Krista van den Heuvel

Curriculum vitae

I received my Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in biology at Wageningen University. My Bachelors were completed with a thesis on neighbourhood and personality effects on singing activity in the great tit.   This study triggered my interest for animal cognition and during my Masters, I chose to conduct my thesis at the Entomology lab, to study the morphology of dopaminergic neurons in relation to learning dynamics in Nasonia parasitic
wasps.  After that, I performed an internship at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena, Germany. Here, I studied the morphology and function of monoaminergic neurons in the antennal lobe of the fruit fly, the insect brain structure for olfactory processing. After my graduation I performed a traineeship at The Danish Research Institute of Translational Neuroscience in Aarhus, Denmark, studying neural aspects of courtship behaviour and reward in the fruit fly. Since March 2018, I am a PhD at the NIOO-KNAW in the Animal Ecology Department and at the University of Wageningen in the Behavioral Ecology Department. I study the role of epigenetic mechanisms in the evolution of cognitive traits in the great tit under supervision of Kees van Oers

Project overview

Cognitive traits drive the way an animal interacts with its environment, and are associated with fitness. To understand how natural selection shapes cognition, we must understand the causes and consequences of individual variation in cognitive traits. Epigenetic processes, such as DNA methylation and histone modifications, are known to be involved in cognition and nervous system function and may underlie individual variation in cognition. However, research connecting these epigenetic mechanisms to the evolution of cognitive traits is currently lacking.

I assess individual variation in cognitive performance in the great tit and study the ecological and evolutionary consequences of epigenetic variation. I will perform experiments to assess the heritability, fitness consequences and environmental causes of cognitive variation, and study whether epigenetic mechanisms underlie this variation. Because much more is known about neural system and function in relation to behaviour in laboratory rodents, I will assess the links between epigenetic marks and cognitive traits in mice and rats to validate the findings in the great tit.