Kets Award

Jacques Kets Award for Biology 2018

The Royal Zoological Society of Antwerp and the Royal Belgian Zoological Society annually award a scientific award for the best Belgian master thesis in Zoology.

The “Jacques Kets” Award was first installed in 1953 by the Royal Zoological Society of Antwerp to arouse the love for nature in young people and to encourage them to pursue a career in natural sciences. The award was named after Jacques Kets, a naturalist and taxidermist from Antwerp who in 1843 became the first director of the newly established Antwerp Zoo.

In 2007 the Jacques Kets Award was modified into a “booster grant” to give promising Masters students the opportunity to build upon their achievements and stimulate them to continue their project or enter an academic career in zoology.

Who can participate?

Each Masters student in biology, molecular biology, bioscience-engineering or related scientific disciplines who wrote a Master’s thesis at a Belgian university or research institute during the academic year 2017-2018 (or 2016-2017), and received a grade of - at least - 14/20 for their thesis. The only requirement is that the subject of the thesis is in a zoological discipline in the broadest sense; this includes fundamental and applied studies in biodiversity conservation, ecology, population & conservation genetics, behavioural ecology & ethology, animal physiology, endocrinology, evolutionary biology, comparative anatomy & morphology, taxonomy & phylogeny, neurobiology or related disciplines.

How do you participate?

Submit a detailed English abstract of your thesis (maximum 500 words), fill out the registration form below (or download the Word file) and don't forget to answer the two questions.

The abstracts sent to us will be evaluated by an expert jury comprising professors representing the Belgian universities and will pass two selections:

  1. The jury will first select the six best abstracts
  2. The six shortlisted candidates will be invited to give an oral presentation of their work (in English) upon which the jury will select one winner. In 2018 the Kets Award presentations will be organised in Antwerp Zoo on Saturday 20 October 2018 at 10 am (to be confirmed)

What does the award winner get?

The Royal Zoological Society of Antwerp will give the winner a voucher worth € 1,000 that can be either used as a conference travel grant or for purchasing a (laptop) computer. The shortlisted candidates will each receive a FNAC multimedia voucher.

The Royal Belgian Zoological Society will give the winner the opportunity (registration, travel and accommodation included) to present his/her work as an invited speaker for an international audience of zoologists, during the ZOOLOGY 2018 (formerly Benelux Congress of Zoology) that will be hosted in Luxembourg.

Online registration.

Submission deadline Friday 21 September 2017 23:59h!

For online registration please follow this link

Femke Batsleer - winner of the Kets Award 2017


The spatial organisation of nest aggregates in a digger wasp

The bottom-up or top-down regulation of biological systems is a major topic in ecology. Last decades, the discussion has shifted from a simple dichotomy towards a more complex, integrated view. Two relevant topics in this discussion are (1) the simultaneous influence of bottom-up and top-down regulators and (2) the formation of heterogenous spatial patterns, through for instance self-organisation mechanisms. In this study, we investigated processes involved in the spatial pattern formation of nest aggregates of Bembix rostrata, examining both bottom-up and top-down regulators. Bembix rostrata is a specialised, highly philopatric, gregariously nesting digger wasp (Hymenoptera: Crabronidae) found in sandy regions in Europe. The females of this species show a high level of brood care: they bring flies to provision their larvae in their burrows in the sand. A broodparasitic fly species deposit its maggots on the provisioned prey of the females.

We tested the hypothesis that nest clustering is regulated by (1) the bottom-up template defined by the nest site suitability which is predicted by the microhabitat model and by (2) the top-down regulator which is defined by the selfish herd mechanism, in which high nest densities have lower individual chance of parasite infection. To study this, female wasps were individually tagged, their nests marked and parasitic infections recorded, in a small study area (40x90m) in the nature reserve De Westhoek, Belgium. To characterise the microhabitat of the wasps (vegetation, slope and insolation), we collected remote sensing imagery with a drone.

Several analysis techniques were combined, among which capture-mark-recapture, microhabitat model building, point pattern analysis and network analysis. The results indicated a high level of spatial nest clustering and a high level of exchange of individuals between different clusters and between the focal population and neighbouring areas. The microhabitat model indicated that nests were located at places with a low vegetation cover and high heath or insolation index. This forms the bottom-up template of nest clustering regulation. Nest density and parasite density are strongly correlated, but parasite density did not increase at the same rate. Thus, when looking at the parasite density per nest (the individual chance of parasite infection) as a function of nest density, the chance of infection decreased with nest density. This was identified as a selfish herd mechanism, previously described for B. rostrata itself and related digger wasps. This anti-parasite behaviour is identified as the top-down control of nest clustering and possible regulator of a self-organisation pattern of nest cluster emergence.

This study has important conservation implications for the endangered B. rostrata. As the top-down control of nest clustering is likely very deeply rooted, it will in general prefer nest sites where other conspecifics are already present. This mechanism probably causes the high level of philopatry of B. rostrata, as it is known to not easily (re)colonise suitable habitat. This, together with the detrimental effect of trampling, should be taking into account when managers want to make adjacent areas suitable for B. rostrata.

Scratchpads developed and conceived by (alphabetical): Ed Baker, Katherine Bouton Alice Heaton Dimitris Koureas, Laurence Livermore, Dave Roberts, Simon Rycroft, Ben Scott, Vince Smith