MSc thesis of the Wildlife Ecology and Conservation Group

Looking for a MSc/Bsc thesis or internship during the online-only period? Please see TIP.

The MSc-thesis offers the challenge to demonstrate your ability to set up and to carry out a scientific research project in a self-responsible and independent manner. This challenge includes to:

  • provide an adequate delineation and definition of your research topic,
  • build a sound theoretical framework for orientation of the research,
  • generate proper research questions and/or testable hypotheses,
  • develop methodology fit for hypothesis testing,
  • collect data in a systematic and verifiable manner,
  • analyse the data critically and correctly,
  • present the results in a comprehensible manner,
  • draw sound conclusions based on a comprehensive discussion of the results,
  • show the contribution of your results to the development of the research topic.

A thesis project using R

The majority of the students working on their thesis at WEC will come into contact with the programming language R. With R you can do more advanced data processing, statistics and visualization than with, for example, SPSS and Excel. Also, it is free and open-source. Here, we provide some information on how to gain experience with R.

We encourage students who want to do their thesis at WEC to follow at least one of the below-mentioned WU courses. If this is not possible, then take the time the work through the R tutorial and/or the R online course before you start with your WEC thesis.

WU courses

•REG-33806 Data Science for Ecology: using R for data science, machine learning and artificial intelligence.
•FEM-31806 Models for Ecological Systems: using R to create and evaluate simulation models.
•CSA-34306 Ecological Modelling and Data Analysis in R: using R to fit statistical models to your data and for visualization.
•MAT-50303 R for Statistics: using R for hypothesis and statistical significance testing.

R tutorial


•Learning the basics of R and RStudio step-by-step with this tutorial, including an interactive tutorial using R itself with the swirl-package: http://emethods.nl/rintro/
•Learning to use R for statistical test: http://emethods.nl/r/

Online course


•A free online course in which you learn the basics and more advanced skills of working with R for data analysis: https://www.coursera.org/learn/r-programming

Free books


R for data science
Fundamentals of data visualization

Browse thesis subjects by topic:

    Topics per staff member

    Dr. Fred de Boer

    My scientific interest is herbivore-vegetation interactions, species diversity, ecosystem analysis and spatial ecology. Most of my projects focus on large herbivores (kudu, elephant, rhino), although I have also supervised several projects on birds. There are several long-term projects that have accommodated MSc students during their thesis work. At present, I coordinate the Tembo program, aimed at analyzing the spatial distribution of elephants in Mopane woodlands and optimizing elephant management, carried out near the Kruger National Park, South Africa. Another project is on the study of the interactions between black rhinos and euphorbia in the Great Fish River Reserve, South Africa. In Mongolia we have investigated a three level trophic interaction (vegetation, Przewalski horses, deer, and the predation by wolves). I am also the thesis co-ordinator of the Wildlife Ecology and Conservation Group, so you can contact me with any question you might have regarding thesis projects our internships.

    Dr. ir. Ignas Heitkönig

    I supervise thesis- and internship subjects in the field of nature conservation, landscape design, resource use, and animal ecology, with a focus on southern Africa. I take part in a southern African research programme (Mocambique, Zimbabwe and South Africa) which investigates the role of (local) communities in exploiting and conserving natural resources: which natural resources do villagers extract from their environment? where does livestock graze? which conflicts with e.g. nature conservation occur as a consequence thereof? How can such conflicts be resolved at local, regional, and international levels? I furthermore supervise pure ecological research projects, also by making use of Remote Sensing and models, in countries ranging from the Netherlands to South Africa.

    Dr. Milena Holmgren

    I am interested in understanding ecosystem dynamics. Most of my current work relates to three main themes: 1) evidence for persistent alternative states in dry ecosystems and the mechanisms explaining them, 2) effects of resource pulses, particularly interannual rainfall fluctuations, on plant and herbivore populations in arid and semiarid ecosystems, 3) the role of positive interactions and the mechanisms explaining them. Most of the on-going empirical work takes place in South America, although I co-supervise PhD students in African savannas (Benin and Zimbabwe) and Mediterranean ecosystems  MSc Internship(Portugal and Spain). In addition, I collaborate closely with colleagues working on diversity of wet tropical forests. 

    1) Bioscience paper: this is a nice dissemination paper on alternative ecosystem states written by Carolyn Strange a science journalist from BioScience. She highlights my work nicely: read pdf

    2) A video showing the work of MSc student, Jeroen van Leeuwen, in north Peru. The University of Piura made it and put it on their website. I think it gives a nice impression of how the landscape and work look like and how well appreciated the MSc are by the Peruvian university. Follow this link .

    Student interview in Peru

    Dr. Pim van Hooft

    My main interest are population genetics, the landscape of fear and urban ecology.  I supervise a range of topics in these fields. Urban ecology research can be performed in the Netherlands. Recently, I supervise projects in the field of soundscape ecology (understanding of how sound, from various sources can be used to understand coupled natural-human dynamics across different spatial and temporal scales; can be conducted in the Netherlands in spring and summer). Further, I collaborate with IKIAM university in Ecuador, where various types of ecological projects are possible (but not currently, due to the Corona crisis).

    Dr. Kevin Matson

    Kevin is interested in an array of topics, which generally deal with disease ecology, life history evolution, and ecological immunology and physiology. Kevin's main research interests relate to the interaction between ecology and physiology (mostly) in birds, but also more and more in small mammals (e.g., in the rodent-tick-Lyme system). He has investigated how large scale environmental differences (e.g., tropical vs. temperate, island vs. continent) correspond to differences in the context of life history. To address such questions, Kevin is interested in innovation and validation of ecological immunology methods and data. Recently, part of this methodological work has been focused homing pigeons, and this work with these "animal athletes" is what triggered Kevin's current interest in the links between immunology and movement, physical activity, and exercise. In addition to pigeons, Kevin is also interested in working more with other traditional and tractable model systems (e.g., red flour beetles, Tribolium castaneum).

    Prof. Frank van Langevelde

    I supervise a range of topics that can be divided into 3 themes that are closely connected: (1) how animals move through their environment searching for resources and what affects or constrains this movement, (2) how animals affect their resources by foraging while moving from patch to patch, and (3) how population dynamics are affected by constraints on movement.

    At present, I work on the ecology of honeybees (flight characteristics, thermoregulation, colony dynamics, in the Netherlands and Kenya), the ecology of butterflies (selection of oviposition sites, population dynamics, in the Netherlands and Portugal). I have further field work possibilities in South Africa and Kenya (looking at termites, vegetation patterns, fire, effects of predation on foraging, or foraging animals including elephant, rhino, wildebeest, zebra and lion). These topics range from field work, experiments in greenhouses, experiments in the field, data analysis, GIS analysis, mathematical modelling, and I aim in these projects that students learn a mix of these different approach.

    Frank's personal website  

    Dr. Anouschka Hof

    How environmental change has or will impact species, especially their distribution and their interaction, is one of the main scientific questions I am interested in. I have a special interest in predator-prey relationships, meta-populations and interactions between taxa and their environment. I like to combine modelling techniques with fieldwork to get a better understanding of how species are faring, now and in the future.

    Projects currently available with me include a range of projects using species distribution modelling techniques to study the impact of past and or future climate change on species (e.g. mammals or birds). I also lead a project on the locally endangered black quillemot (a seabird) in which projects with fieldwork during the breeding season are available in Sweden. I am also looking for a student in this project to analyse an existing dataset of camera trap data for a behavioural ecology project. I further have projects available in Portugal which are mostly related to birds.

    Dr. Jente Ottenburghs

    I am interested in the interplay between ecology and evolution. My current work focuses on the ecological and genetic underpinnings of speciation. I combine the newest genetic techniques, such as whole genome sequencing, with behavioral and morphological studies to understand how new species originate. My main study system is the True Geese, a group of birds that show high levels of hybridization and gene flow. I use whole genome sequencing to explore the evolutionary history of these birds and I try to understand what ecological, behavioral and morphological features prevent different goose species from merging into one species. For example, in collaboration with Melissah Rowe (NIOO), I am investigating the potential role of differences in sperm morphology. I am keen to expand these questions to other study systems to understand the origins of biodiversity. Within this framework, I supervise BSc and MSc theses on a wide variety of taxa and topics, ranging from genetic analyses over behavioral observations to meta-analyses.

    All REG MSc thesis subjects