Welcome Ellen Decaestecker - New SE

Submitted by editor on 24 September 2021.


We are very happy to have evolutionary ecologist Ellen Decaestecker join our Editorial Board at Oikos! She is a full-time professor at KU Leuven in the Faculty of Science and has been kind enough to present herself in the interview questions below! Take a look!

1. Main research focus:

My research group investigates the ecology, evolution, biodiversity and species interactions, mainly of freshwater ecosystems. A central research line is to study invertebrate host-microbiome interactions, more in particular with respect to environmental stressors (toxic cyanobacteria, pesticides, parasites, microplastics and antibiotics). A wealth of expertise on the biology, ecology, rearing, gene expression and experimental methods of host invertebrates (mainly waterflea Daphnia and snails Biomphalaria) is present. These methods include large-scale laboratory life table experiments, multi-trait phenotyping, resurrection ecology and experimental evolution. We developed germ-free host individuals and microbiome amplicon sequencing and metagenomics expertise. We showed that antibiotics exposure of microbiota and re-inoculation of gut microbiomes have been shown to affect microbiome composition and host performance. Through proof-of-concept gut transplants, we unravelled the role of the microbiome towards cyanobacterial and parasite stress and found genotype specificity of the microbiome influencing host tolerance and effects on the wider bacterial community, especially when using local microbiomes.

2. Can you describe your research career? Where, what, when?

I performed my PhD at the KU Leuven (Belgium) and the University of Basel (Switzerland) on the ecology and evolution of Daphnia-parasite interactions and finished that in 2002. That PhD focused on Red Queen host-parasite coevolutionary dynamics. Afterwards, I performed a postdoc at KU Leuven and Edinburgh University (Centre for Immunity, Infection and Evolution) and finished that in 2008, mainly gaining theoretical and molecular expertise. Afterwards, I became Assistant, Associate and Full Professor (since 2012) at the KU Leuven with a research sabbath at MIVEGEC, IRD/CNRS Montpellier in 2021. I host(ed) five incoming (Marie Curie, FWO and SNF) postdocs and guide(d) 15 PhDs, who have all been working on a variety of topics.

More information on these topics can be found on my group page: www.kuleuven-kulak.be/aquaticbiology/EllenDecaestecker  

3. How come that you became a scientist in ecology?

I was fascinated by nature since I was a child, but then really got interested in Biology and Ecology through one of my high school teachers. When I was doing Biology, the Ecology and Diversity classes interested me the most and during my master thesis I became fascinated by freshwater ecology. Looking back to it, I have always been most fascinated by environments with water, so it is no surprise I ended up starting an Aquatic Ecology lab and teaching what I love the most: Animal Biology & Diversity and Ecology & Evolution courses.

4. What do you do when you're not working?

Playing tennis, jogging, biking, swimming, talking to my three kids and playing guitar.


Twitter: @ellendecaesteck