Martijn is a global change ecologist who combines mathematical models and field studies to understand how wildlife copes with our rapidly changing environment. Before joining JCU in 2021 he worked at various institutes across the globe (Netherlands, Germany, Norway) and as an ARC Future Fellow at the Australian National University. He has over 80 publications, which are widely cited (top 1% when accounting for study field, career stage and author position). He sits on the Editorial Board for Proceedings of the Royal Society: B.

In his research he takes a quantitative approach to global change ecology, not so much interested in showing that there are effects, but in estimating how strong these effects are, how certain we can be about them, translate what this means for population numbers (as this is most relevant to management) and what the most efficient way is to mitigate impacts. Mathematical modelling and advanced statistical tools are combined with data collection from the field (e.g. GPS-tracking of birds and airplanes), taking a landscape or even global perspective (e.g. comparative analysis on multi-species datasets).

Current projects

  • Cumulative Human Impact of Bird Populations (2016-22; funded by applied research council, Royal Air force, NAM gas mining company, BirdLife Netherlands). Two PhD students and a postdoc quantify how sea level rise, soil subsidence, disturbance, fisheries, climate change and agricultural intensification accumulate to affect bird populations and identify the most efficient mitigation and conservation actions.
  • Studying “Wild eco-evolutionary dynamics: the decline of an iconic Australian bird”, (ARC Discovery grant 2018-2023, with Loeske Kruuk & Andrew Cockburn, ANU).
  • ‘Artificial intelligence for automated phenotyping: can we distinguish boys from girls from wildlife photographs?’ (2020; funding Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences).
  • Involvement in various other projects as a partner investigator:
    • Individual heterogeneity in animals’ life-histories’, with Stephanie Jenouvrier - Woods Hole Institute USA & Remi Fay - NTNU Norway.
    • sTraitChange studies how trait responses to climate change translate into demographic rates and population dynamics, led by Viktoriia Radchuk IZW Berlin.
    • ‘When is global change too much? Limits to plastic responses in wild birds’, led by Celine Teplitsky, CNRS France. 
    • ECOVAR studies how to manage ecosystems in an increasingly variable world, led by Yngvild Vindenes, Oslo University.

Interested in joining?

I am keen to advise PhD, Masters-by-Research, honours and Postdoc projects on topics that improve our understanding of how organisms cope with environmental change (or any other topic that you can convince me is exciting). I encourage you to develop your own ideas, but below are some example topics that could be particularly suitable and timely.

If you are interested, please reach out (martijn.vandepol@jcu.edu.au) with a summary of your previous research experience, and the type of research project that you wish to undertake (or drop by my office for a chat). PhD/MSc Scholarships schemes are available for both domestic and international students, but please note that  scholarships are highly competitive for international students. Postdocs can explore the ARC-DECRA fellowship scheme, or overseas funding opportunities (e.g. EU MSCA global postdoctoral fellowship allow for Europeans to work in Australia).

Project idea: Statistical tools for robust climate change biology

Climate change biology is a relevant and rapidly developing field that studies the impacts of climate change on biodiversity and what we can best do about it. The reliability of impact assessment and mitigation strategies strongly depends on how accurately we can quantity the sensitivity of species to current and future climate change. A key step is to robustly quantify a climate response curve that describes the sensitivity of biological traits to changes in weather. This allows us to predict how much for example body size, survival or population growth of species changes if global warming reaches +2 degrees. Typically, this is done by collecting biological data across environmental (spatial) gradients and/or many years, such that we can correlate biological variation to spatiotemporal variation in weather. However, it is usually unknown over which period in the year the weather affects the biological response, as weather may have lagged effects (e.g. via food that grows after rain). Furthermore, climate change is causing many aspects of the weather to change (temperature, rain, wind) and it is often unclear which aspect drives biological responses. Finally, species move around, and particularly for migratory species a key challenge it to determine at what location the weather is driving decision to leave (e.g. do tail winds at departure, during migration or weather condition at arrival grounds drive migration decisions?). Systematic analytical tools to determine the properties of climate signals urgently need to be developed and benchmarked (e.g. R-package), and there is also the opportunity to apply them to various ecological dataset. This project is suitable for those with an interest in quantitative methods (programming, statistics, machine learning) and ecology and involves international collaboration (Dr. Liam Bailey, IZW Berlin & Dr. Birgen Haest, Swiss Ornithological Institute) and may provide opportunities for overseas visits as well.

Project idea: Population dynamical responses to climate change on a continental scale

Species respond very different to climate change, with some species benefitting and others suffering. A major challenge is to understand what causes this diversity in responses, as this will help is to predict the winners and losers from global warming and prioritize conservation strategies. However, it has proven challenging to make progress on this, as species’ responses are typically highly idiosyncratic. At the same time, even within species, different population also exhibit widely different responses. Understanding intra-specific variation in climate responses may be more feasible and a logical first step, as populations mainly differ in their environment, while the species life-history typically varies little within species ranges. However, intra-specific comparisons are extremely rare, as it requires long-term data from many different sites of the same species. Here we propose to apply population dynamical models on one of the best studied species in the wild, for which data is available for over 30 populations across the continents of its species range. Hierarchical population models can be combined with path analysis to study the importance of different pathways by which climate affects traits (e.g. body size, or timing of reproduction), which in turn affect demographic rates (reproduction and survival) and ultimately population growth. Next a comparison can be made how the environment of the different populations affects the impact and pathways by which global warming affects population change in this species. Some affinity with mathematical modelling and experience with Bayesian statistics is desirable.

Project idea: Demographic models of the evolution of cooperation

Cooperation has driven many major transitions in the evolution of life, such as the transition from solitary individuals to group living and social societies. Cooperative breeding is an extreme example of group living in which some individuals forego their own opportunity to produce offspring and instead help other group members to reproduce. Kin selection is thought to be an important driver of such behaviour when the help is directed towards genetically related individuals. However, there may also be other more direct benefits of group living (e.g. increased foraging or protection in groups) that do not include kin selection considerations. Furthermore, it is often ignored that there are also costs to group living due to competition for resources. To determine the relative important of (i) direct benefits and costs of group living and (ii) indirect benefits and costs due to kin selection, one needs to determine the overall inclusive fitness outcomes for individuals. Current theoretical inclusive fitness models have proven to be challenging to apply to empirical data, as they do not align with what can be measured in the field. This project could develop demographic models of inclusive fitness that allow us to determine the selective forces on behavioural decisions on group living, and decompose the contribution of both direct and indirect costs and benefits to the evolution of group living. Matrix population models and the use of reproductive values as an integrative fitness measure can be applied within the context of kin selection theory, such that they are parameterizable with empirical data. Empirical data from a long-term study on Australian cooperatively breeding birds is available to look at the selective forces on decisions to join and leave groups, and how this varies among group members (intra-group conflict) and depends on the environment (how does climate change affect group living?). This project is in collaboration with Dr. Lyanne Brouwer (Zoology & Ecology, JCU).

  • BS5260: Modelling Ecological Dynamics (Level 5; TSV)
  • MA3211: Mathematical Modelling and Differential Equations (Level 3; TSV)
  • SC2209: Quantitative Methods in Science-Advanced (Level 2; TSV)
  • 2021 to present - Senior Lecturer, James Cook University (Townsville, Australia)
  • 2017 to 2021 - Senior Researcher & Group Leader, Netherlands Institute of Ecology of the Royal Academy of Sciences NIOO-KNAW (Wageningen, the Netherlands)
  • 2013 to 2016 - ARC Future Fellow & Senior Lecturer, Australian National University (Canberra, Australia)
  • 2010 to 2012 - ARC Australian Postdoctoral Discovery Fellow, Australian National University (Canberra, Australia)
  • 2007 to 2009 - NWO Rubicon Fellow, Norwegian University of Science and Technology (Trondheim, Norway)
  • 2007 - Max Planck Society Visiting Fellow, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (Rostock, Germany)
  • 2001 to 2006 - PhD, Groningen University (Groningen, the Netherlands)
  • 1994 to 2001 - BSc & MSc, Utrecht University (Utrecht, the Netherlands)
Research Disciplines
  • 2019 - Globally ranked in top 1% of citation scores across all fields, when accounting for career stage, research field and author position on papers (data till 2019; see list in https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.3000918)
  • 2017 - Globally ranked in top 1% of citation scores across all fields, when accounting for career stage, research field and author position on papers (data till 2017; see list in https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.3000384)
  • 2006 - PhD cum laude (highest distinction, top 5%)
  • 2013 to 2016 - Future fellowship (Australian Research Council )
  • 2010 to 2012 - Australian Postdoctoral Discovery fellowship (Australian Research Council)
  • 2008 to 2009 - Rubicon fellowship (NWO, Dutch Research Council)
  • 2007 - Max Planck Society visiting scholarship
  • 2018 - Associate Editor for Proceedings of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences
  • 2013 to 2021 - Board Member Centre for Avian Population Studies
  • 2012 to 2020 - Associate Editor for Journal of Animal Ecology
  • 2017 - Theme issue editor of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B

These are the most recent publications associated with this author. To see a detailed profile of all publications stored at JCU, visit ResearchOnline@JCU. Hover over Altmetrics badges to see social impact.

Journal Articles

ResearchOnline@JCU stores 33+ research outputs authored by Dr Martijn van de Pol from 2016 onwards.

Current Funding

Current and recent Research Funding to JCU is shown by funding source and project.

British Ornithologists? Union - CAREER DEVELOPMENT BURSARIES

Quantifying the climate sensitivity across birds in tropical Africa

Indicative Funding
This travel grant for overseas ECR to visit JCU for several weeks allows for setting up a new collaboration to study the climate sensitivity across birds in tropical Africa. The visiting ECR Chima Nwaogu (University of Cape Town) will perform sliding window analyses (using a method developed at JCU) across a large set of long-term datasets on the timing of egg laying from Zambia (1969-2006). This will be used to determine how climate sensitive different African bird species are and next derive general understanding of which type of which species are most sensitive to a changing climate in this part of the world . This project is important because there have been very little comparative studies on this topic from the southern hemisphere and tropics due to the paucity of long-term datasets in this region. The visit is planned for the second half of 2022, the exact dates and duration may vary due to border situation and amount of funding awarded.
Martijn van de Pol and Chima Nwaogu (College of Science & Engineering and University of Cape Town)
birds. biostatistics; climate change; climwin; comparative study; ecological responses; tropical Africa

The map shows research collaborations by institution from the past 7 years.
Note: Map points are indicative of the countries or states that institutions are associated with.

  • 5+ collaborations
  • 4 collaborations
  • 3 collaborations
  • 2 collaborations
  • 1 collaboration
  • Indicates the Tropics (Torrid Zone)

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