About the Adaptation Physiology Group

The Adaptation Physiology Group focuses on long term effects of early life conditions on adapative capacity and facilitation of adaptation during critical transition periods.

The Wageningen University & Research chair group Adaptation Physiology and the Wageningen Livestock Research department Animal Welfare intensify their collaboration by forming a joint centre. The name is Wageningen CAWA: Centre for Animal Welfare and Adaptation.

We are also an active member of the graduate school WIAS (Wageningen Institute of Animal Sciences). The Adaptation Physiology group was founded in 2000 from three disciplinary groups (reproduction, immunology and metabolism) of the former chair group Animal Health and Reproduction. These groups joint forces to form a multidisciplinary group with the mission to study factors that determine the capacity of animals to cope with environmental challenges. Later, the multidisciplinary character of the group was further extended by behavioral physiologists. The group is aware of the fact that it cannot accommodate expertise and techniques on all relevant disciplines and therefore the group collaborates with many groups within and outside Wageningen University & Research.

In 2009, an international review committee evaluated our group based on quality, productivity, relevance and vitality and feasibility and ranked our group as very good to excellent, saying that the research quality, productivey, relevance of our research and vitality and feasiblity is internationally competitive to world leading.

Adaptive capacity can be defined as the ability of an individual to adapt with minimum loss of functions, if the environment of the animal is changing. Lack of adaptive capacity can be recognized by 

  1. behavioral abnormalities
  2. metabolic disorders
  3. loss of immune functions and diseases
  4. disturbed reproduction

Adaptive capacity is determined by the genetic background of the animal and previous (ontogenetic) experiences. Moreover, expression of adaptive capacity can be supported or hampered by the actual environment the animals live in (e.g. nutritional status, social environment, etc.). A multi disciplinary approach is vital to unravel determinants of adaptive capacity because maladaptation due to an environmental stressor usually effects in multiple effects on the physiology of the animals e.g. behavioral effects, metabolic effects and immunological effects and reproduction. For example, early sow/piglet interaction helps piglets to learn what, how and where to eat but also supports piglets during weaning resulting in better health and less development of mal adaptive behavior like tail biting.

The majority of the work is performed with farm animals as models. Farm animals are excellent models for studying determinants of adaptive capacity as they are constantly challenged to perform under constraining or changing conditions, with consequences for their health and welfare. The industrial and societal interest in this work is high, which results in good external funding. The growing interest from students in non-food animals has resulted in studies where pigs are used as a study model for relevant human-animal relationships and research is performed on behavioral problems in dogs.