I was born in the Netherlands and completed an MSc degree in Animal Sciences at Wageningen University in 2006. My major specialization was in ethology and animal welfare and my minor was in animal breeding and genetics. I then completed a PhD degree at the University of Waikato in New Zealand, where I further developed my research skills in animal behaviour and physiology. After completing my PhD degree in 2011, I continued my research as a postdoc at CSIRO in Armidale, Australia, before moving to Sweden in 2014.
I am currenty responsible for the MSc course "Animal Behaviour and Welfare" and the PhD course "Understanding cognition and emotions to improve animal welfare". I also supervise BSc, MSc and PhD students during their research projects in animal behaviour and welfare.
My previous research has focused on investigating how animal behaviour, cognition, emotion and physiology underpin animal welfare, and how we can use this knowledge to advance animal welfare in a range of different species. My PhD research focused on feeding motivation and hunger, the underlying endocrinology and the relationship with animal welfare. My postdoctoral research aimed to understand how the HPA-axis (the stress system) and the opioid system regulate animal cognition and emotion.
I have two main lines of research at SLU. The first is to get a better understanding of how the gut-brain axis influences animal behaviour and cognition. There are trillions of microbes living in an animals gut, and these are important for normal and healthy brain development and functioning. My research focuses on how the composition and diversity of the gut microbiota alter animal behaviour, cognition and physiology. I am currently investigating how we can improve animal welfare by altering the gut microbiota, for example, by supplementing the animal’s diet with live beneficial bacteria (probiotics) or fermentable fibres that support the growth of beneficial bacteria (prebiotics).
The second line of research is the refinement and development of cognitive methods to assess emotional states in animals. Measuring emotions in animals is difficult due to the inaccessible subjectivity of the emotional experience, and so we rely on indirect behavioural, physiological and cognitive measures associated with the emotional state. Developing better ways to assess animal emotional states could help design improved management practices and interventions to address common welfare concerns. I am currently adapting cognitive test from human psychology to animals, so that we can investigate if similar cognitive processes also underpin emotional states in animals.
Within this last project, I am working with dogs that show separation-related behaviours (often called separation anxiety). These dogs feel extremely stressed when left alone at home, and will whine, bark, chew up the furniture or urinate inside the house when their owners are away. This is one of the most common behavioural problems in dogs, but it is currently not well understood why these dogs struggle so much with being alone. By developing novel ways to measure emotions, we can obtain novel insights into the minds of dogs with separation-related behaviours, so that we can find better ways to help these dogs.
- Hamlaoui, H., K. Keeling, O. Burman & E. Verbeek (2022). Investigating attentional scope as a novel indicator of emotional state in animals. Scientific Reports 12: 17452. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-022-21151-1
- Verbeek, E., L. Keeling, R. Landberg, J. E. Lindberg and J. Dicksved (2021). The gut microbiota and microbial metabolites are associated with tail biting in pigs. Scientific Reports 11(1): 20547. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-99741-8
- Verbeek, E., Dicksved, J. & Keeling, L., 2021. Supplementation of Lactobacillus early in life alters attention bias to threat in piglets. Scientific Reports 11, 10130, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-89560-2.
- Verbeek, E., Colditz, I., Blache, D., Lee, C., 2019. Chronic stress influences attentional and judgement bias and the activity of the HPA axis in sheep. Plos One. 2019;14(1).
- Sutherland, M., Worth, G., Cameron, C., Verbeek, E., 2019. Effect of Morphine Administration on Social and Non-Social Play Behaviour in Calves. Animals. 2019;9(2):56.
- Lee, C.,Verbeek, E., Doyle, R., Bateson, M., 2016. Attention bias to threat indicates anxiety differences in sheep. Biology Letters 12 (6), 20150977.
- Verbeek, E., Ferguson D., Lee C, 2014. Are hungry sheep more pessimistic? The effects of food restriction on cognitive bias and the involvement of ghrelin in its regulation. Physiology & behavior 123, 67-75.
- Verbeek, E., Ferguson, D., Quinquet de Monjour, P., Lee C. 2014. Generating positive affective states in sheep: the influence of food rewards and opioid administration. Applied Animal Behaviour Science; 154, 39-47.
- Stockman, C.A., Collins, T., Barnes, A.L., Miller, D., Wickham, S.L., Verbeek, E., Matthews, L., Ferguson, D., Wemelsfelder, F., Fleming P.A., 2014. Qualitative behavioural assessment of the motivation for feed in sheep in response to altered body condition score. Animal Production Science 54 (7), 922-929.
- Verbeek, E., Ferguson, D., Quinquet de Monjour, P., Lee C. 2012. Opioid control of behaviour in sheep: Effects of morphine and naloxone on food intake, activity and the affective state. Applied Animal Behaviour Science; 142: 18-29.
- Verbeek, E., Waas, J.R., Oliver, M.H., McLeay, L.M., Ferguson, D.M., Matthews, L.R., 2012. Motivation to obtain a food reward of pregnant ewes in negative energy balance: behavioural, metabolic and endocrine considerations. Hormones and Behavior 62: 162-172.
- Verbeek, E, Oliver, M.H., Waas, J.R., McLeay, L.M., Blache, D., Matthews, L.R., 2012. Reduced cortisol and metabolic responses of thin ewes to an acute cold challenge in mid-pregnancy: implications for animal physiology and welfare. PLoS ONE 7, e37315.
- Verbeek, E., Waas, J., McLeay, L., Matthews, L.R., 2011. Measurement of feeding motivation in sheep and the effects of food restriction. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 132, 121-130.
My research project
- Impact of early gut microflora colonization on behaviour in pigs: Investigating the microbiota-gut-brain axis (project leader)
- När helheten går förlorad: hur kognitiva processer påverkar känslorna hos djur (in Swedish, project leader)
- Increased utilization of ley crops in feed for organic pigs (participating researcher)
- https://www.pigweb.eu/ (participating researcher)
- Here you can find my blog "Amazing Animal Minds".