Willem-Jan Emsens


  • Habitat restoration and conservation 
  • Peatland ecology and biogeochemistry 
  • Community ecology and vegetation science 
  • Greenhouse gases 


I am currently working as a postdoc researcher at the Antwerp Zoo Centre for Research and Conservation. My main responsibilities are to (i) initiate and coordinate scientific studies in nature reserve “De Zegge”, where I have my main office, and to (ii) conduct fundamental and applied research on habitat restoration and conservation, both in a national and international context. I collaborate closely with partners from various universities, the government and NGO’s.


  • Associate Professor at Antwerp University, department of Biology 
  • Ecological advisor for nature restoration projects, e.g. “De Liereman” 


I am a field ecologist with a very wide interest in everything related to habitat conservation and restoration, with a more specific focus on the soil-plant interface in peatlands and species-rich grasslands. My primary interest is to gain a fundamental understanding of the ecological and biogeochemical complexity of ecosystems, and to then apply this knowledge for nature restoration. Characteristic to my research is a holistic and interdisciplinary approach: I typically combine various scientific disciplines, including soil biogeochemistry, vegetation science, soil microbiology and zoology, while taking into account spatiotemporal dynamics. 


My scientific career started in the tropical rainforest of Panama, where I studied tri-trophic interactions between ocelots, agoutis and Astrocaryum trees using camera traps and radio-telemetry. In 2011, this work resulted in a MSc degree in Forest and Nature Conservation at Wageningen University (NL). I then started a PhD in Antwerp University on “the restoration of degraded iron-rich fens” (2012-2017), in which I studied biogeochemical bottlenecks in the restoration of groundwater-fed peatlands. During my PhD, I was also stationed in Uppsala University (Sweden) for half a year to investigate biogeochemical processes in raised bogs. After completion, I worked as a FWO-postdoc at Antwerp University, where I studied the relationship between soil microbial communities and greenhouse gas emissions from peatlands. In the meantime, in 2019, I also briefly worked as an ecological consultant at B-WARE research center (NL). There, I conducted applied research on the restoration of various ecosystem types such as heathlands, Nardus grasslands and calcareous grasslands. In 2023, I started working as a postdoc at the Antwerp Zoo Centre for Research and Conservation.  


Five (more recent) key publications only. A full publication list can be found on my Researchgate profile. 

Emsens, W. J., de Weyer, M., Fuentes, I., Liczner, Y., van Diggelen, R., & Verbruggen, E. (2022). Strong conditionality in plant-fungal community assembly after soil inoculation in post-agricultural grasslands. Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 166, 108580.

Kreyling, J., Tanneberger, F., Jansen, F., Van Der Linden, S., Aggenbach, C., Blüml, V., Emsens, W. J., … & Jurasinski, G. (2021). Rewetting does not return drained fen peatlands to their old selves. Nature communications, 12(1), 5693.

Emsens, W. J., Verbruggen, E., Shenk, P., Liczner, Y., Van Roie, M., & van Diggelen, R. (2021). Degradation legacy and current water levels as predictors of carbon emissions from two fen sites. Mires & Peat, (27).

Emsens, W. J., van Diggelen, R., Aggenbach, C. J., Cajthaml, T., Frouz, J., Klimkowska, A., ... & Verbruggen, E. (2020). Recovery of fen peatland microbiomes and predicted functional profiles after rewetting. The ISME journal, 14(7), 1701-1712.

Emsens, W. J., Aggenbach, C. J., Rydin, H., Smolders, A. J., & van Diggelen, R. (2018). Competition for light as a bottleneck for endangered fen species: An introduction experiment. Biological Conservation, 220, 76-83.