K D ' s C V
Each species is a world parallel to our own, evoking a sense of being among equals. Expanding knowledge of them can thus open new frontiers in the study, love and protection of nature. Freshwater is life, which dragonflies give a face with their beauty and a gauge with their sensitivity. For over 20 years now, therefore, I strive to make them the new birds: the first insect order to attain universal popularity and application in science, conservation and public interest. These are the roles I’ve adopted in pursuit of that goal:
Knowing and serving nonhuman life are human rights. To that end, all stories that species represent must be uncovered and shared. Among them is the species I presented for the BBC to David Attenborough on his 90th birthday. I reflected on this honor, his legacy and our mutual passion in the journal Nature.
Appearing in 2006, my European guide has become the most successful publication on dragonflies to date with over 35,000 copies sold (in 5 languages) and >800 citations. A revised edition is due in 2020. I led a tour to Madagascar in 2016 to fund a book on its Odonata, also due in 2020.
Teacher and convener
I lectured from Angola to Holland and Taiwan, and for the Tropical Biology Association in Tanzania, Madagascar and Uganda. I co-founded the African Freshwater Entomology Workshops AFRESH and Dutch dragonfly society NVL. I’m also taxonomic editor for Odonatologica and International Journal of Odonatology.
I liaise for the IUCN Species Survival Commission between the Invertebrate and Freshwater Conservation Committees. As member of the Dragonfly Specialist Group since 2003, I aided the first global estimate of extinction risks in insects, and the first complete Red List for a tropical continent.
Besides >1000 field days in 22 African countries (map on right) and four trips to Madagascar, by the end of 2019 I did fieldwork in the Palearctic (incl. Belarus, Turkey), Americas (USA, Mexico, Suriname, Brazil, Dutch Antilles), Asia (Brunei, China, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand), Papua and Australia.
Identifier and classifier
All work on African Odonata rests on my >60 taxonomic and faunistic publications, with >80 new species named, including 61 in a single publication. Globally, I led the order’s first consensus classification with 19 authors, and most complete molecular phylogeny to date with DAWN (Damselfly Workers at Naturalis).
I’ve assembled a collection with 91% of African species; we have genetic data and field photos for >80% (by end of 2019). I found 83% of Africa’s species and 63% of Madagascar’s in the field (black dots on map). Our data’s extent and detail are unparalleled in tropical insects (white dots, Madagascar not shown).
As a Dutchman in Africa, I feel the West is responsible to bring back knowledge obtained in the global south. Working for the national museums of Suriname and The Netherlands, I helped return expertise on biodiversity (the former colony’s greatest asset!) as field guides and collection data.
I try to react to each of the hundreds of requests I get every year for identification and information! I also consult on biodiversity, commercially and for conservation agencies like Conservation International, Birdlife/RSPB, IUCN, NABU, and A Rocha.
Why are there so many species? Aquatic insects like dragonflies belong to the most concentrated and responsive biodiversity: tied to water and able to fly. As postdoc in Cambridge, I reviewed the origins of aquatic insect diversity and this group’s potential for evolutionary and global change research.
I was born in The Netherlands (1975), but grew up in Egypt (1980-1988) and lived in Uganda (1995), Suriname (2007-2008), England (2012), and South Africa (2013-2017). I spent 27% of the 21st century’s first two decades in Africa. When I travel I feel most at home.
Birder and naturalist
Since finding this baby tortoise when I was nine, I’m a ‘bionomer’, always eager to know more species, especially of plants, insects and vertebrates. I saw 4410 bird species globally (to end of 2019), finding new species for Egypt, Uganda, Mozambique and Suriname.
I began sketching wildlife as a child, painting this lifecycle of a Striped Hawkmoth Hyles livornica when I was thirteen. Nowadays my drawings mostly show diagnostic details of dragonflies, while my photos convey their habits and habitats.
At heart, I’m a writer who uses science to get his stories straight. Species are to biodiversity what words are to language: distinct if transient manifestations of an organic evolution, one that is fundamental to life, and one to society. Naturalists straddle the two: life formed, meaning given.