Postdoctoral Fellows

Dr Jessica van der Wal

  Dr Jessica E.M. van der Wal
  PhD (St Andrews)

  John Day Building Room 2.16


Charmed by the marvels of natural history, Jessica is especially intrigued by the profound variation in how different species specialise on resources. For her PhD at the University of St Andrews in the UK (2013-2017), Jessica studied the foraging ecology of tool use in New Caledonian crows under the supervision of Professor Christian Rutz. During nine months of fieldwork in New Caledonia, she focally followed wild crows and experimentally tested the prey extraction performance of wild-caught individuals in temporary captivity. Following her PhD, Jessica held a research position at Sovon Dutch Centre of Field Ornithology, before pursuing a six-month postdoc on individual strategies in birds and humans in collaboration with Dr Rose Thorogood (funded by the University of Helsinki and the University of Cambridge). Jessica obtained her BSc and MSc (1st, top 5%) in Biology from Wageningen University and Research in the Netherlands. Jessica’s keen interest in the natural world originates from her childhood in rural Tanzania.

Jessica thoroughly enjoys fieldwork in remote locations, especially when taking pioneering steps towards making new discoveries about little-understood species. She also takes great pleasure in working alongside the resident communities and in doing so incorporating their social values and the associated logistics of the local environment into the research plan. She aspires to a career in which she can combine behavioural and ecological research to aid conservation. Besides her scientific focus, Jessica highly values science communication. This is reflected in the various outreach activities that she has engaged with, such as: being part of the Wageningen University team ‘Flight Artists’ (winner of the National Academic Competition 2010 worth €100 000 for the best idea for translating science), sitting on the editorial boards of two science-themed Dutch TV programmes, being a science journalist for the Dutch journal Bionieuws, and being involved in the organisations of several conferences.

Jessica joined the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology in March 2019, on a UCT Postdoctoral Research Fellowship hosted by Professor Claire Spottiswoode. She will be studying the ecology and evolution of the remarkable mutualism between human honey-hunters and greater honeyguides.

Key interests: Foraging decisions, animal cognition, social learning, individual strategies, social networks, conservation behaviour.

Peer-reviewed publications:

St Clair, J., Klump, B.C., van der Wal, J.E.M., Sugasawa, S. & Rutz, C. (2016) Strong between-site variation in New Caledonian crows' use of hook-tool-making materials. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 118, 226-232.

Rutz, C., Sugasawa, S., van der Wal, J.E.M., Klump, B.C. & St Clair, J. (2016) Tool bending in New Caledonian crows. Royal Society Open Science, 3, 160439.

Klump, B.C., van der Wal, J.E.M, St Clair, J. & Rutz, C. (2015) Context-dependent 'safekeeping' of foraging tools in New Caledonian crows. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 282, 20150278.

van der Wal, J.E.M., Dorenbosch, M., Immers, A.K., Vidal Forteza, C., Geurts, J.J., Peeters, E.T., Koese, B. & Bakker, E.S. (2013) Invasive crayfish threaten the development of submerged macrophytes in lake restoration. PLoS One, 8: e78579.


van den Bremer, L., van der Wal, J., de Jong, W., van Berkel, W., Vreugdenhil, S., Louwe Kooijmans, J., van Turnhout, C., Nienhuis, J. & Foppen, R. (2019) Wat bepaalt het succes van huiszwaluwtillen? [What determines the success of Common House Martin houses?] De Levende Natuur, 120 (1).

van der Wal, J. & Teunissen, W. (2018) Boerenlandvogels en predatie: een update van de huidige kennis. [Farmland birds and predation: an update on the current knowledge] Sovon-report 2018/31, Sovon Dutch Centre for Field Ornithology, Nijmegen.

Roodbergen, M., van der Jeugd, H., van der Wal, J., van Els, P., & Teunissen, W. (2018) Jaar van de Kievit [Year of the Northern Lapwing] Sovon-report 2018/27, Sovon Dutch Centre for Field Ornithology, Nijmegen.

van der Wal, J. (2013) Grutto is een boerenproduct (The godwit: a farmer's product) Bionieuws (23), 10-11.