Posted by: oikosasa | November 28, 2012

New Editor: Matty P. Berg

Let me introduce you to our new Subject Editor, Dr. Matty P. Berg, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

– What gets me out of bed every morning is the question what determines the diversity and composition of soil fauna communities, Matty says.

 What’s you main research focus at the moment?

My research focuses on the role of trait diversity in community and ecosystem ecology and can be divided in two major research areas.The first focal point is on the role of traits, both inter- and intra-specific, for the regulation of community structure. I measure functional traits of soil fauna, especially terrestrial isopods and springtails and use field experiments and trait analysis to study temporal and spatial changes in soil invertebrate community composition, at a hierarchy of spatial scales. The second focal point is on the role of traits in ecosystem ecology.This focal point comprises work on the role of trait diversity, both on a  species and community level, for the regulation of ecosystem processes. I measure traits and conduct experiments to understand how environmental variation influences ecosystem processes, trough alteration of species composition and interactions, using a response-to-effect trait framework. More recently I start to get interested in the importance of trait variability and plasticity in these research areas.

Can you describe you research career? Where, what, when?

I have studied Biology at the University of Amsterdam, with a major in Ecology, Biogeography and Taxonomy (1988-1992). During my internship I have studied the effect of changes in springtail abundance on the fat storage in carabid beetles and their reproductive output in coniferous forests. I did my PhD at the VU University, Amsterdam on the effects of enhanced atmospheric nitrogen deposition on soil food web structure and how changes in food web composition affect C and N dynamics in soils (1992-97). After that I did a Post-Doc at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (Uppsala, Sweden) where I studied how competition between two functional groups of Basidiomycete fungi effected wood decomposition (1997-98). About 1.5 years later I returned to the VU university were I was appointed for five years as a Royal Dutch Science Academy-fellow. During this period I studied the effects of species richness and composition on the resilience of springtail communities to extreme events and the role of species composition of macro-detritivores for litter decomposition  (1999-2004). Since then I have an appointment as an Assistant professor (till 2011) and currently as an Associated professor in Soil Community Ecology. My main focus is currently on spatial ecology and on functional diversity.

How come that you became a scientist in ecology?

I am a true field ecologist. Already when I was young my main interest were found outdoors. My grandfather took me out to the Dutch polders on Wednesdays and introduced me to hares, wetlands birds and aquatic life. I guess like most scientists I started with birds and plants and was wondering why species occur where they do. The reason why I took up Biology was that I wanted to know how the natural world around me works. How are natural communities maintained? How do all these species interact? What is determining their composition? This question still lays behind most of the projects I am currently working on or are involved in. I have a second interest in the taxonomy and systematics of soil fauna, but during my BsC it became clear that career wise this was not the avenue to take. This is something I keep for my spare time.

What do you do when you’re not working?

To be honest the line between work and hobby is very thin. Natural history is my passion and in my spare time I can be found outdoors looking down for soil animals (or up for birds). I am a member of the European Invertebrate Survey, a society that aims to increase the knowledge on the distribution, ecology and protection of invertebrates. The society is based at the Naturalis Biodiversity Centre, Leiden where I am an associated researcher. As co-ordinator of the isopods, centipedes, millipedes, and collembolans survey groups  I make regular field surveys all over the country, study museum collections, describe new species for the Dutch fauna, make identification keys and try to make others interested in the wonderful world of soil critters. But I can also appreciate good music, nice food, and I am a sucker for a good glass of single malt whiskey to be consumed  in company of friends or colleagues.

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