University of Groningen ecologist Theunis Piersma is one of the lucky recipients of a Spinoza Prize 2014. He has been awarded the highest science prize in the Netherlands for his research on migratory birds. He will invest the prize money, € 2.5 million, in research on the influence of the environment on the migratory behaviour of knots, godwits and spoonbills.
Piersma studied at and gained his PhD from the University of Groningen. In 2003 he was appointed Professor of Animal Ecology. One of his working areas is the Wadden Sea, but his interest in migratory birds (mainly the knot initially) has taken him all over the world. A subspecies of this bird has even been named after Piersma: Calidris canutus piersmai.
Theunis Piersma has always been a strong advocate of the preservation of the natural environment of the Wadden Sea. He also researches the decline in numbers of meadow birds such as the godwit in the southwestern corner of Friesland, where he lives. On the international front he promotes the preservation of important foraging and short-stop areas for migratory birds, including a huge estuary area in the Yellow Sea near China, which is being threatened by a reclamation scheme.
Piersma was appointed to a new chair in Global Flyway Ecology in 2012, sponsored by a collaboration between the University of Groningen, the Worldwide Fund for Nature and Vogelbescherming Nederland. He has been a member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) since 2009.
The Spinoza Prize money will enable Piersma to research the influence of the environment on the behaviour of migratory birds. In his opinion, the role of genes is heavily overestimated. Together with Jan van Gils, Piersma published the book
The Flexible Phenotype , in which he claims that the environment is what influences the genes.
‘We don’t know much yet about how the lifetimes of birds and migratory birds take shape’, says Piersma. ‘There are definitely hereditary aspects to migration, but throughout their lives birds also learn a lot from each other, and they make their own observations. For example, they react to the circumstances they encounter during their journeys. Technological developments, for example ever smaller transmitters and new satellite and internet technology, now make it possible to follow individual birds or migratory birds throughout their lives.’
More information can be found on the University of Groningen website and in this press release.
Information about the Spinoza Prize is available from NWO. Previous Groningen winners include George Sawatzky (1996), Dirkje Postma (2000) and Ben Feringa (2004).
WEAVE, an ingenious spectrometer with thousands of movable glass fibres, is almost ready for use by astronomers. This has been announced by a team of astronomers and technicians under the leadership of Scott Trager (University of Groningen). The...
Antonis Vakis and Bayu Jayawardhana have been nominated for the 2021 Huibregtsen Prize for their research project ‘Harvesting infinite wave energy with the Ocean Grazer’.
The Dutch Research Council (NWO) has granted an ESI-far grant of over €750,000 to the TeSoP project established by UG researchers
The UG website uses functional and anonymous analytics cookies. Please answer the question of whether or not you want to accept other cookies (such as tracking cookies).
If no choice is made, only basic cookies will be stored. More information