Department of Animal Ecology and Tropical Biology

Justine Vansynghel

Dr. Justine Vansynghel

LBV Unterfranken
Mainlände 8
97209 Veitshöchheim

  • Ecological interactions, mainly in the tropics 
  • Ecosystem services, especially pollination
  • Agroecology and functional biodiversity

My research focuses on the relationship between agrobiodiversity and ecosystem services in the new world tropics. For my PhD, I examine pollination and pest control services in cacao agroforestry systems with native varieties in Peru. I am studying the contribution of different insect groups to yields of native cacao across gradients of genotype diversity, local management and landscape context.

DiFFCacao investigates the interactions and importance of climate change, ecosystem services, agricultural management and socio-economic development in Northern and Southern Peru. Next to conserving genetic diversity of native cacao varieties, the objectives are enhancing productivity and farmers' income, in a wildlife-friendly manner. To achieve this, the development of innovative solutions for sustainable cacao agroforestry is central. The project is led by Bioversity International, in close cooperation with local, national and international project partners from research and practice.


PhD student at the University of Wuerzburg, Germany
Research fellow at Bioversity International, Lima, Peru
Studying pollination services in cacao agroforestry systems with native varieties in Peru, across gradients of genetic diversity, local management and landscape context
Supervised by Prof. Dr. Ingolf Steffan-Dewenter, Prof. Dr. Teja Tscharntke & Prof. Dr. Emily Martin Poppenborg 


Research assistant in La Gamba, Costa Rica for the University of Vienna, Austria
Studying feeding ecology of frugivorous understorey birds of the Costa Rican rainforest
supervised by Prof. Dr. Christian H. Schulze.


MSc in Biology at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium
specialisation Ecology and Biodiversity
Master thesis: “The effect of management strategies on insect and pollinator diversity in Nicaraguan cacao plantations”
supervised by Prof. Dr. Bram Vanschoenwinkel (with VLIR-UOS scholarship). 


BSc in Biology at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium
Bachelor thesis: “Effects of mycorrhizal associations on productivity of three grassland species”
supervised by Prof. Dr. Harry olde Venterink.

Peer-reviewed publications

Ocampo-Ariza, C., Vansynghel, J., Bertleff, D., Maas, B., Schumacher, N., Ulloque-Samatelo, C., Yovera, F.F., Thomas, E., Steffan-Dewenter, I., Tscharntke, T. (2023) Birds and bats enhance cacao yield despite suppressing arthropod mesopredation. Ecological Applications e2886 DOI: 10.1002/eap.2886

Ocampo-Ariza, C., Toledo-Hernández, M., Librán-Embid, F., Armenteras,  D., Vansynghel, J.,  Raveloaritiana, E., Arimond, I., Angulo-Rubiano,A., Tscharntke, T., Ramírez-Castañeda, V., Wurz, A., Marcacci, G., Anders, M., Urbina-Cardona J N., de Vos, A., Devy, S., Westphal, C., Toomey, A.,  Sheherazade, Chirango, Y., Maas, B. (2023) Global South leadership towards inclusive tropical ecology and conservation. Perspectives in Ecology and Conservation,21(1). DOI: 10.1016/j.pecon.2023.01.002

Tscharntke, T., Ocampo-Ariza, C., Vansynghel, J., Ballesteros, B.I., Aycart, P., Rodriguez, L., Ramirez, M., Steffan-Dewenter, I., Maas, B., Thomas, E. (2023) Socio-ecological benefits of fine-flavor cacao in its center of origin. Conservation Letters 16, e12936. DOI: 10.1111/conl.12936

Vansynghel, J., Ocampo-Ariza, C., Maas, B., Martin, E.A., Thomas, E., Hanf-Dressler, T., Schumacher, N-C., Ulloque-Samatelo, C., Yovera, F.F., Tscharntke, T., Steffan-Dewenter, I. (2022). Quantifying services and disservices provided by insects and vertebrates in cacao agroforestry landscapes. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 289: 20221309. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2022.1309

Vansynghel, J., Ocampo-Ariza, C., Maas, B., Martin, E.A., Thomas, E., Hanf-Dressler, T., Schumacher, N-C., Ulloque-Samatelo, C., Tscharntke, T., Steffan-Dewenter, I.  (2022). Cacao flower visitation: low pollen deposition, low fruit set and dominance of herbivores. Ecological Solutions and Evidence 3: e12140. DOI: 10.1002/2688-8319.12140

Ocampo-Ariza, C., Maas B., Castro-Namuched, J.-P., Thomas, E., Vansynghel, J., Steffan-Dewenter, I. , Tscharntke, T.,  (2022). Trait-dependent responses of birds and bats to season and dry forest distance in tropical agroforestry. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 325: 107751. DOI: 10.1016/j.agee.2021.107751.

Maas, B., Thomas, E., Ocampo-Ariza, C., Vansynghel, J., Steffan-Dewenter, I., Tscharntke, T. (2020). Transforming Tropical Agroforestry towards High Socio-Ecological Standards. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 2752. DOI: 10.1016/j.tree.2020.09.002


Nature research highlight

The applied ecologist blogpost (by J. Vansynghel)

Blog  entry on fieldwork