My name is Rens Vaessen. I’m a PhD candidate at the Ecology and Biodiversity group at Utrecht University, and I just started my 4th year (of 5 in total) of my project, and the 32nd year of my life. My project is about the effect of hunting on the tree composition of tropical forests. Animals are important for seed dispersal, but simultaneously the also eat and destroy seeds and seedlings. Hunting induced loss of animals may thus change forest composition.
I look at it from an functional trait perspective. The idea is that animals have preferences for specific fruits and leaves, and thus that the loss of specific animal species affects the survival chances of specific tree species. With my project I want to 1) find out if hunting induced animal loss affects the functional (trait) composition of the forests on a regional scale , 2) find out which functional traits are the best predictors for changes in composition and 3) develop a model to predict seedling and sapling composition based on the adult composition and the animal communities.
The last two years I have done a lot of data collecting in French Guiana, which has been amazing. Tropical forests never get boring! But I’m now looking forward to work with all the data I have collected.