Hans ter Steege appointed Professor of Community ecology of tropical trees

Ecologist Prof. Dr. Hans ter Steege has been appointed Professor of Community ecology of tropical trees. His professorship by special appointment is a collaboration between Utrecht University and Naturalis Biodiversity Center.

Hans ter Steege
Prof. Hans ter Steege (© Naturalis Biodiversity Center)

The Amazon region is one of the largest biodiversity hotspots on the planet, home to some 16,000 species of trees alone. By mapping and understanding that variation, you learn something about how ecosystems work and how such enormous diversity can arise – which in turn is important information for protecting the rainforest.

Biologist Hans ter Steege has been mapping the diversity of the Amazon and other South American tropical forests, their threats, the attempts to protect them and the applications of the plants that grow there for more than 35 years. Of all the tree species in the Amazon, only 227 make up half of the total number of trees, he discovered together with the Amazon Tree Diversity Network, which he is the founder of. That network consists of more than 200 scientists with more than two thousand 1-hectare plots that are the main tool of their work.

Working with so many species makes it a botanical herculean task; extrapolating such small pieces means that mathematically very difficult work is also being done. In the 1980s, Ter Steege was among the first wave of biologists to use computers to better understand nature, and he still considers puzzling, coding and developing mathematical models an important and fun part of his job. Yet he leads fieldwork expeditions as often as he can. As he himself says: you need to stay inspired.

For Ter Steege, the appointment means a return to Utrecht. For many years he was associated with the National Herbarium, which has since been incorporated into the Naturalis Biodiversity Center, where he leads the Tropical Botany group. Before coming to Utrecht he was already a professor by special appointment at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. At Utrecht University, Hans ter Steege has been appointed to the Quantitative Biodiversity Dynamics group, where he will be a professor by special appointment for five years.