Background and activities

Our research focuses on terrestrial ecosystems and is situated at the interface between community ecology and evolutionary biology. We study interactions among genotypes and species as well as the evolutionary consequences of these interactions. We also investigate how communities respond to environmental change, both via plasticity and evolution, and how they affect ecosystem functions and services. As terrestrial communities consist of an inextricable above- and belowground component, much of our work integrates patterns and processes on both sides of the soil surface.

We are currently testing how changes in communities affect the evolution of plant defenses under climate change, using crop wild relatives such as woodland strawberry and wild cabbage. An applied aspect of our work is the search in wild plant species for heritable traits conferring resistance to both biotic and abiotic stressors, which may have been lost in related cultivars. Other ongoing research focuses on the effect of soil community composition on greenhouse gas cycling and on the role of plant-soil feedbacks in habitat conservation and restoration.


Hertzog L. R., Vandegehuchte M. L., Dekeukeleire D., Dekoninck W., de Smedt P., van Schrojenstein Lantman I., Proesmans W., Baeten L., Bonte D., Martel A., Verheyen K., Lens L. 2021. Mixing of tree species is especially beneficial for biodiversity in fragmented landscapes, without compromising forest functioning. Journal of Applied Ecology 58: 2903–2913.

Bonte D., Batsleer F., Provoost S., Reijers V., Vandegehuchte M. L., Van De Walle R., Dan S., Matheve H., Rauwoens P., Strypsteen G., Suzuki T., Verwaest T. &Hillaert J. 2021. Biomorphogenic feedbacks and the spatial organization of a dominant grass steer dune development. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution 9: 761336.

Fitzpatrick B. R., Baltensweiler A., Düggelin C., Fraefel M., Freitag A., Vandegehuchte M. L., Wermelinger B & Risch A.C. 2021. The distribution of a group of keystone species is not associated with anthropogenic habitat disturbance. Diversity and Distributions 27: 572–584.

Zhang P., Bonte D., De Deyn G. B. & Vandegehuchte M. L. 2021. Leachates from plants recently infected by root-feeding nematodes cause increased biomass allocation to roots in neighbouring plants. Scientific Reports 11: 2347.

Zhang P., Bonte D., De Deyn G. B. & Vandegehuchte M. L. 2020. Belowground plant-plant signaling of root infection by nematodes. Pedobiologia 83: 150688.

Batsleer F., Bonte D., Dekeukeleire D., Goossens S., Poelmans W., Van der Cruyssen E., Maes D. & Vandegehuchte M. L. 2020. The neglected impact of tracking devices on terrestrial arthropods. Methods in Ecology and Evolution 11: 350–361.

Hillaert J., Vandegehuchte M. L., Hovestadt T. & Bonte D. 2020. Habitat loss and fragmentation increase realized predator-prey body size ratios. Functional Ecology 34: 534–544.

van Schrojenstein Lantman I. M., Hertzog L.R., Vandegehuchte M. L., Martel A., Verheyen K., Lens L. & Bonte D. 2020. Forest edges, tree diversity and tree identity change leaf miner diversity in a temperate forest. Insect Conservation and Diversity 13: 44835.

Dekeukeleire D., van Schrojenstein Lantman I. M., Hertzog L., Vandegehuchte M. L., Strubbe D., Vantieghem P., Martel A., Verheyen K., Bonte D. & Lens L. 2019. Avian top-down control affects invertebrate herbivory and sapling growth more strongly than overstorey species composition in temperate forest fragments. Forest Ecology and Management 442: 43709.

Hertzog L., Boonyarittichaikij R., Dekeukeleire D., de Groote S., van Schrojenstein Lantman I., Sercu B., Smith H. K., de la Peña E., Vandegehuchte M. L., Bonte D., Martel A., Verheyen K., Lens L. & Baeten L. 2019. Forest fragmentation modulates effects of tree species richness and composition on ecosystem multifunctionality. Ecology 100: e02635.

Mortier F., Jacob S., Vandegehuchte M. L. & Bonte D. 2019. Habitat choice stabilizes metapopulation dynamics by enabling ecological specialisation. Oikos 128: 529–539.

Wermelinger B., Risch A., Düggelin C. & Vandegehuchte M. L. 2018. Premier recensement de fourmis à léchelle nationale. La Forêt 11–13.

Hillaert J., Hovestadt T., Vandegehuchte M. L. & Bonte D. 2018. Size-dependent movement explains why bigger is better in fragmented landscapes. Ecology and Evolution 8: 10754–10767.

Risch A. C., Ochoa-Hueso R, van der Putten W. H., Bump J. K., Busse M. D., Frey B., Gwiazdowicz D. J., Page-Dumroese D. S., Vandegehuchte M. L., Zimmermann S. & Schütz M. 2018. Size-dependent loss of aboveground animals differentially affects grassland ecosystem coupling and functions. Nature Communications 9: 3684.

Hillaert J., Vandegehuchte M. L., Hovestadt T. & Bonte D. 2018. Information use during movement regulates how fragmentation and loss of habitat affect body size. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 285: 20180953.

Koerner S. E., Smith M. D., Burkepile D. E., Hanan N., Avolio M. L., Collins S. L., Knapp A. K., Lemoine N. P., Forrestel E. J., Eby S., Thompson D. I., Aguado-Santacruz G. A., Anderson J. P., Anderson T. M., Angassa A., Bagchi S., Bakker E. S., Bastin G., Baur L. E., Beard K. H., Beever E. A., Bohlen P. J., Boughton E. H., Canestro D., Cesa A., Chaneton E., Cheng J., D'Antonio C. M., Deleglise C., Dembélé F., Dorrough J., Eldridge D. J., Fernandez-Going B., Fernández-Lugo S., Fraser L. H., Freedman B., García-Salgado G., Goheen J. R., Guo L., Husheer S., Karembé M., Knops J. M. H., Kraaij T., Kulmatiski A., Kytöviita M., Lezama F., Loucougaray G., Loydi A., Milchunas D. G., Milton S. J., Morgan J. W., Moxham C., Nehring K. C., Olff H., Palmer T. M., Rebollo S., Riginos C., Risch A. C., Rueda M., Sankaran M., Sasaki T., Schoenecker K. A., Schultz N. L., Schütz M., Schwabe A., Siebert F., Smit C., Stahlheber K. A., Storm C., Strong D. J., Su J., Tiruvaimozhi Y. V., Tyler C., Val J., Vandegehuchte M. L., Veblen K. E., Vermeire L. T., Ward D., Wu J., Young T. P., Yu Q. & Zelikova T. J. 2018. Change in dominance determines herbivore effects on plant biodiversity. Nature Ecology & Evolution 2: 1925–1932.

Wang X., Steiner M., Schütz M., Vandegehuchte M. L. & Risch A.C. 2018. Progressively excluding mammals of different body size affects community and trait structure of ground beetles. Oikos 127: 1515–1525.

van Schrojenstein Lantman I. M., Hertzog L. R., Vandegehuchte M. L., Martel A., Verheyen K., Lens L. & Bonte D. 2018. Leaf herbivory is more impacted by forest composition than by tree diversity or edge effects. Basic and Applied Ecology 29: 79–88.

Van Petegem K., Moerman F., Dahirel M., Fronhofer E. A., Vandegehuchte M. L., Van Leeuwen T., Wybouw N., Stoks R. & Bonte D. 2018. Kin competition accelerates experimental range expansion in an arthropod herbivore. Ecology Letters 21: 225–234.

Vandegehuchte M. L., Trivellone V., Schütz M., Firn J., de Schaetzen F. & Risch A. C. 2018. Mammalian herbivores affect leafhoppers associated with specific plant functional types at different timescales. Functional Ecology 32: 545–555.

Wermelinger B, Risch A. C. Düggelin C. & Vandegehuchte M. L. 2017. Erste schweizweite Waldameisenerhebung. Wald und Holz 23–25.

Vandegehuchte M. L., Schütz M., de Schaetzen F. & Risch A. C. 2017. Mammal-induced trophic cascades in invertebrate food webs are modulated by grazing intensity in subalpine grassland. Journal of Animal Ecology 86: 1434–1446.

Gooseff M. N., Barrett J. E., Adams B. J., Doran P. T., Fountain A. G., Lyons W. B., McKnight D. M., Priscu J. C., Sokol E. R., Takacs-Vesbach C., Vandegehuchte M. L., Virginia R. A. & Wall D.H. 2017. Decadal ecosystem response to an anomalous melt season in a polar desert in Antarctica. Nature Ecology & Evolution 1: 1334–1338.

Vandegehuchte M. L., Wermelinger B., Fraefel M., Baltensweiler A., Düggelin C., Brändli U.-B., Freitag A., Bernasconi C., Cherix D. & Risch A. C. 2017. Distribution and habitat requirements of red wood ants in Switzerland: Implications for conservation. Biological Conservation 212: 366–375.

Vandegehuchte M. L., van der Putten W. H., Duyts H., Schütz M. & Risch A. C. 2017. Aboveground mammal and invertebrate exclusions cause consistent changes in soil food webs of two subalpine grassland types, but mechanisms are system-specific. Oikos 126: 212–223.

Pérez Hidalgo N., Vandegehuchte M. L., Schütz M. & Risch A. C. 2016. Description of the sexuales of Myzodium modestum (Hottes) (Hemiptera: Aphididae) discovered in the Swiss Alps. Zootaxa 4196: 589–596.

Knox M. A., Wall D. H., Virginia R. A., Vandegehuchte M. L., San Gil I. & Adams B. J. 2016. Impact of diurnal freeze-thaw cycles on the soil nematode Scottnema lindsayae in Taylor Valley, Antarctica. Polar Biology 39: 583–592.

Soong J. L., Vandegehuchte M. L., Horton A. J., Nielsen U. N., Denef K., Shaw E. A., Milano de Tomasel C., Parton W., Wall D. H. & Cotrufo M. F. 2016. Soil microarthropods support ecosystem productivity and soil C accrual: Evidence from a litter decomposition study in the tallgrass prairie. Soil Biology & Biochemistry 92: 230–238.

Risch A. C., Schütz M., Vandegehuchte M. L., van der Putten W. H., Duyts H., Raschein U., Gwiazdowicz D. J., Busse M. D., Page-Dumroese D. S. & Zimmermann S. 2015. Aboveground vertebrate and invertebrate herbivore impact on net N mineralization in subalpine grasslands. Ecology 96: 3312–3322.

García-Palacios P., Vandegehuchte M. L., Shaw E. A., Dam M., Post K. H., Ramirez K. S., Sylvain Z. A., Milano de Tomasel C. & Wall D. H. 2015. Are there links between responses of soil microbes and ecosystem functioning to elevated CO2, N deposition and warming? A global perspective. Global Change Biology 21: 1590–1600.

Vandegehuchte M. L., Sylvain Z. A., Reichmann L. G., Milano De Tomasel C., Nielsen U. N., Wall D. H. & Sala O.E. 2015. Responses of a desert nematode community to changes in water availability. Ecosphere 6: art44.

Vandegehuchte M. L., Raschein U., Schütz M., Gwiazdowicz D. J. & Risch A. C. 2015. Indirect short- and long-term effects of aboveground invertebrate and vertebrate herbivores on soil microarthropod communities. PLOS ONE 10: e0118679.

Vanden Eede S., Van Tomme J., De Busschere C., Vandegehuchte M. L., Sabbe K., Stienen E. W. M., Degraer S., Vincx M. & Bonte D. 2014. Assessing the impact of beach nourishment on the intertidal food web through the development of a mechanistic-envelope model. Journal of Applied Ecology 51: 1304–1313.

Hodel M., Schütz M., Vandegehuchte M. L., Frey B., Albrecht M., Busse M. D. & Risch A. C. 2014. Does the aboveground herbivore assemblage influence soil bacterial community composition and richness in subalpine grasslands? Microbial Ecology 68: 584–595.

Cotrufo M. F., Soong J., Vandegehuchte M. L., Nguyen T., Denef K., Shaw E. A., Sylvain Z. A., Milano de Tomasel C., Nielsen U. N. & Wall D. H. 2014. Naphthalene addition to soil surfaces: A feasible method to reduce soil micro-arthropods with negligible direct effects on soil C dynamics. Applied Soil Ecology 74: 21–29.

Bonte D., Lambeets K. & Vandegehuchte M. L. 2013. Spinnen in een ruimtelijke en evolutionaire context van natuurbeheer. Levende Natuur 114: 173–176.

Vandegehuchte M. L., de la Peña E., Breyne P. & Bonte D. 2012. Non-local genotypes of a resident grass species reduce invertebrate species richness. Insect Conservation and Diversity 5: 453–460.

Bonte D., Breyne P., Brys R., de la Peña E., D'Hondt B., Ghyselen C., Vandegehuchte M. L. & Hoffmann M. 2012. Landscape dynamics determine the small-scale genetic structure of an endangered dune slack plant species. Journal of Coastal Research 28: 780–786.

de la Peña E., Vandegehuchte M. L., Bonte D. & Moens M. 2011. Nematodes surfing the waves: Long-distance dispersal of soil-borne microfauna via sea swept rhizomes. Oikos 120: 1649–1656.

Vandegehuchte M. L., de la Peña E. & Bonte D. 2011. Contrasting covariation of above- and belowground invertebrate species across plant genotypes. Journal of Animal Ecology 80: 148–158.

Vandegehuchte M. L., de la Peña E. & Bonte D. 2010. Relative importance of biotic and abiotic soil components to plant growth and insect herbivore population dynamics. PloS ONE 5: e12937.

Vandegehuchte M. L., de la Peña E. & Bonte D. 2010. Interactions between root and shoot herbivores of Ammophila arenaria in the laboratory do not translate into correlated abundances in the field. Oikos 119: 1011–1019.

Bonte D., De Roissart A., Vandegehuchte M. L., Ballhorn D. J., Van Leeuwen T. & de la Peña E. 2010. Local adaptation of aboveground herbivores towards plant phenotypes induced by soil biota. PloS ONE 5: e11174.

Vandegehuchte M. L., de la Peña E. & Bonte D. 2010. Aphids on Ammophila arenaria in Belgium: First reports, phenology and host range expansion. Belgian Journal of Zoology 140: 77–79.

Lambeets K., Vandegehuchte M. L., Maelfait J.-P. & Bonte D. 2009. Integrating environmental conditions and functional life-history traits for riparian arthropod conservation planning. Biological Conservation 142: 625–637.

Lambeets K., Vandegehuchte M. L., Maelfait J.-P. & Bonte D. 2008. Understanding the impact of flooding on trait-displacements and shifts in assemblage structure of predatory arthropods on river banks. Journal of Animal Ecology 77: 1162–1174.

de la Peña E., Vandegehuchte M. L., Bonte D. & Moens M. 2008. Analysis of the specificity of three root-feeders towards grasses in coastal dunes. Plant and Soil 310: 113–120.

Scientific, academic and artistic work

Journal publications