Nieuws - 26 oktober 2011

At last: a chair of Behavioural Biology

Marc Naguib will be appointed professor of the newly established Behavioural Ecology chair group from 1 December. With this appointment, Wageningen university ensures systematic attention to Behavioural Biology in a new form.

The new chair group fills the gap left by the closure of the Ethology chair group in 2005, after years of internal conflict and much coming and going of temporary professors. The 2005 decision led to an outcry. Marcel Visser, chair of the Dutch Association for Behavioural Biology, said in the academic journal Bionews at the time: 'Incomprehensible that Wageningen does not want to support education and research on ethology.' Since then the departments of Animal Ecology in Leiden and Behavioral Ecology in Utrecht have disappeared too, in 2008 and 2011 respectively.
The establishment of a Behavioural Ecology chair group six years on is therefore very welcome, certainly for the Animal Sciences, Biology and Forest & Nature Management programmes. In 2007 biology students were already protesting against the closure, which they said had adversely affected education in spite of guarantees given. Naguib warns against false expectations, though: 'Students should realize that this is not the old ethology group, which focused mainly on farm animals. There is now more of a focus on the behaviour of animals in the wild.'

Content-wise, Naguib wants to concentrate on social behaviour and communication among animals, especially songbirds such as the model great tit. Attention will also be paid to animal welfare in livestock farming. This is a subject on which he has several years of experience in education in Germany. 'In this area we will certainly contribute to the public debate, but that will not be the central issue.' In the first instance, the group plans to work intensively with Adaptive Physiology.
Naguib is currently still working in the Animal Ecology group at the Dutch Institute for Ecology NIOO, where his research topics include great tit behaviour, social networks, the spatial behaviour and song of nightingales, and general patterns in the foraging behaviours of animals. He studied Biology at the Freie Universit├Ąt in Berlin and went on to get his PhD at the University of North Carolina in the United States.