Ecology and Conservation

Our research uses molecular, behavioural and ecological techniques to understand how ecosystems function, how they respond to global change, and how they can be managed to enhance biodiversity and its associated services.

Ecology of host-parasite interactions

We are studying the ecological and evolutionary interactions between parasites and their animal hosts. This includes fundamental studies of how the immune system evolves and phenotypically responds to challenges by parasites, as well as the development and use of biological pesticides to improve food security. Study systems include insects, birds and mammals and their bacterial, viral and nematode parasites in the UK and Africa, especially African armyworms and their viruses.

Staff: Ken Wilson

Plant Ecology

We are researching impacts of global change drivers such as air pollution, invasive species, land use and climate change on plant communities and soil biogeochemistry.  We use a range of approaches from small scale controlled experiments right up to national and international surveys to identify impacts and investigate how we can support environmental policy and manage the environment to minimise impact. We work in a range of ecosystems across the world from deserts in the USA to grasslands in Norway.

Staff: Carly Stevens

Bird behaviour and ecology

We are examining how variation in water quality affects the ecology and behaviour of the dipper (Cinclus cinclus), a songbird that lives exclusively along rivers and streams. This species is a well-known indicator of water chemistry and the health of freshwater invertebrate populations, and we are investigating how these factors impact on the life history and behaviour of individual birds, including studies of early-life effects, life-history trade-offs and song development. This work has important implications for understanding the consequences of environmental change for wild animals and is part of a long-term study of dippers in Yorkshire Dales National Park.

Staff: Stuart Sharp

Insect communities and ecosystem services

We are investigating the links between agricultural management, the composition of insect communities and the delivery of key ecosystem services, such as pest population control and pollination.  This research involves theoretical and observational studies, as well as experimental studies in the laboratory and field.  We have worked on a range of tropical and temperate systems in Europe, Africa, South America and south-east Asia.  Our main objective is to understand the ecological mechanisms underpinning ecosystem service provision in order to optimise insect-mediated ecosystem services in agricultural systems. 

Staff: Andy Wilby  

Forest Ecosystem Ecology

We research ecosystem processes to determine how they will respond to change, with a particular focus on forests and woodlands. Our work crosses the disciplinary boundaries of plant ecology, biogeochemistry, soil science and microbial ecology to try and understand how ecosystems function as a whole. Our main areas of interest are forest carbon dynamics, nutrient cycling, and soil carbon storage, which include studies of plant traits, spatial heterogeneity, and microbial communities. We also work across experimental scales to link detailed mechanistic studies in the lab with large-scale observations in the field. Current projects involve work in the UK, Panama and Borneo.

Staff: Emma Sayer

Insect biodiversity and global change

We are investigating how environmental change affects insect biodiversity and the ecosystem functions and services they drive. We undertake observational studies on how individual species and whole communities are responding to climate change and habitat degradation, and use field manipulations and lab experiments to unravel the mechanisms underlying their responses. Our research focuses on both temperate (northern and mountain species in Europe) and tropical (rainforest insect biodiversity) regions. The ultimate aim of our research is to reduce biodiversity loss by developing conservation strategies that mitigate the negative impact of enviromental change on natural ecosystems.

Staff: Rosa Menéndez

Tropical land use change and ecology

We are interested in understanding how human activities influence the value of tropical forests for species conservation, ecosystem functioning and the livelihoods of local people. Research includes the ECOFOR consortium project which aims to improve our understanding of the responses of tropical forests to climate change, logging and deforestation in the Amazon and Atlantic Forests of Brazil. This work is funded by NERC in the UK and FAPESP in Brazil, to assess biodiversity and ecosystem functioning in degraded and recovering forests. We have strong research ties with the Goeldi Museum, the Federal University of Lavras and the University of Campinas in Brazil.

Staff: Jos Barlow

Carbon cycling and renewable energy

We are examining carbon cycling in terrestrial systems, to further our understanding of feedbacks to climate change. The research examines fundamental mechanisms of how climate, soil and vegetation type and their interactions affect carbon cycling, cutting across biotic and abiotic processes. The research sits at the interface of biogeochemistry, hydrology and ecology. We use this science to explore how different land management options affect ecosystem carbon cycling, with a particular emphasis on terrestrial renewable energy sources.

Staff: Alona Armstrong

Global change and plant-soil interactions

We are advancing science to improve our understanding of the effects of land use and climate change on plant and soil biodiversity and their role in ecosystem functioning. Using combined biogeochemical and ecological approaches, including isotope tracer and greenhouse gas technologies, we are examining the effects of global change in Arctic, Boreal, European and Tropical biomes. The purpose of this research is to increase fundamental scientific knowledge and develop strategies for sustainable management of globally important ecosystems with scientific evidence.

Staff: Nick Ostle

Sustainable urbanization in the forested tropics

We are interested in identifying pathways towards sustainable urbanization in tropical forest regions, particularly the Amazon. Our current research addresses two main areas: (1) Developing an early warning system to predict the impacts of Amazonian droughts and floods on human food security and biodiversity. This work is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) in the UK and by the Brazilian Science Council (CNPQ). (2) Assessing wildlife harvest and sustainability, with a focus on urban demand and transitions in the Amazonian food system (e.g. fish-farming as an emergent sector). This work is funded by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), with whom we work closely.

Staff: Luke Parry

Breeding and behavioural ecology in birds

We are interested in various aspects of breeding ecology in birds, mainly because they are a readily observable group of species which can provide data at the level of the individual.  Recent and current projects include: trying to understand the interactions and conflict between family members when parents deliver food to nestlings; quantifying the impact of climate change on reproductive strategies; identifying potential causes of population declines in migrant passerines; and investigating the impact of nest architecture on costs of reproduction.

Staff:  Ian Hartley