André Dhondt - Biography#

André Dhondt is the Director of the Bird Populations Unit at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. His current research interests focus on the House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus) and population regulation in relation to the parasitic bacteria Mycoplasma gallisepticum, which causes conjunctivitis,. However, this project was not planned - it was a case of being in the right place at the right time. Conjunctivitis was first discovered in House Finches in 1994, the same year Dhondt started working at Cornell. He decided it was an opportunity to study a new situation and its effects on population dynamics. Learning more about this disease was extremely important, as it could pose a major threat to the avifauna of the continent. To gain a better understanding of this disease, the House Finch Disease Survey was established. The House Finch Disease Survey utilizes citizen science, which is becoming a widely used tool and is gaining popularity with the public, as it introduces the general public to the world of science and data collection. In 2000, the project received funding from NIH/NSF for five years, in order to determine the nature of the epidemic. In 2005, Dhondt and his team became the only project to receive funding a second time to further investigate the nature of the epidemic. Since 1994, Dhondt and his group have published 45 papers on the Mycoplasma epidemic.

André Dhondt has not always been a student of epidemiology. However, population regulation has always been an interest. While an undergraduate at Gent State University in Belgium, Dhondt studied population regulation in Great Tits (Parus major) and the importance of territorial behavior and density dependant effects. It was a project that he also took to graduate school for his doctorate.

After graduate school, Dhondt became involved in the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. Projects he worked on included working with the department of conservation in Madagascar, and working with applied entomology in Western Somalia. While in Western Somalia, he worked on the impacts of the Rhinoceros Beetle. The Rhinoceros Beetle is an introduced pest to the area that has devastating effects on crops. After working in Africa, André got a position at Antwerp University, in Belgium, where he stayed for 20 years before moving to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. When asked why he came to Cornell, he simply replied that it was something new, and different. And Cornell has benefited from his desire to try something different. It’s important way to live, always ready to try something new; you never know the places it can take you.


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