Department of Biology
The distribution of organisms in space has a profound impact on biological and evolutionary outcomes. Dispersal is a key element in the development of spatial patterns. My research group is approaching the study of dispersal in a variety of ways: from practical field ecology trapping or tracking insects and plants, to purely theoretical approaches using simulation modelling.
My research has focussed on the evolution of dispersal strategies and the community-level consequences. Generally, dispersal is favoured when kin competition is strong and habitat is widely distributed, and selected against when suitable habitat is highly aggregated in space, although intelligent organisms, able to detect suitable habitat, will tend be more dispersive.
I have been applying models of dispersal evolution to questions of range expansions and invasions including the spread of human diseases or the interactions of phage, bacteria and plasmids. The implications of environmental change are a focus as models quickly demonstrate that dispersal increases at range margins providing climate has made habitat suitable beyond the range, but that range expansion is slowed by an Allee effect.
My research also considers ageing in relation to dispersal and the effect of inter-specific interactions. Recently I have considered the evolution of partial migration in birds and of behaviours, such as healthcare, in mobile human groups of the Palaeolithic.
Effective learning requires a mix of teaching styles mixing theory, examples, practical work in laboratories and workshops. Students can engage with material as suits them. I like to follow up practicals with debriefs and well-annotated specimen answers so that students can gain the maximum from a session. I believe strongly that biology is a practical subject and, even when teaching statistical analysis, that it should be taught through pragmatic use.
I teach a range of subjects within ecology and evolution through population biology, community ecology, animal behaviour and evolutionary ecology to data analysis and statistics. I like to keep the factual content in lectures down to give students the space to gain an overview of a topic – they can acquire details using reading lists or other materials.
I give students as much freedom as possible to follow their biological interests in tutorials. Once they have selected a topic we work together to find primary literature and a focus of my tutorials will be help to incorporate primary literature effectively into written work. I always give detailed feedback on writing styles and hope to generate a supportive environment during tutorials for students to comment on each other’s written work.
I offer theoretical and lab-based projects, as well as fieldwork when possible. It is always the aim that students develop their own ideas from the starting point I provide. Many projects start with behavioural investigations of insects with experimental manipulations of their physical and social environment. I also want to give students a chance to participate in simulation modelling whatever their previous experience of coding. For the modelling projects I sometimes work on coding under guidance from the student and sometimes the project student will work on coding with some guidance with me.