founded in 1614  -  top 100 university

prof. dr. R.S. (Rampal) Etienne

prof. dr. R.S. (Rampal) Etienne
+31 50 363 2230


Research units:

Research interests

Research topic


A major challenge in ecology is the need for a better theoretical framework for understanding how species assemblages (ecological communities) arise, why some are species-rich and others species-poor, and why some species are present or dominant whereas others are not.

Current community assembly theory is largely based on static models. However, ecological dynamics (e.g. ecological drift, competition, immigration), or evolutionary dynamics (e.g. genetic drift, natural selection, speciation) generate continual changes in the constituents of communities and the sources from which they are assembled. The dynamical models that do exist do not take the community perspective or do not readily allow inferences from data. Moreover, there is often a mismatch between models and data.

We attempt to solve these problems simultaneously by developing a fully stochastic, dynamical and data-friendly theory of community assembly, and testing and informing this theory with model-oriented experiments and field studies of both macro-organisms and micro-organisms. The theory should contain models of speciation, extinction, immigration and demographic change that vary in spatial, phylogenetic and biotic complexity, and which I design for confrontation with data by providing each model’s likelihood given the data.

We conduct evolutionary experiments on the mite Tetranychus urticae and the bacterium Escherichia coli, which are ideal model organisms due to their short generation times. The experiments will provide insight into how diversity affects diversification, a great unknown in current macro-evolutionary theory. Apart from these highly controlled experiments, we apply the theory to naturally occurring micro-landsnails in South-East Asia, and micro-organisms in geothermal pools in New Zealand. Their small size, endemism and spatially limited, discrete habitat create a miniature world that facilitates sampling and confrontation with models. We provide software tools for scientists and conservationists to assess the processes underlying natural communities and predict their future composition and diversity.







From left to right: Karen Bisschop, Josselin Cornuault, Giovanni Laudanno, Liang Xu, Kasper Hendriks, Leonel Herrera, Rampal Etienne, Richel Bilderbeek, Alex Pigot, Cyrus Mallon. Not shown: Adriana Alzate & Fons van de Plas (parental leave), Xiaoguang Du & Saleta Perez-Vila (abroad)



- Josselin Cornuault (August 2015 - present)

- Cyrus Mallon (March 2015 - present)

Alex Pigot (September 2013 – present)


PhD students

- Giovanni Laudanno (September 2015 - present)

- Leonel Herrera Alsina (March 2015 - present)

- Karen Bisschop (November 2014 – present), jointly supervised with D. Bonte, University of Ghent

Kasper Hendriks (September 2014 – present), jointly supervised with M. Schilthuizen, Naturalis

Richel Bilderbeek (September 2014 – present)

- Adriana Alzate Vallejo (March 2013 – present), jointly supervised with D. Bonte, University of Ghent

Xiaoguang Du (September 2008 – present)

- Saleta Perez-Vila (February 2007 – present), jointly supervised with B. Wertheim (RUG)



- Fons van der Plas (April 2015 - present)

 Former PhD students

- Thijs Janzen (September 2010 – November 2014, PhD degree on 27 March 2015, PhD thesis)

- Ellen van Velzen (January 2009 – October 2014, PhD degree on 2 March 2015, PhD thesis)

- Francisco Encinas-Viso (October 2008 – March 2013, PhD degree on 14 June 2013, PhD thesis)

- Xubing Liu (May 2011 – March 2013, PhD degree on 14 June 2013, PhD thesis)






- DAISIE package for RSimulates and computes the (maximum) likelihood of a dynamical model of island biota assembly through speciation, immigration and extinction.

- GUILDS package for R (Author: T. Janzen). Implementation of sampling formulas for the unified neutral model of biodiversity and biogeography, with or without guild structure.

DAMOCLES package for R. Simulation and likelihood methods for a dynamical community assembly that accounts for phylogenetic history.

DDD package for R. Calculates the likelihood of diversity-dependent diversification models for a given data set of branching times of a phylogenetic tree.

PBD package for R. Calculates the likelihood of the lineage-based protracted speciation model for a given data set of branching times of a phylogenetic tree.





Viewable presentations


- Public Seelye lecture A simple view on biological complexity, New Zealand, November 2013

Predicting the past from the present. Hungary, August 2012


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