Participant 10 – Utrecht University, Department of Innovation and Environmental Sciences (UU), The Netherlands

Legal entity: Utrecht University is the legal entity, which is ......

Institute description: The CASCADE project will be embedded in the Copernicus institute for Sustainable Development at the Faculty of Geosciences of Utrecht University where experts from various disciplines investigate and develop processes and opportunities for innovative change towards sustainability. Research is fundamental and strategic. The institute participates in the Utrecht Centrum voor Aarde en duurzaamheid (UCAD) and Climate KIC (Knowledge and Innovation community). The Copernicus Institute deals with issues that have a multidisciplinary character. Without exception issues of sustainability are concerned with complex developments, the ramifications of which are felt everywhere. These are issues with a natural science as well as a social science component, whereby the components cannot be looked at separately. The Copernicus Institute strives to achieve an integrated approach to these issues.

Role in the project: participating in WPs 3-9.

Past experience: Environmental Sciences Research Evaluation (2007): ‘The relevance of the work is very high. End-user contacts are excellent, and the societal impact of some of the work is very high. Scientifically, the impact of the group is reflecting an internationally competitive performance coupled with a leading role in the Netherlands.’

Involved personnel

  • Prof. Dr. Ir. Max Rietkerk His expertise is modelling catastrophic shifts in spatial ecosystems, deriving early warning signals, and validating those models with spatially explicit field data and manipulation experiments.

Prof. Dr. Ir. Max Rietkerk is full Professor Spatial Ecology and Global Change and he is actively participating in the research group Environmental Sciences which is part of the Copernicus Institute. He is a renowned researcher with an excellent track record; he obtained his PhD (cum laude) in 1998 at Wageningen University and received a prestigious Vidi laureate (600 kE) in 2004. He is (co-)author of over 50 publications in internationally peer-reviewed journals of which two in Science and two in Nature. He supervised three successful PhD projects and several post-doc projects. His research centres around catastrophic shifts in ecosystems and the positive feedback mechanisms that lead to these kind of dynamics. He is looking for an integration of spatial scale in ecological theory as to recognize and predict these catastrophic shifts. Spatial pattern formation in ecosystems reveals dominant ecological processes and may indicate catastrophic shifts between ecosystem states.


  • Scheffer, M., Bascompte, J., Brock, W.A., Brovkin, V., Carpenter, S.R., Dakos, V., Held, H. den, Nes, E.H. van, Rietkerk, M. & Sugihara, G. (2009). Early-warning signals for critical transitions. Nature, 461(3), 53-59.
  • Rietkerk, M. and J. van de Koppel. 2008. Regular pattern formation in real ecosystems. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 23(3): 169-175.
  • Koppel, J. van de, Gascoigne, J.C., Theraulaz, G., Rietkerk, M. & Herman, P.M.J. (2008). Eperimental evidence for spatial self-organization and its emergent effects in mussel bed ecosystems. Science, 322(5902), 739-742
  • Kefi, S., M. Rietkerk, C.L. Alados, Y. Pueyo, V.P. Papanastasis, Ahmed ElAich and P.C. de Ruiter. 2007. Spatial vegetation patterns and imminent desertification in Mediterranean arid ecosystems. Nature 449: 213-218.
  • Rietkerk, M., Dekker, S.C., Ruiter, P.C. de & Koppel, J. van de (2004). Self-organized patchiness and catastrophic shifts in ecosystems. Science, 305, 1926-1929.
  • Ruiter, P.C. 2007. Spatial vegetation patterns and imminent desertification in Mediterranean arid ecosystems. Nature 449, 213-217