RIBES research theme III: Biodiversity decline and recovery of ecological communities

The latest IPCC and IPBES reports underscore the urgency of large-scale ecosystem restoration. Particularly disturbing is the discovery by RIBES ecologists that more than 75% of flying insects in nature reserves have been lost in the last 30 years. Reversing this loss and restoring biodiversity are critical elements of more sustainable environmental and human health. Accordingly, Theme III seeks to unravel, understand and find solutions for urgent ecosystem restoration to increase biodiversity and support a wide range of ecosystem services.

Species and populations

Understanding which species are decreasing or increasing in numbers and distribution is key to predicting and reversing biodiversity loss. RIBES has a leading role in bio-demographic research, as it harbors world-class population ecologists as well as a very successful collaboration with many species-oriented NGOs grouped in ‘Natuurplaza’ and the B-WARE company through special professorships. Thus, in the next years we aim to develop of novel population trend analyses, and advanced demographic models to evaluate the relative and cumulative effects of multiple stressors (see Theme I and Theme II). Monitoring is another important target for innovation, including new ways to involve citizen scientists, optimized monitoring schemes, horizon scans and risk analyses for invasive species. 

Responses tot human pressures

In a second research line, we aim to quantify and understand macroecological responses to multiple human pressures, including land use and fragmentation, increased nutrient loads (Theme I), and greenhouse gas emissions (Theme IV). To this end, we are further developing our large-scale statistical-descriptive modelling work in a multi-stressor context to reveal general patterns and underlying drivers across species and ecosystems. In parallel, we will further develop mechanistic (process-based) models in order to quantify and understand patterns emerging from underlying processes. As the parametrization of mechanistic models for multiple species and environmental stressors is particularly challenging due to the limited empirical information available, we will investigate the prediction of ecological input parameters from species traits such as size and the prediction of (chemical) stressor characteristics from inherent molecular properties. 

Ecosystem restoration

Populations of species do not develop in isolation but together with competitors, predators and symbionts in complex ecological communities. A third line of research is therefore devoted to multi-trophic interactions of the system to obtain necessary insights on the conditions for sustainable ecosystem restoration. RIBES' high-quality plant, animal and microbial research programs place it in a unique position to study multi-trophic interactions, symbiotic relationships and food webs and how they underlie the functioning and resilience of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. Hence, our future research will continue to focus on the role of multitrophic interactions and their stoichiometries in several joint PhD and post doc projects related to grassland, peat ecosystems, and plant-insect-microbiome studies. 

Related content


'Not every exotic species needs to be controlled'

Certain invasive exotic species, such as the red swamp crayfish, are harmful to our environment because they transmit crayfish plague to native species. But there are also non-native fish and crayfish that are not harmful.

Bloemrijke dijk

Flowery dikes are at least as strong and better for biodiversity

New combinations of grass and herb species on dikes can help restore biodiversity. Such a 'species-rich dike revetment' is also at least as strong as traditional grass revetment. This is the conclusion of the HWPB innovation project Future Dikes.

Icon of a cricket


In 2024, the coordinators of theme III are Jelle Hilbers, Eelke Jongejans, and Marlee Tucker. You can contact them if you have any questions, ideas, or suggestions about the topics in theme III. 

The coordinators are responsible for (internal) events and communication about theme III, such as through the internal Teams channel. 


Contact one of the theme coordinators (Jelle Hilbers, Eelke Jongejans, and Marlee Tucker) or the RIBES office for more information about this theme.