Wouter Halfwerk

Wouter Halfwerk, Assistant Professor


Sensory systems, such as vision or hearing, form the interface between an animal’s interior and exterior environment and their functioning, variability and plasticity is crucial to adapt to a changing world. I want to understand how sensory systems operate, how they evolve and how they mediate ecological interactions. To address these questions I use a highly integrative approach, spanning the fields of sensory ecology, conservation biology, animal communication and evolutionary biology. Historically, most work on sensory biology has taken animals into the lab and applied rigorous techniques to understand how their senses process information. I aim to combine the vast amount of knowledge on sensory biology with evolutionary thinking and I prefer to do this by taking the lab to the field, or when necessary, taking the field into the lab.

This approach allows me to understand the selection pressures acting on, as well as imposed by sensory traits, which I can use to predict whether and how animals adapt to new environments. Most of my work has concentrated on the co-evolution between senders and receivers. Animals emit all sorts of stimuli intentionally (signals) as well as unintentionally (cues) and receivers can perceive these stimuli through a wide range of sensory systems. I study how intended receivers, such as mates or rivals, or unintended receivers, such as predators and parasites perceive these stimuli and how their perception is affected by fluctuating sensory conditions.

Selected Publications

Gomes, DGE, Page RA, Geipel I, Taylor, RC Ryan MJ, Halfwerk W (2016) Bats perceptually weight prey cues across sensory systems when hunting in noise Science. 353: 1277-1280.

Halfwerk W, Lea AM, Guerra M, Page RA, & Ryan MJ. Vocal responses to noise reveal the presence of the Lombard effect in a frog (2016) Behavioral Ecology 27:669-676.

Halfwerk W, Slabbekoorn H. Pollution going multimodal: the complex impact of the human-altered sensory environment on animal perception and performance (2015) Biology Letters. 11:e20141051.

Halfwerk W, Jones PA, Taylor RC, Ryan MJ, Page RA. Risky ripples allow bats and frogs to eavesdrop on a multisensory sexual display (2014) Science.  343:413-416.

Halfwerk W, Bot S, Buikx J, van der Velde M, Komdeur J, ten Cate C, Slabbekoorn H. Low songs lose potency in urban noise conditions (2011) Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 108:14549-14554.

Other Links

Interview for Heineken Young Scientist Award for Environmental Sciences (in Dutch). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HWyaJiJ_MbY&t=6s