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KNAW Early Career Award for ecologist Michiel Veldhuis

Curiosity is the driving force behind the research of ecologist Michiel Veldhuis. The associate professor investigates ecosystems in relation to climate change in the savannahs of Africa. More and more, he is also looking at social factors such as the influence of population growth. The KNAW rewards his innovative research with the Early Career Award of 15,000 euros.

Back to Africa

Veldhuis attributes his interest in Africa mainly to the fact that he was born there. ‘In Zambia, to be precise. I went back there around the age of fifteen and that made a big impression. Furthermore, I always liked to watch documentaries on National Geographic and I always found the African mammals most interesting.’ In the meantime Veldhuis has visited the continent several times, but this time to investigate how climate change affects the relationship between herbivores and predators. For example, he discovered that lions limit their prey, such as gnu and zebra, in their options to adapt to global warming.

Economic development versus nature

Unfortunately, Veldhuis' research is currently largely at a standstill due to the corona crisis. ‘Because of the pandemic, since March I don't have much time for research. Education is taking up all my time.’

But when the time comes, Veldhuis plans to scale up his research . Last March, he and his colleagues published a study in Science on the effects of population growth on Tanzania's natural environment. ‘Unfortunately, economic development for people often has negative consequences for nature. The big question is how we can improve the - often difficult - situation for people, without damaging the surrounding environment. This is also because in the longer term this will have a negative impact on people as well.’

Sustainable development

For this reason, the UN drew up the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals in 2015. Broadly speaking, these are about reducing poverty and improving health, but also about combating the loss of biodiversity. Veldhuis: ‘I am currently setting up a research programme in which we are going to investigate the relationships between these goals. How can we ensure that progress is made on each of the 17 targets, rather than progress in one area at the expense of another? So I suspect that I am becoming more and more a social scientist and less a biologist. But still with the same goal: sustainable development for people and nature.’

KNAW Early Career Award

Twelve young researchers, three from each of KNAW's four science domains, will receive a KNAW Early Career Award. The prize, worth €15,000 and a piece of art, is intended for researchers in the Netherlands who are at the beginning of their careers and have innovative, original research ideas. This is the second year that the KNAW Early Career Awards will be awarded. The winners come from the full width of science.

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