Our ecology research drives change in the use of our natural resources to improve biodiversity and mitigate the effects of climate change. We tackle many of the biggest challenges facing our planet.
Ecology is the study of interactions between living things and their environment. It facilitates understanding of vital species and habitats, the interdependence between people and nature and the effectiveness of conservation actions.
This is particularly relevant given the current biodiversity crisis and our changing climate. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimate that 28% of species are under threat globally. Worryingly, the recent Biodiversity Intactness Index, which summarises the change in ecological communities in response to human pressures, suggests that the UK has already lost 50% of its biodiversity.
For the first time, the World Economic Forum has placed environmental concerns at the top of its long-term risk assessments, with biodiversity loss the second most-impactful and third most-likely risk for the next decade. This situation is heightened by the effects of climate change in the form of increasing temperatures, rising sea levels, more frequent storm events, altered rainfall and ocean acidification.
Our research, which spans a wide range of species, habitats and ecosystems, aims to overcome these challenges by supporting effective conservation actions. We help guide the use of natural resources to improve sustainability and environmental health.
Our teaching programmes in Environmental Protection and Management, Wildlife and Conservation Management, Ecological Economics and Agriculture also draw from our most recent research to give students the most up-to-date information and experiences.
More than 70% of the UK’s land area is farmed in some way. With farmland dominating our countryside, it is vital we explore how agricultural land can be more wildlife friendly and how we can help restore natural habitats. Our agroecology research seeks to identify mechanisms for supporting sustainable farmland management and improving biodiversity.
This is a selection of our agroecology work:
- supporting wild pollinators in agricultural landscapes
- managing riparian buffer strips to optimise ecosystem services
- economic and environmental implications of greenhouse gas reduction practices in agriculture
- sustaining biodiversity through mixed farming systems, where more than one agricultural practice (such as crops and livestock) happens on the same field
- integrated pest management planning to minimise environmental impacts
In recent decades our seas have experienced large changes in species occurrence and abundance, habitat quality and human use. Freshwater systems have also undergone intense modification and pollution from human activities. Our aquatic ecology research monitors a range of species and habitats using innovative techniques, such as underwater camera systems, hydrophones (microphones designed to be used under water) and citizen science.
This is a selection of our aquatic ecology work:
- behavioural and acoustical ecology of marine mammals
- seabird breeding success and survival rates
- fish habitat use and spatial ecology
- abundance patterns of inter-tidal invertebrate and algal species
- resilience of fisheries to future uncertainties
- human disturbance of marine species and environments
Biodiversity and conservation
Global support for conservation initiatives continues to grow. This is particularly evident through the launch of the United Nations Decade of Ecosystem Restoration and United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, as well as the recent COP26 climate change conference and COP15 biodiversity conference. Our biodiversity conservation research helps assess the effectiveness of species and environmental management practices.
This is a selection of our biodiversity and conservation work:
- land-use management and the impacts on biodiversity
- supporting biodiversity in human-altered environments
- developing sustainable wildlife tourism industries
- assessing the effectiveness of ecological restoration projects
- innovations in wildlife monitoring, such as acoustic monitoring, camera traps (automatic photography of species in the wild) and image recognition, which provides a more efficient way of processing the camera footage
Changes to ecological and environmental conditions can promote infectious diseases in several ways. Understanding these factors has taken on a new level of urgency in the face of global climate change, with many models indicating increases in disease risk under future climate scenarios. Our disease ecology research examines the factors driving parasite and pathogen transmission at genetic, organism, population, species and ecosystem levels.
This is a selection of our disease ecology work:
- ecology and evolution of wildlife pathogens
- pathogen–host interactions from molecular to population level
- use of biological control agents on plant pathogens
- genome resequencing to investigate structure and genetic diversity of pathogens
- behavioural signatures of parasitism
- pathogen transmission between wild and domestic animals
- environmental change and disease risk
Upland areas cover approximately 40% of the UK and are important in terms of biodiversity as they provide unique habitats and are popular for leisure activities. However, upland areas are also predicted to be exposed to land use change and climate stress over the coming years. Our upland ecology research investigates the effectiveness of different management and restoration methods.
This is a selection of our upland ecology work:
- carbon sequestration in upland habitats
- sustainable deer management
- peatland restoration initiatives
- interactive effects of moorland management and wilding on predator–prey relationships
- restoration of upland vegetation communities by conservation grazing
- upland land-use scenarios and their impacts on biodiversity and greenhouse gas emissions
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