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Dr. Wouter van Dongen

Konrad-Lorenz-Institute of Ethology
Department of Integrative Biology and Evolution
University of Veterinarian Medicine Vienna
Savoyenstr. 1a
A-1160 Viena

E-Mail to Wouter van Dongen


I have broad interests in behavioural ecology and conservation biology. I work mainly on birds, combining field-based studies with molecular work.  My main research topics are:

  • conservation biology
  • behavioural genetics
  •  animal personalities
  • sexual selection and female mate choice

Current Projects

Interactions between an endangered and newly-arrived hummingbird in a recent contact zone in Chile
In collaboration with Rodrigo Vásquez and Cristián Estades (Universidad de Chile) and Hans Winkler (KLIVV)

The distributional ranges of species constantly change over evolutionary time. A direct consequence of the dynamic nature of species boundaries is that closely-related species often come into contact after a period of geographic isolation. The study of these recent contact zones are of much interest to evolutionary ecologists studying speciation, but also to conservation biologists when one species is endangered and under threat from the newly arrived species.  The Chilean woodstar (Eulidia yarrellii) is a hummingbird that was once very common in northern Chile, but whose range and abundance has diminished dramatically since the 1970s. It is now restricted to a few fertile valleys within the Atacama Desert, with a recent census indicating that less than 400 individuals remain. This drastic decline in population size corresponds with the arrival of the closely-related Peruvian sheartail (Thaumastura cora), a hummingbird absent from Chile before the 1970s, but which is now rapidly expanding its population across northern Chile. The possibility therefore exists that the sheartails are negatively impacting on the viability of the woodstar population either via resource competition (e.g. competition for nectar sources) or reproductive interference (ultimately leading to hybridisation). I am conducting 1) behavioural observations to ascertain the degree of competition between the two species and 2) molecular analyses to document the population structure of the two species and whether the two species are indeed hybridising.

Determinants of fitness in birds

The concept of fitness is central to natural and sexual selection. However, exactly which factors drive differences in fitness within a population (e.g. reproductive success) is still open to much debate. In collaboration with several research groups within Europe, we are conducting a comprehensive study on multiple determinants of fitness in a socially monogamous bird species, including black-legged kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla) and sand martins (Riparia riparia). Specifically we aim to determine how a wide range of factors, including MHC genotypes, telomere length, pathogen loads and mating patterns affect the reproductive success of these species. We are particularly interested in the transmission of infectious diseases, by characterising the transfer of bacterial species during matings. We ultimately aim to determine how all the above mentioned factors interact to determine fitness in these species.

Curriculum Vitae

Nationality: Australian


  • 2005 Ph. D. (Science); University of Melbourne, Australia
    Project Title: "Evolutionary ecology of multiple ornaments in the golden whistler"
  • 2000 Bachelor of Science (honours): University of Melbourne, Australia
    Project Title: "Singing strategies of alternative male morphs in the Madagascar paradise"

Positions held

2011-presentPost-doc: Konrad Lorenz Institute of Ethology, Vienna, Austria
Project title: "Behavioural genetics of coloniality in birds and fish"

Postdoc: Departamento de Ciencias Ecológicas, Universidad de Chile and Konrad Lorenz Institute of Ethology, Vienna, Austria

Project title: "Interactions between an endangered and newly-arrived hummingbird in a recent contact zone in Chile"

Postdoc: Instituto de Ecología y Biodiversidad, Universidad de Chile, Chile

Project title: "Geographic variation in personalities in the rayadito"