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prof. dr. H. (Han) Olff

Professor of Community and Conservation Ecology
Profielfoto van prof. dr. H. (Han) Olff
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+31 50 36 32214 (office: +31 50 363 6133)

Short Curriculum Vitae Han Olff


My research focus is understanding the structure and functioning of diverse communities and ecosystems, with special attention on how plants, herbivores, predators and decomposers interact in both marine and terrestrial ecosystems. A long line of my research involves the unravelling how, when and where vertebrate herbivores promote the diversity of plants (Trends Ecol Evol 1998, Nature Ecol Evol 2018) and more recently also that of invertebrates (Biol Rev 2015). A related long line of investigation is on the determinants of the coexistence of different-sized herbivores in savanna ecosystems along rainfall and soil fertility gradients (Nature 1999, Science 2002, Oikos 2011, J Anim Ecol 2014, Oecologia 2014, Science 2019).

I discovered that top-down (predation) and bottom-up (food-related) forces in savanna food webs are strongly interconnected (Trends Ecol Evol 2010, Ecology 2010, J Anim Ecol 2012), which helps understanding migratory movements of large herbivores (Ecol Monogr 2014). I published the first full description of the aboveground food web of the Serengeti ecosystem, including its vulnerability to species extinctions (J Anim Ecol 2011) and used the relatively simple salt marsh ecosystem to unravel the interplay of green and brown  food webs (Ecology 2012, Ecosystems 2013, J Anim Ecol 2017). This led to the novel proposition of autocatalytic loops in ecosystems (Ecol Monogr 2018), following my explanation of the coexistence of herbivore- and detritivore-dominated patches in ecosystems (Ecol Monogr 2017).

I pioneered how to mix different types of ecological interactions, as predation, seed dispersal and ecosystem engineering in parallel, multilayer interaction networks (Phil Trans Roy Soc B 2009), a theme further developed in the current proposal. This motivated me to study how ecosystem engineers in intertidal ecosystems, as lugworms, mussels, seagrasses and saltmarsh plants, strongly drive food web structure and biodiversity (Science 2012, Phil Trans Roy Soc B 2015). This mirrors the ecosystem engineering effects of large grazers in savannas, where I found that their non-trophic effect on soil compaction is at least as important as their trophic impacts through biomass removal (Oecologia 2013, Persp Ecol Evol Sys 2013, J Ecol 2014, Ecol Monogr 2017).

I have made contributions to the advancement of various types of new ecological theory: metabolic theory (Funct Ecol 2008, Ecol Lett 2012); theory of ecological self-organization (Proc Roy Soc B 2012); speciation theory (Oikos 2007, Interface focus 2012); community assembly theory (Ecol Lett 2004, J Ecol 2011, Ecology 2012, Ecology 2015); and foraging theory (Oikos 2012).

From 2015-2019 I led a large collaborative effort to understand complex human-wildlife interactions across protected area boundaries in teh Serengeti-Mara ecosystem, where we showed how growing human populations around even very large protected areas increasingly affect the ecological functioning at their core (Science 2019).



For full list of publications, see

To 1 aug 2019, I have published 180 journal articles, edited 1 book and wrote 12 book chapters, including:


  1. Veldhuis, M.P., Ritchie, M.E., Ogutu, J.O., Morrison, T.A., Beale, C.M., Estes, A.E. Mwakilema, W. Ojwang. O., Parr, C.L. Probert, J., Wargute, P.W., Hopcraft, J.G.C. & Olff, H. (2019) Cross-boundary human impacts compromise the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem. Science 363, 1424-1428 (IF: 41.1, citations: 4)
  2. Veldhuis, M. P. Kihwele,E.S., Cromsigt, J. P. G. M., Ogutu, J. O., Hopcraft, J. G. C., Owen-Smith, N. and Olff, H. (2019) Large herbivore assemblages in a changing climate: incorporating water dependence and thermoregulation. Ecology Letters, early online (IF: 8.7, citation: 0)
  3. Veldhuis, M. P., Berg, M. P., Loreau, M., & Olff, H. (2018). Ecological autocatalysis: A central principle in ecosystem organization? Ecological Monographs, 88, 304-319. (IF: 7.8, citations: 3)
  4. van der Zee, E.M., Angelini, C., Govers, L.L., Christianen, M.J.A., Altieri, A.H., van der Reijden, K.J., Silliman, B.R., Koppel, J., van der Geest, M., van Gils, J.A., van der Veer, H.W., Piersma, T., de Ruiter, P.C., Olff, H.* & van der Heide, T. (2016). How habitat-modifying organisms structure the food web of two coastal ecosystems. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 283, 20152326 (*corresponding author). (IF: 5.7, citations: 25)
  5. van Klink, R., van der Plas, F., van Noordwijk, C. G. E. T., WallisDeVries, M. F., & Olff, H. (2015). Effects of large herbivores on grassland arthropod diversity. Biological Reviews, 90, 347-366. (IF 10.3, citations: 121)
  6. Schrama, M., Berg, M. P. & Olff, H. (2012) Ecosystem assembly rules: the interplay of green and brown webs during salt marsh succession. Ecology 93, 2353–2364 (IF 4.3, citations: 44)
  7. Van der Heide T, Govers LL, De Fouw J, Olff H, Van der Geest M, Van Katwijk MM, Piersma T, Van de Koppel J, Silliman BR, Smolders AJP and Van Gils JA (2012). A three-stage symbiosis forms the foundation of seagrass ecosystems. Science 336: 1432-1434 (IF: 41.1, citations: 132)
  8. Hopcraft JGC, Olff H. and Sinclair ARE 2010. Herbivores, resources and risks: alternating regulation along primary environmental gradients in savannas. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 25: 119-128. (IF: 15.9, citations: 236)
  9. Grace, J. B., Anderson, T. M., Olff, H., & Scheiner, S. M. (2010). On the specification of structural equation models for ecological systems. Ecological Monographs, 80, 67–87 (IF: 7.8, citations: 399, classified as highly cited paper by Web of Science = top 1% paper regarding citations in an ISI category)
  10. Olff H, Alonso D, Berg MP, Eriksson BK, Loreau M, Piersma T and Rooney N 2009. Parallel ecological networks in ecosystems. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 364:1755-1779. (IF: 5.7, citations: 135)



Date of birth:                            5 March 1962

Nationality:                                           Dutch

Researcher unique identifier(s):


Google Scholar link:        



1992                             PhD, Biology, cum laude (upper 3%), Univ. of Groningen, NL

1988                             MSc, Biology, University of Groningen, The Netherlands



2002 – now           Professor of Community and Conservation Ecology, Groningen Institute for Evolutionary Life Sciences, University of Groningen, the Netherlands



1999–2002            Associate Professor, Resource Ecology group, Wageningen University, NL

2004–1999            Assistant Professor, Nature Conservation and Plant Ecology group, Wageningen University, The Netherlands

2002–2004            Postdoc, Centre for Agrobiological Research, Wageningen University, NL



2017 – now         Member, Assessment committee Promotion faculty members to tenured positions, Faculty of Science & Engineering, Univ. of Groningen

2016 – now         Member, Human Resources Management Team, Groningen Institute for Evolutionary Life Sciences, University of Groningen

2011 – 2015        Director, Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Studies (CEES), Univ. Groningen

2007 – 2010        Chair of the Board, CEES, University of Groningen



2006                   Gold Medal, Teyler Museum, Haarlem, for ‘contributions to using ecological theory for understanding, preserving and sustainably using biodiversity’.

2002                   PIONIER Award, Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research, enabling the project: “Towards a predictive theory of community structure and biodiversity based on scaling laws”.


MAJOR GRANTS (for collaborative grants, amounts are for my group only)

In addition to the below, I have received six externally funded competitive research grants for six PhD students totalling 1.6 m€

2019:           WaddenMosaic: towards a rich seafloor of Wadden Sea, Waddenfonds, 1.1 m€ Co-PI

2018:                Securing the ecological integrity of the Bijagos archipelago as a key site for waders along the East Atlantic Flyway, MAVA, 0.3 m€ Co-PI

2016:           DIstribution, StruCture and functioning of LOw-resilience benthic communities and habitats of the Dutch North SEa (DISCLOSE), Gieskes-Strijbis Fund:  0.4 m€ Co-PI

2016:           Ecological restoration of the island of Griend, Waddenfonds, Province of Friesland, Natuurmonumenten and the OBN program, 0.7 m€ PI (science component)

2015:           EU Horizon 2020, AfricanBioServices: Linking biodiversity, ecosystem functions and services in the Great Serengeti-Mara Ecosystem (GSME) - drivers of change, causalities and sustainable management strategies. 1.1 m€ Co-PI and WP Leader

2015:                Adaptive Life Program, Groningen Institute for Evolutionary Life Sciences, University of Groningen (competitive funding). 10.5 m€ PI (stimulation grant for the whole institute, acquired as the institute’s director)

2008:           WaddenSleutels: Restoration of key ecological processes in the Wadden Sea intertidal zone, Dutch Waddenfonds. 0.6 m€ PI Science component

2002:           Towards a predictive theory of community structure and biodiversity based on scaling laws. NWO Dutch PIONIER Grant. 1.6 m€ PI


1990 – present             Supervised 58 master students successfully to completion

1996 – present             Supervised 26 PhD students successfully to completion

2005 – present             Coached and mentored 10 postdocs

Current                       (Co-)supervisor of 9 PhD students and 1 postdoc


TEACHING ACTIVITIES (Current Courses Only)

Conservation Biology (BSc, 5 ECTS, coordinator & main lecturer), Ecological Research Skills (MSc, 10 ECTS, coordinator & only lecturer), Advanced Population and Community Ecology (MSc, 5 ECTS, main lecturer)



2017 – now         Founding Member, Dutch National Plan for Biodiversity Restoration “Deltaplan Biodiversiteitsherstel”

2016 – now         Member, Scientific Advisory Board, Oostvaardersplassen Nature Reserve, NL

2016  – now        Member, Scientific Advisory Board, Royal Netherlands Inst. for Sea Research, NL

2015 – now         Member of the Board, Ark Natuurontwikkeling (Rewilding Netherlands), NL

2014 – now         Member of the Board, World Wildlife Fund (WWF), The Netherlands

2007 – now         Founding Board Member, Netherlands Ecological Research Network

2017 –2019         Founding Council Member, Origins Centre, a national center for the study of the origins and evolution of life, planets and the universe

2014 – 2018        Member, Scientific Advisory Board, Parc National du Banc d’Arguin

2014 – 2017        Member of the Board, Kroondomein het Loo, the Netherlands

2014 – 2016        Member, Natural Environment Panel, National Trust, UK

2014 – 2016        Associate member, Dutch National Council for the Environment and Infrastructure (Raad voor de Leefomgeving - Rli)

2010 – 2011        Commission member, “A national strategic exploration of reformulation of research priorities of academic institutions in the field of Biology in the Netherlands”

2009-2010          Member, Second International Commission on the Management of the Oostvaardersplassen (ICMO2)



1998- now          Editorial board member, Acta Ecologica (1998-99), reviewer for Science, Ecology, Ecology Letters, Journal of Ecology, Journal of Applied Ecology, Oikos



2008-2019          Board Member, Netherlands Annual Ecology Meeting, Lunteren, The Netherlands

2019                   Member, Organization committee, conference “Linking Biodiversity, Ecosystem Functions and Services in Serengeti-Mara Region, East Africa”, Arusha, Tanzania

2002                   Member, Organization committee, conference "Towards an ecology based on first principles: body size, temperature and stoichiometry", Santa Fe, USA.

1997                   Member organization committee, British Ecological Society/Netherlands Ecology Society conference ‘Herbivores: between plants and predators’, Wageningen, NL

1994 – 1999        Chair, organizing committee, Working group Terrestrial Ecology annual conference, Lunteren, The Netherlands



2011-2019          Leader, biannual 3-4 week expeditions to the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem, to study the ecology and human-wildlife interactions of this ecosystem.

2017, 2019          Leader, 2x expeditions of 3wks to the Bijagos Archipelo, Guinea Bissau, to study ecology of mangrove forests, intertidal mudflats & subtidal foodwebs

2002-2014          Leader, biannual 3-4 week expeditions to Hluhluwe-iMfolozi park, Sth Africa, to study savanna ecology, incl. a range of field experiments on the interplay of fire and wildlife grazing on vegetation dynamics and ecosystem processes

2008 – 2018        Leader, annual- to biannual expedition to the Banc d’Arguin coastal ecosystem, Mauretania to study the ecology and conservation of intertidal seagrass-dominated mudflats, including experiments on the interplay of birds, seagrasses and benthos.



External collaborators involving joint supervision of PhD students and postdocs, and/or joint research projects: Dr. Grant Hopcraft (Glasgow), Dr. Joseph Ogutu (Hohenheim), Prof. Mark Ritchie (Syracuse), Prof. Leon Lamers (Nijmegen), Prof. Johan van de Koppel (Yerseke), Prof. Jan van Gils (Texel), Prof. Tjeerd Bouma (Yerseke), Prof. Matty Berg (Amsterdam),  Dr. Liesbeth Bakker (Wageningen), Prof. Wim van der Putten (Wageningen), Prof. Eivin Roskaft (Trondheim), Prof. Bente Graa (Trondheim), Prof. Martin Nielsen (Copenhagen), Dr. Bernard Bett (Nairobi), Dr. Anna Estes (Arusha), Prof. Norman Owen-Smith (Pretoria).



2019:      Plenary keynote: The future of savanna ecosystems under a growing human population. TAWIRI Conference on East African Ecology and Conservation, Arusha, Tanzania, 4-5 Dec

2019:      Invited presentation: The organization of savanna interaction networks in multiple dimensions, 44th New Phytologist Symposium, Accra, Ghana, 7-9 August

2018:      Plenary keynote, Understanding multilayer networks of species interactions in a changing world., Netherlands Annual Ecology Meeting, Lunteren, NL, 12-13 Feb

2017:      Plenary keynote Ecosystem structure and conservation of Banc d’ Arguin. International workshop on the ecology of the Banc d’Arguin ecosystem, Iwik, Mauretania, 16-19 jan

2017:      Presentation Decoupled biodiversity and functional dynamics of green and brown food web components during 100 years of ecosystem assembly. Annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America, Portland OR, USA, 7-11 Aug

2017:      Invited presentation Sustaining human benefits from nature in a face of a growing population. TAWIRI Conference on East African Ecology and Conservation, Arusha, Tanzania, 6-8 Dec

2016:      Presentation Novel grazing ecosystems. Annual conference of the Ecological Society of America, Fort Lauderdale FL, 8-12 Aug

2016:      Plenary Keynote The Bijagos ecosystem in the context of the East Atlantic flyway. Workshop on the ecology and conservation of the Bijagos, Bissau, Guinea Bissau, 28 nov – 1 Dec

2015       Plenary keynote How biodiversity enables different ecosystem services along landscape gradients. TAWIRI Conference on East African Ecology and Conservation, Arusha, Tanzania, 4-5 Dec



Past PhDs and Postdocs include:  T. Michael Anderson, Assoc. Prof., Wake Forest Univ., USA (NWO VENI laureate), Elisabeth S. Bakker, Researcher NIOO NL, Mariska te Beest, Assis. Prof. Utrecht Univ., NL; Joffre Carnicer Cos, Prof. Univ. Barcelona, Spain (NWO VENI laureate); Joris P.G.M. Cromsigt, Assoc. Prof. Umea Univ., Sweden, Rampal S. Etienne, Prof. Univ. Groningen, NL (NWO VIDI & VICI grant laureate); Carol Ximena Garzón López, Assist. Prof. Universidad de los Andes, Colombia; Laura L. Govers, Assist. Prof, Univ. Groningen, NL  (NWO VENI grant laureate); Tjisse van der Heide, Prof. Univ. Groningen & Researcher NIOZ, NL (NWO VENI & VIDI Laureate, Heineken Junior Award winner); Patrick A. Jansen, Assoc. Prof., Wageningen Univ. (NWO VENI laureate);  Quan-Xing Liu, Prof. East China Normal University Alejandro Ordonez Gloria, Assist. Prof. Aarhus Univ., Denmark; Maarten Schrama, Assist. Prof. Leiden Univ., NL; Michiel P. Veldhuis, Assist. Prof. Leiden Univ, NL (Harper Price laureate)




IMPACT (Google Scholar)

Total citations: 15,549    H-index: 68     i10-index: 171

Trend of number of citations per year (Google Scholar)

Last modified:25 June 2022 2.37 p.m.