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prof. dr. T. (Theunis) Piersma

Hoogleraar Trekvogelecologie

Curriculum Vitae Theunis Piersma


Current positions

(1)    Professor of Global Flyway Ecology, Animal Ecology Group, Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Studies (CEES), Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences, University of Groningen, P.O. Box 11103, 9700 CC Groningen, The Netherlands

(2)    Senior Research Scientist and WaddenSea team leader, Department of Marine Ecology, Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ), P.O. Box 59, 1790 AB Den Burg, Texel, The Netherlands;

e-mail: Websites:,;;



  • BSc in Biology-B5 (palaeontology as additional specialization), University of Groningen, 1980
  • MSc in degree Biology, University of Groningen, 1984 (cum laude; upper 3%)
  • PhD in degree Biology, University of Groningen (supervisor: Prof. Dr R.H. Drent), 1994 (cum laude; upper 3%)


Research interests

Habitat selection and distributional ecology; organismal design; marine biology; physiological, behavioural, population and community ecology; evolutionary and molecular ecology; animal migration; evolution. I am a firm adherent of an integrative biology in which the organism in its natural world takes centre stage in the search for evolution-based explanations.


Scientific leadership, managerial and societal responsibilies

  • Head of research group (shorebird work within Animal Ecology Group, University of Groningen: 3 postdocs, 5 PhD students, and over 10 MSc students)
  • Scientific leader of the WaddenSea research team at NIOZ, Texel, managing more than 20 people including 2 research scientists, 5 technicians, 2 postdocs, over 10 PhD students, and several MSc students
  • Founder and co-leader of a worldwide consortium of shorebird scientists, the Global Flyway Network, that is financially supported by BirdLife International and employs 3 researchers in Argentina, Australia and Canada
  • Scientific coordinator/PI/co-PI of 18 national and international research projects
  • Regular advisor of national and international governmental and non-governmental agencies on issues of conservation and management of nature and natural resources, especially in relation to marine wetlands and cultural landscapes


Professional productivity

  • (Co-)authorship of over 330 ISI-recognized publications (with >8000 citations) since 1984, of which 19 have been cited 100 times or more; current H(irsch)-index is 49
  • (Co-)author of 14 books, and >400 contributions to the popular press, working papers, reports and other non-peer-reviewed publications
  • (Co-)advisor of 30 completed PhD theses, and 19 in progress
  • >90 invited and plenary lectures in the last decade


Prizes and awards

  • 1989: Winner of the Herman Klomp Prize for Dutch Ornithology, awarded jointly by Netherlands Ornithologists’ Union, SOVON-Bird Monitoring Netherlands and Vogelbescherming-BirdLife Netherlands (1.5 k€)
  • 1994: Winner of the Dutch National Zoology Prize, awarded by the Netherlands Zoological Society (NDV) (3 k€)
  • 1996: Recipient of the prestigious 5-year PIONIER-award of the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) (0.9 M€)
  • 1998: Elected Corresponding Fellow of the American Ornithologists’ Union
  • 2000: Research award from the Committee for Research and Exploration of National Geographic Society, Washington, D.C., for work on shorebirds in Northwest Australia (an 8-page feature called ‘Tale of the Hot Knot’ featured the Feb. 2003 issue of National Geographic Magazine) (50 kUSD)
  • 2001: Elected as Member of the Fryske Akademy (FrisianAcademy of Arts & Sciences), Ljouwert
  • 2001: A new subspecies of Red Knot from the New Siberian Islands was named Calidris canutus piersmai (by P.S. Tomkovich in the Bulletin of the British Ornithologists’ Club 121: 257-263)
  • 2002: Named as one of the six most promising Dutch scientists (‘Toppers met stip’) in Elsevier Magazine (16 March 2002), on the basis of citation-scores (CWTS, Leiden)
  • 2004: Recipient of the biannual national Prins Bernard Cultuurfonds Prijs voor Natuurbehoud (Dutch Nature Conservation Award from the Prince Bernhard Cultural Fund) (50 k€)
  • 2004: Winner of the Ornithologenpreis of the German Ornithological Society (5k€)
  • 2004: Recipient of the first Luc Hoffmann Medal for Excellence in Science and Conservation, awarded by Wetlands International
  • 2007: Elected Corresponding Member of the German Ornithological Society
  • 2007: Subject of a Dutch National TV documentary based on a prize-winning script by Helmie Stil, called De Wereld is Plat: door de vogelkijker van Theunis Piersma (subtitled in English: The World is Flat, through the telescope of Theunis Piersma), produced by Selfmade Films, Utrecht
  • 2009: Elected member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW, Amsterdam)
  • 2011: Recipient of ALW-NWO TOP-subsidie (‘Shorebirds in space’)


Research mentoring record

Supervisor of 48 PhD projects (2000-present) and ca. 22 postdoc projects (1998-present)


Editorships of scientific journals

  • Editor of Functional Ecology, a journal of the British Ecological Society (2012-present)
  • Editor of Ardea, scientific journal published by the Netherlands Ornithological Union (1996-2004)
  • Editor of Journal of Avian Biology, published by the Nordic Council for Ecology (2001-2013)
  • Editor of Emu, the scientific journal published by Birds Australia (2006-present)
  • Editorial board member of Current Ornithology (Plenum Press, New York; 1996-present)
  • Editorial board member of Journal of Ornithology, published by DOG/Springer (2005-present)
  • Editorial board member of Avian Conservation and Ecology (Canada) (2007-present)
  • Editorial board member of the International Wader Study Group Bulletin and International Wader Studies, the scientific publications of the International Wader Study Group


Former appointments

  • Consultant (Wader & Benthos specialist) with DHV, NEDECO in South Korea, 1984
  • Research biologist at the Rijksdienst voor de IJsselmeerpolders, Lelystad, 1985-1987
  • PhD position in Behavioural Biology, University of Groningen, 1988-1992
  • Temporary contracts as Editor, and Research Biologist at NIOZ, 1993-1996
  • Senior Research Scientist at the Department of Marine Ecology of the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ) (0.9 fte), 1996-2003
  • Assistant professor at the Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Studies, University of Groningen (0.2 fte), 1996-2003
  • From 2003 in Dual roles as Chair of Animal Ecology at University of Groningen (successor to Prof. Rudi H. Drent), and as senior research scientist at NIOZ, 2003-2012
  • Dual roles as Chair in Global Flyway Ecology at University of Groningen and as senior research scientist at NIOZ, 2003-2012



  • Vice-chairperson of the International Wader Study Group (1993-2008)
  • Vice-chairman of the Conseil Scientifique du Banc d’Arguin (Mauritania, 2007-present)
  • Founding member of WIWO (Working group for international wader and waterfowl research)
  • Scientific chair of the Third European Ornithological Congress, Groningen, 2001
  • Member of the Int. Ornithological Committee and Scientific Programme Committee 2002 & 2006
  • Chairman of the Biological Working Association of the Fryske Akademy (2003-2008)
  • Board member of It Fryske Gea (2004-present)
  • Member of the Science Advisory Board of Natuurmonumenten (2006-2011)
  • Member of the RUBICON committee of NWO (2007-2011)
  • Founding member and chairperson of Global Flyway Network, the shorebird ecological demographics and conservation initiative (2006-present)


National and international recognition and diffusion

With the award of a second national prize in Dutch ornithology in 1989, the Dutch Zoology Prize in 1994, the PIONIER award in 1996, and the Prins Bernhard Cultural Fund Prize, the German Ornithologists’ Prize and the first Luc Hoffmann Medal for Excellence in Science and Conservation in 2004, as well as several corresponding memberships of scientific societies, I have had a fair share of national and international recognition. In 2005 our work on food selection and digestive physiology of shorebirds featured prominently in Science (307, 1896-1899), in a Special Section on The Dynamic Gut by Elizabeth Pennisi. The most unique recognition, perhaps, was the trust that BirdLife Netherlands/International put in the quality and conservation relevance of my worldwide research efforts on shorebird demography by endowing several €100k to establish the Global Flyway Network.

      We maintain close research relationships with the Royal Ontario Museum and the University of Toronto (Canada) and Massey University, New Zealand, and work together with many foreign institutions, including Alaska Science Centre of the US Geological Survey in Anchorage (USA), Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology (Ithaca, USA), University of Quebec (Rimouski, Canada), University of Western Australia (Perth), Lund University (Sweden), University of Birmingham (UK), the University of La Rochelle (France), Tour du Valat (France), Universities of Lisbon and Coimbra (Portugal), University of Extremadura (Spain), Estacion Biologica de Donana (Spaoin), and the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology (Germany).

      In our team we always strive to publish as competitively as we can. Given the nature of part of our work (descriptive natural history), many papers are published in the specialized ornithological or marine literature, but wherever we can, we try to reach the best general trade journals such as Journal of Experimental Biology, Proceedings of the Royal Society B and Physiological and Biochemical Zoology. I managed to reach the pages of Nature twice in 2001.


Efforts to inspire young researchers

Since my student days I have had the privilege to stimulate and coach a considerable number of aspiring biologists, and this has gone much beyond professional circles to include the unique amateur science-breed, characteristic of ornithology and entomology. Since the early 1990s, my enthusiasm could be channelled through my roles in the International Wader Study Group. Today, my joint team at NIOZ and RUG is regularly classified by peers as the world’s hot house in shorebird ecology. Of the 29 PhD candidates that I have mentored to completion (with another 19 underway), two graduated cum laude (highest distinction in the Netherlands, top 3%), and all have gone on in research. Many undergraduate students have gone on to do PhDs in many parts of the world and they also remain a source of talent for my own research team.


Books include:

Piersma, T. & van Gils, J.A. (2011). The flexible phenotype. A body-centred integration of ecology, physiology, and behaviour.Oxford: OxfordUniversity Press.

van de Kam, J., Battley, P.F., McCaffery, B.J., Rogers, D.I., Jae-Sang Hong, Moores, N., Ju-Yong Ki, Lewis, J. & Piersma, T. (2010). Invisible connections. Why migrating shorebirds need the Yellow Sea. Melbourne: CSIRO Publishing

Piersma, T. (2006). Waarom nonnetjes samen klaarkomen en andere wonderen van het wad. Utrecht: KNNV Uitgeverij.

Rogers, D.I., Piersma, T., Lavaleye, M., Pearson, G.B., de Goeij, P. & van de Kam, J. (2003). Life along land's edge. Wildlife on the shores of Roebuck Bay, Broome. Perth: Department of Conservation and Land Management.

Rogers, D.I., Piersma, T., Lavaleye, M., Pearson, G.B., de Goeij, P. & van de Kam, J. (2003). Life along land's edge. Wildlife on the shores of Roebuck Bay, Broome. Perth: Department of Conservation and Land Management.

Piersma, T. & van de Kam, J. (2000). Op de vleugels van de wind. Wadvogelverhalen. Abcoude: Uitgeverij Uniepers. (reprint 2008, Hoorn: Uitgeverij Uniepers)

Jukema, J., Piersma, T., Hulscher, J.B., Bunskoeke, E.J., Koolhaas, A. & Veenstra, A. (2001). Golden plovers and wilsternetters: a deeply rooted fascination with migrating birds. Ljouwert/Utrecht: Fryske Akademy/KNNV Uitgeverij.



Invited presentations

More than 90 invited presentations at national and international venues over the last decade, of which the following were the prestigious or special:

Piersma, T. The flexible phenotype, illustrated by organisms from salty and silty environments. Keynote Address, Benelux Congress of Zoology, Wageningen, The Netherlands, 26 October 2005

Piersma, T. Animal ecology: habitat choice and changing numbers of animals in a changing world. Inaugural Lecture, University of Groningen, 21 February 2006

Piersma, T. Using the power of comparison to explain habitat use and migration strategies of shorebirds world-wide. Plenary Lecture, 24th International Ornithological Congress, Hamburg, Germany, 19 August 2006

Piersma, T. World-wide conservation connectors: community involvement in the study of migrant shorebirds under pressure. Symposium in Honour of Heineken Prize laureate Stuart Pimm, WageningenUniversity, 29 September 2006

Piersma, T. The physiology of long-distance migration. Plenary Lecture at the Conference of the American Physiological Society, Virginia Beach Convention Center, USA, 8 October 2006

Piersma, T. What it’s like to be a knot? Towards a cognitive ecology of shorebirds. Witherby Lecture, Annual Conference of the British Trust for Ornithology, Swanwick, UK, 9 December 2006

Piersma, T. Migrating birds as a model system studying gut physiology. Opening Address at Congress on Gut microbiota in health and disease, Barbizon Hotel, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 26 April 2007.

Piersma, T. The information of ecology (from the very old to the very young) and the rapid evolution of shorebird flyways. Opening Plenary Lecture Series together with Prof. R.E. Ricklefs, Annual Scientific Conference of the Netherlands Ecological Research Network, Lunteren, 10 February 2009

Piersma, T. Why marathon migrants have high ‘metabolic ceilings’? Towards an ecology of physiological restraint.Journal of Experimental symposium on The Biology of Energy Expenditure, Mürren, Switzerland, 29 March 2010

Piersma, T. How shorebirds connect the world: Shorebird migration as a representation of a globally interconnected ecology. Opening plenary at Alaska Bird Conference 2010, Anchorage, AK, 16 November 2010


Research expeditions

Over my career I was (co-)leader of ca. 40 separate research expeditions to over 17 countries on all continents except Antarctica. This included the following: - June-July 1999: participant in the Swedish Tundra Northwest Expedition, crossing the northwest passage by Canadian icebreaker; - January-April 2000: Tracking 2000: expeditionary work on the movements and ecophysiology of arctic migrants in the tropics of Northwest Australia (funded by National Geographic Society, Washington, DC); - August-September 2005: participant of the Swedish-American-Russian Beringia expedition, with fieldwork in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta and the Alaska Peninsula; - November-December 2004-2013: annual winter expeditions to study the demography of shorebirds and intertidal ecology at Banc d’Arguin, Mauritania.


Media exposure

I am a regular contributor to radio programs on science and nature conservation, and have now featured in over 20 TV documentaries in The Netherlands, Australia, Canada, and the UK, including a dedicated 1 hr documentary on Dutch National TV (NPS - Uur van de Wolf) based on a prize-winning script by Helmie Stil, called De Wereld is Plat: door de vogelkijker van Theunis Piersma (undertitled: The World is Flat, through the telescope of Theunis Piersma).

Laatst gewijzigd:25 juni 2022 14:37