How different can you get?: trait diversity in soil animals

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Species differ in body size, colour, food choice, position in the habitat and many other traits. Species-specific trait values can be relevant to explain interactions between species, such as competition and predation, or the impact of species on ecosystems, such as on plant biomass or litter decomposition. Species in a community can inhibit or facilitate each other depending on how similar or different they are in their traits. Invasion of alien species or extinction of rare species can be understood if we can compare their trait values with other species in the community.

There is a lack of information on species-specific traits that are highly relevant to understand the co-existence of species in communities, such as body size, diet composition, habitat choice or traits that relate to the stability of communities such as drought tolerance and cold tolerance (i.e. community resistance) or time of reproduction, number of eggs laid and growth rate of juveniles (i.e. community resilience). In this internship you will collect soil animals, i.e. springtails, woodlice or millipedes, directly from the field and measure one particular trait. The obtained species-specific values are added to a trait database, or a trait database will be constructed, and will be used to calculate ecological or functional differences between species. With this information on trait differences specific question can be addressed that relate to species co-existence or community stability in experiment for which we have detailed species data.


  • Sampling many species in the field
  • Measuring relevant traits, e.g. desiccation rate, walking speed, food choice
  • Construct a trait database and calculate the ecological differences between species
  • Perform phylogenetic regression analysis on traits

Supervision and information

Dr. Matty Berg (Room H159, W&N building, Vrije Universiteit)
Phone: +31 (0)20 – 59 87077

Prof. Dr. Jacintha Ellers (Room H-141, W&N building, Vrije Universiteit)
Phone: +31 (0)20 – 59 87076