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Research PhD courses

Linking Community and Ecosystem Dynamics

Herdershut, Schiermonnikoog, October 21 -26 2018


  • Matty P. Berg (Chair; VU University, Amsterdam / GELIFES, University of Groningen)
  • Han Olff (GELIFES, University of Groningen)
  • Corine Eising (RSEE, University of Groningen)

Under auspices of the research schools RSEE, PE&RC and SENSE

We are very happy to announce that this year we will have two special guest lecturers: Dr Trisha B Atwood (Utah State University) and Dr Shai Pilosof (University of Chicago).

Dr Atwood is assistant professor and chair of the Aquatic Ecology and Global Change Lab. She and her team members are interested in three broad research themes across all aquatic ecosystems (marine, estuarine, freshwater, and riparian zones). 1. The effects of global change on aquatic food webs and species interactions. 2. How food webs and species interactions influence ecosystem function. 3. The role of aquatic ecosystems in climate change mitigation and biodiversity conservation.
By focusing on these three broad questions, her research has taken her all over the world with studies in Hawaii, Canada, Costa Rica, and Australia (including The Great Barrier Reef).

Dr Pilosof is postdoctoral scholar at the University of Chicago, ‚Äčin the lab of Mercedes Pascual. He is mostly interested in the application of network theory to ecological systems, specifically in the field of disease ecology. He uses a complex systems approach to study the factors that effect spread of disease in animal communities and from animals to humans. His research is unique as it takes the individual point of view: 1. What is the role of individual heterogeneity in shaping host-parasite interactions at the community level? 2. How does genetic variation affect infection with parasites in different hosts? 3. How does individual heterogeneity translate to efficiency of disease spread in host communities?

Scope of the course

The research fields community and ecosystem ecology have diverged more or less independently over the last decennia. In community ecology progress is made in understanding shifts in community composition under the influence of environmental change and how these shifts can be explained by functional trait approaches of component species. Also, the importance of positive feedbacks in community dynamics is more and more appreciated, and merged with trophic interactions in ecological networks. Studies in ecosystem ecology traditionally have a strong focus on energy and nutrient fluxes and how deviation in these fluxes affect ecosystem functioning and stability. Recent studies reveal tight links between these sub-disciplines that enforce us to rethink how communities and ecosystems interact.

This course focuses on theoretical concepts, such as autocatalytic loops and positive and negative feedbacks between organisms in ecological networks as well as the importance of non-trophic interactions by ecosystem engineers. The course will address how these principles can be used to link communities to ecosystems enabling a better understanding of how environmental changes affect community and ecosystem dynamics. Students will construct ecological networks of their own study system or based on literature data and analyse these using structural equation modelling.

Course Set-up

The course is composed of a series of lectures, a poster session, analysing ecological networks using structural equation modelling and finalized with a debating session.

  • Poster session: Prior to the course, participants submit a poster of their work (A4-size) in PDF, which will be printed and included in the course reader. The poster contains your name and affiliation, title and short description of research project (including concepts) with one highlight (something exciting) and the reason you want to participate in this course. During the course, participants briefly pitch their research (maximum 3 slides) amd indicate where they would like to receive input from the course particpants and lecturers.
  • Lectures and discussion: Each day starts with a key speaker who will give a lecture on one of the key course topics (covering both general theory and own research). After the lecture we'll have a discussion which is convened by three participants who challenge the speaker on the lecture and two papers that the speaker submitted which are related to the topic of the lecture (participants will receive these before the course to prepare them self).
  • Group activities: In the afternoons, participants will be split into working groups, which will work on specific group assignments associated with the topic of the course (design ecological networks and analysing these). The exact topics of these activities will be selected by the participants. Each group will present the results to all course participants the following day. Group activities will be supervised by the lecturers and course organizers (which are present the whole course), so that the students can optimally benefit from experts that are among the leaders in their fields.
  • Debating session: We will debate propositions that have been brought forward by speakers, students or have appeared to be a point of discussion during the course.

Preliminary Programme

The final programme for the course will be published in due time.

Sunday October 21:

Afternoon Arrival of the participants at the "Herdershut"
18:00-19:00 Dinner
19:30-20:45 Getting to know each other (meaning drinks)

Monday October 22:

07:30-08:45 Breakfast + cleaning up
09:00-10:00 Matty Berg Setting the scene: aim, and an overview of concepts and approaches
10:00-10:30 Coffee
10:30-12:00 Shai Pilosof Lecture: Ecological Multi-layered networks
12:00-13:30 Lunch + cleaning up
13:30-17:30 Shai Pilosof Hands on: How to handle network data 1 & 2
18:00-19:00 Dinner
19:30-20:30 Shai Pilosof Hands on: How to handle network data 1 & 2

Tuesday October 23

07:30-08:45 Breakfast + cleaning up
09:00-09:45 Han Olff Lecture: Ecological Multi-layered networks
10:00-14:00 Interactive field trip to salt marsh / learn about hybrid networks (packed lunch)
14:30-15:00 Tea

Discussion on observations trip, Matty Berg: Importance of ecosystem engineers

18:00-19:30 Dinner
19:30-20:30 Student pitch 1

Wednesday October 24:

07:30-08:45 Breakfast + cleaning up
09:00-10:30 Trisha Atwood Lecture: The Zoobiogeochemistry of the Carbon Cycle
10:30-11:00 Coffee
11:00-12:00 Student pitch 2
12:00-13:30 Lunch + cleaning up
13:30-15:00 Student pitch 3
15:00-15:30 Tea
15:30-17:30 Student pitch 4
18:00-19:30 Dinner
19:30-21:00 Student Pitch 5

Thursday October 25 :

07:30-08:45 Breakfast + cleaning up
09:00-10:30 Han Olff Lecture: Hybrid networks, ecosystem organisation and SEM  
10:30-11:00 Coffee
11:00-12:00 Working groups: interaction network assignment
12:00-13:30 Lunch + cleaning up
13:30-14:30 Working groups: interaction network assignment
14:30-15:00 Tea
15:00-18:00 Working groups: Finsihing assignment, feedback to group and discussion
18:00-19:00 Dinner
19:30-20:30 Student Pitch 6

Friday October 26;

07:30-08:45 Breakfast + cleaning up
09:00-10:30 Brainstorm session: novel ideas and research questions
10:30-11:00 Coffee
11:00-12:30 Brainstorm session: novel ideas and research questions
12:30-13:30 Lunch + cleaning up
13:30-14:30 Cleaning up
14:30-15:30 Tea or simple dinner (soup)
16:30 Boat departure - End of course

General Information

Required Knowledge & Preparation

Course participants need to read some articles that will be made available beforehand and prepare some challenging questions as well as prepare a poster in PDF format on their own work.

Course Material

Please bring your own laptop to the course.

Course Credits



The course will be held in the fieldstation of the University of Groningen, The Herdershut, on Schiermonnikoog.


5 Days; arrival Sunday, start course Monday, course end Friday at 16.00 (Boat departure 16:30).


The registration fee is € 350,- for all participants belonging to the RSEE and co-organizing research schools (e.g., PE&RC, SENSE). All other participants pay € 500,-. This includes lodging, meals, and the course material at the course venue. The reduced course fee is possible due to a contibution of the RUG Winterschool programme and the co-organizing Research Schools. A course flyer is available.


The number of participants is limited to 20.


On line: registration form


Corine Eising
Phone: + 31 (0)50 363 9140
Email: c.m.eising

Last modified:17 June 2019 5.07 p.m.