often happens in science?), I did had a very ‘multitrophic’ experience at the NIOO.