Kees Vink appointed to endowed chair ‘From Big Natural History to Urban Ecology’

[28 October 2020]  Effective 1 November 2020, Dr Kees Vink will hold an endowed chair that carries the title ‘From Big Natural History to Urban Ecology’. The chair was established in association with the Natural History Museum RotterdamOpens external. Vink, who heads the Life Sciences department at the Erasmus University College, will focus on the museum’s natural history collection and its Urban Ecology Unit.

Vink will be the first professor in Rotterdam holding an endowed chair in this particular field. Kees Moeliker, the director of the Natural History Museum, is very happy with the appointment: “The chair will not only strengthen the relationship between the university and the museum. It offers us the opportunity to ensure that life sciences will take root in the city and its inhabitants more firmly, and so will have a societal impact, too.”

In the last few years, Erasmus University College (EUC) and the Natural History Museum Rotterdam have enjoyed a fruitful collaboration. Since Rotterdam does not have a Faculty of Biology, the EUC has found a natural partner in the Natural History Museum Rotterdam, an easily accessible knowledge institution with its own collection focusing on biodiversity, palaeontology and urban ecology, which will help EUC present its bachelor’s students with better bioscience-related activities. In order to strengthen and expand the collaborative efforts, a network chair has been established, which will help Kees Vink operate in a triangle made up by EUR/EUC, the Natural History Museum and Erasmus MC – the so-called Erasmus Life Sciences Triangle.

From Natural History to Rotterdam Urban Ecology
The museum will present the newly appointed professor with two departments: its natural history collection, featuring almost 400,000 preserved dead animals and plants, and the Urban Ecology Unit, which studies living nature in the urban environment. The Urban Ecology Unit will offer EUC students projects such as mapping out the Rotterdam habitats of rats, street pigeons and sparrows. In addition, the museum’s large collection will allow them to compare present-day field studies with data points obtained in the past – for instance, to study morphological changes in urban bumblebees and bees in comparison to their rural counterparts. The museum’s extensive collection of fossils provides tangible materials that can be studied or taught about as part of the EUC’s ‘Big History’ programme.

Genuine cross-fertilisation
“This partnership with the Natural History Museum Rotterdam is a genuine cross-fertilisation,” says Prof. Vink. “They will be able to incorporate their research into our academic setting, and our students will be able to conduct activities at the museum. For instance, they will be able to conduct studies on specific types of lichen that indicate the level of nitrogen in the air. And citizen science projects present us with many opportunities, as well, such as projects designed to monitor animal populations in a city. We will collaborate in all these aspects, and we’ll also touch on issues related to sustainability.”

The Dean of Erasmus University College, Prof. Gabriele Jacobs, about the newly established chair: “Sustainability is rightly high on the agenda of our students and staff. I am thrilled by the collaboration with the Natural History Museum Rotterdam. This collaboration allows us to provide hands-on activities and learning opportunities for our students around urban ecology, citizen science and nature-based solutions. I see this network professorship as a stepping-stone for much more active, inclusive and innovative involvement with the city of Rotterdam on urban ecology.”