Bernice Sepers


My research focuses on the causes and consequences of epigenetic variation in wild vertebrates. I am fascinated by both the ultimate and the proximate causes of inter- and intra-individual phenotypic variation and I am extremely interested in unraveling to importance of epigenetic variation for phenotypic variation and ultimately reproduction and survival.

Here at Bielefeld University, I get the chance to study this in a conservation context. I joined the Hoffman lab to investigate role of epigenetic variation (DNA methylation) in buffering or exacerbating inbreeding depression in Antarctic fur seals (Arctocephalus gazella) at Bird Island, South Georgia. I will work with a unique combination of epigenetic data (epiGBS2), whole-genome resequencing data, gene expression data and biometric and life-history data. I am specifically focusing on the relationship between DNA methylation and gene expression of deleterious mutations and the impact on reproduction and fitness. 

Previous research and other interests

I acquired my PhD at the Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW) and Wageningen University and Research (WUR) under the supervision of Prof. Dr Kees van Oers and Dr Koen Verhoeven. During my PhD, I investigated the role of heritable and induced DNA methylation variation in great tit (Parus major) personality. Although my findings indicate a low potential for DNA methylation to impact the evolution of behavioural traits, the results strongly suggest that DNA methylation provides an animal with the opportunity to modulate its or its offspring’s behaviour. 

I studied Biology (Bachelor of Science) and Environmental Biology (specialisation programme Behavioural Ecology, Master of Science) at Utrecht University. During my MSc degree, I assessed the effect of intervention on the abnormal behaviour of ex-laboratory chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) at Stichting AAP, Rescue Centre for Exotic Animals. After that, I joined the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources and Acadia University to study the environmental conditions influencing snowmobile trail use by coyotes (Canis latrans) within lynx (Lynx canadensis) home ranges at Cape Breton Island (Nova Scotia, Canada). 

Currently, I am an instructor on the international course “Ecological and evolutionary studies on DNA methylation in plants and animals” together with Prof. dr. Kees van Oers and Dr. Aline Muyle. This course is provided by Physalia-courses. I am also collaborating on projects on epigenetic variation in pearly razorfish (Xyrichtys novacula) and immune functions and migration of pied flycatchers (Ficedula hypoleuca). In my free time, I like to read, cook and hike.

Curriculum Vitae
  • 2022: Postdoctoral researcher at the Behavioural Ecology Group of Wageningen University and Research (WUR) 
  • 2018 – 2022: Doctoral candidate at the Department of Animal Ecology at the Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW) and the Behavioural Ecology Group at WUR. PhD degree with distinction (cum laude): awarded to the top 2%. 
  • 2016 – 2018 Ecologist and soil consultant at Antea Group, Oosterhout (fixed position) 
  • 2013 – 2016: MSc Environmental Biology (Utrecht University, Behavioural Ecology) 
  • 2010 – 2013: BSc Biology (Utrecht University) 


Sepers, B.*, Chen, R.*, Memelink, M., Verhoeven, K. & van Oers, K. (in press). Variation in DNA methylation in great tit nestlings (Parus major) is largely determined by genetic effects. Molecular Biology and Evolution

Laine, V., Sepers, B., Lindner, M., Gawehns, F., Ruuskanen, S., & van Oers, K., (2022). An ecologist’s guide for studying DNA methylation variation in wild vertebrates. Molecular Ecology Resources, 00: 1-21. 

Gawehns, F., Postuma, M., Van Antro, M., Nunn, A., Sepers, B., Fatma, S., van Gurp, T.P., Wagemaker, N.C.A.M., Mateman, A.C., Milanovic-Ivanovic, S., Grosse, I., van Oers, K., Vergeer, P., & Verhoeven, K.J.F. (2022). epiGBS2: an improved protocol and automated snakemake workflow for highly multiplexed reduced representation bisulfite sequencing. Molecular Ecology Resources, 22(5): 2087-2104. 

Sepers, B., Erven, J.A.M., Gawehns, F., Laine, V.N., & van Oers, K. (2021). Epigenetics and early life stress: experimental brood size affects DNA methylation in great tits (Parus major). Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 9, [609061]: 1-15 

van Oers, K., Sepers, B., Sies, W., Gawehns-Bruning, F.K.K., Verhoeven, K., & Laine, V. (2020). Epigenetics of animal personality: DNA methylation cannot explain the heritability of exploratory behavior in a songbird. Integrative and Comparative Biology, 60(6): 1517-1530. 

Sepers, B., van den Heuvel, K., Lindner, M., Viitaniemi, H., Husby, A., & van Oers, K. (2019). Avian ecological epigenetics: pitfalls and promises. Journal of Ornithology, 160(4): 1183-1203. 

* These authors contributed equally to this work 

Contact details

Department of Animal Behaviour 
Bielefeld University 
Postfach 100131 
33501 Bielefeld 

e-mail: bernice.sepers[at] / b.sepers[at]
Twitter: @BerniceSepers
researchgate: Bernice Sepers
Google Scholar: Bernice Sepers
orcid: Bernice Sepers

PhD thesis 

Funded by: Bielefeld Young Researchers’ Fund