Raoul Van Oosten

Raoul Van Oosten


I am fascinated by the interplay between ecological and evolutionary processes, and aim to gain an understanding of how genes and environment shape life history, behaviour and population structure. I study the evolutionary ramifications of ecosystem engineering.

Ecosystem engineers modify their physical, abiotic environment, thereby facilitating other species (e.g., beavers constructing dams facilitate the occurrence of all kinds of fish and aquatic plants). If these modifications also alter selection pressure on the engineers, they are extended phenotypes (beavers experience lower predation pressure in the lake they created). It has recently been argued that this feedback is cyclical: organisms produce their own selective environment. Yet, not much is known about the evolutionary component of ecosystem engineering.

I use salt marshes as a model, and investigate how environmental drought stress affects genetic and phenotypic adaptation of the amphipod Orchestia gammarellus, which is indispensable for soil development. Orchestia is sensitive to desiccation, and climate change has led to more extreme dry spells. However, it is unknown how this affects Orchestia adaptive capacity, and what the consequences thereof are for ecosystem processes. Salt marshes carry out many important functions, and insight in this system may inform predictions of salt marsh sustainability in the future.

Selected Publications

Van Oosten AR, Heylen DJA, Jordaens K, Backeljau T, Matthysen E (2014). Population genetic structure of the tree-hole tick Ixodes arboricola (Acari: Ixodidae) at different spatial scales. Heredity 113: 408–415.

Van Oosten AR, Heylen DJA, Elst J, Philtjens S, Matthysen E (2016). An experimental test to compare potential and realised specificity in ticks with different ecologies. Evolutionary Ecology 30: 487-501.

Dias ATC, Berg MP, de Bello F, Van Oosten AR, Bílá K, Moretti M (2013). An experimental framework to identify community functional components driving ecosystem processes and services delivery. Journal of Ecology 101: 29–37.

Van Oosten AR, Heylen DJA, Matthysen E (2016). Mating strategies and multiple paternity, assessed by microsatellites, of the dispersal-limited, ectoparasitic tree-hole tick Ixodes arboricola. International Journal for Parasitology 46: 593-602.