Nieuws - 3 november 2011

At last: a new chair of Behavoural Biology

The new Behavioural Ecology 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.

Marc Naguib
The 2005 decision led to an outcry. 'Incomprehensible that Wageningen does not want to support education and research on ethology', said the chair of the Dutch Association for Behavioural Biology in the academic journal Bionews. Two years later students noticed that the closure was affecting their programme too.
Six years down the line, the new Behavioural Ecology chair group is therefore very welcome, certainly among those on the Animal Sciences, Biology and Forest & Nature Management programmes. Naguib warns against unrealistic 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.'
Public debate
Naguib, who starts on 1 December, 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. A subject on which he gained several years of experience in Germany, particularly in relation to laying hens. 'We will certainly contribute to the public debate, but that will not be the central issue.' In the first instance at least, 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 Universität in Berlin and went on to get his PhD at the University of North Carolina in the United States.
Centre for animal welfare
Marc Naguib's Behavioural Ecology chair group will form part of the Centre for Animal Welfare and Adaptation (CAWA) established in May. The centre concentrates on research on animal welfare in the livestock sector, says co-initiator Bas Kemp, professor of Adaptive Physiology. A typical research question would be housing for sows after giving birth. Kemp sees Naguib's expertise on social behaviour as a big gain.

Besides uniting the groups doing behavioural research, CAWA's combination of applied and fundamental research give it a competitive edge. ‘We are still working on spreading it further', says Kemp. The centre started last year as a collaboration between his group and the department of Animal Welfare at Wageningen Livestock Research in Lelystad. As well as Naguib, Bart Gremmen, the recently appointed professor of Ethics in the Life Sciences, is involved in the centre.