Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Research Fellow, University of Exeter

Originally from the Netherlands (which explains my unpronounceable name!), I obtained my B.Sc. and M.Sc. degrees at Utrecht University (2000-2005). For my M.Sc. thesis research I investigated scent mark communication in stingless bees in Costa Rica and the spread of foraging information through social networks in starlings. The latter work was conducted with Dr. Simon Reader (now at McGill) and Prof. Kevin Laland (University of St. Andrews).

After graduating I moved from Scotland to Canada to do a Ph.D. with Prof. Louis Lefebvre at McGill University (2005-2010). There I started research on another form of social learning, namely vocal learning, in zebra finches (with Prof. Luc-Alain Giraldeau, UQAM) and song sparrows (with Dr. Rindy Anderson, Prof. Steve Nowicki (Duke University) and Prof. Bill Searcy (University of Miami)). I discovered that more complex singers are better problem solvers, but are not generally ‘smarter’ than the singers of simpler songs.

In 2011 I moved back to St. Andrews to conduct further studies on starling social networks with Prof. Laland and Dr. Will Hoppitt. In 2012 I obtained a Rubicon fellowship from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) to study the effects of developmental stress on later social behaviour in quail and zebra finches with Dr. Karen Spencer (University of St. Andrews). In 2015 I was awarded a Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowship to study the developmental drivers of avian social network positions. I was briefly based at Oxford University’s Edward Grey Institute before moving the fellowship here.

I am generally interested in the evolution and ecology of cognition and social behaviour. Thus far I have studied quite a diverse array of topics, ranging from insect communication to bird song learning and mate choice for cognitive traits, the existence of a "general cognitive ability", to social learning and the spread of information through animal groups. I am currently focussing on how developmental factors affect (social) information use, social network positions and proxies of fitness, using both wild and captive birds as my model systems. I am also investigating how group composition affects cognitive performance and fitness proxies in fish. I greatly enjoy collaborative research projects with colleagues at the University of Cambridge Zoology Department, the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology and the University of Oxford Edward Grey Institute, and am always open to new collaborations.

Experience

  • 2016–present
    Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Research Fellow, University of Exeter
  • 2015–2016
    Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Research Fellow, University of Oxford
  • 2011–2015
    Research Fellow in Behavioural Ecology, University of St Andrews

Education

  • 2011 
    McGill University, Canada, PhD in Behavioural Ecology