Wetenschap - 22 november 2001

English Summary

The reorganisations which have taken place in recent years are beginning to take their toll on personnel at DLO, the research institutes of Wageningen UR.

TNO-arbeid carried out a study among 67 percent of the staff, and concluded that work stress has increased and the feeling of involvement is declining. The most frequently heard complaint is that those in charge pay too little attention to personnel, and too much to the financial side. Those who feel the most pressure are the managers and scientific staff. The most noticeable conclusion in the report is that while most members of staff are very committed to their own research and department, they feel little involvement with the larger institutes. This is especially the case at Plant Research International, ID-Lelystad, ATO and IMAG. The report, which will be discussed soon by the executive board with directors of the expertise groups, contains a number of recommendations for improving the situation. Most of these are related to the decision-making process and communication surrounding this in the various institutes.

While stress among humans may be a problem for Wageningen UR researchers, at ID-Lelystad they believe that ensuring a pig has the right diet may help to lower stress hormone levels.

Dr Sietse Jan Koopmans found that adding the amino acid tryptophan to the pigs' diet made the animals calmer and less depressed, as it encouraged the brain to make more of the hormone serotonin. Samples of blood, saliva and urine all showed a decrease in three stress hormones. The question remains however, whether adding tryptophan to feed removes the cause of the stress. If this is not the case then the new feed does not contribute to improved wellbeing for the pigs. On the other hand the tryptophan may alter the way the pig reacts to its environment, and therefore has no need to make extra stress hormones. Research continues on what are the most suitable times to give pigs this kind of food.

The International Soil Reference and Information Centre (ISRIC) is about to join Wageningen UR.

Commonly referred to as the 'soil museum', the 35-year-old institute has a collection of soil profiles from the whole world. It is the world data centre for soil information and also trains people on management, use and maintenance of soils. ISRIC Director Dr Roel Oldeman explains that joining Wageningen UR makes sense for the organisation that previously fell under the Dutch ministry of education. ISRIC will maintain its independence, but will be placed within the Environmental Sciences expertise group. The long-term plan is to integrate with Alterra, so that both collections of soil maps can be combined in internet-cafe form.

Researchers from Wageningen University, G?ttingen University and the Instituto Venezolano de Investigaci?n Cient?fico believe that the forests of southeastern Venezuela are turning gradually into savannah.

Insufficient root formation makes the trees extra susceptible to drought. The team of geologists and foresters did research in Canaima, the largest nature reserve in Venezuela, and discovered that some of the biggest tree types had very shallow roots. In dry periods these trees die off the quickest and regrowth is also a problem, which is due to a lack of calcium in the soil. As a result, typical savannah vegetation, such as thorny bushes, cactus and acacia, is taking over.

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