Research in my lab is examining how biodiversity (particularly insects) is responding to changes in habitat and climate warming. We study both tropical and temperate ecosystems, and how to design landscapes that help nature to thrive.
Responses of species to anthropogenic climate change
We have shown that species are responding to global climate warming by advancing their phenology (eg earlier emergence of butterflies in spring), by expanding their distributions to higher latitudes/uphill, and by retreating and going locally extinct at their low latitude trailing-edge range margins, which is likely to lead to the loss of unique genetic diversity. Many species are failing to expand their ranges because of lack of suitable new habitats to colonise, and we examine whether improving habitat connectivity will help promote local species richness, facilitate species’ range expansions and slow-up retractions.
The climate-driven range expansion of the speckled wood butterfly Pararge aegeria is reduced where less habitat is available. A multi-species analysis of UK butterflies has revealed that stable population growth rates are a prerequisite for species’ range expansion during recent climate warming.
Sustainable tropical landscapes
We are investigating how rainforest disturbance (eg commercial logging) and forest fragmentation affects species’ diversity and ecosystem functioning. We test the impacts of sustainability certification schemes for reducing biodiversity losses in oil palm plantations by making recommendations about the size and placement of forest set-asides for conserving biodiversity, and impacts of re-wetting peatlands. We have shown the benefits of retaining relatively small fragments of forest, which can improve connectivity and boost carbon stocks. We examine methods for producing oil palm more sustainably, in both large industrial plantations and by smallholder farmers.
My goal is to instil understanding of ecological systems, underpinned by knowledge. It is important that students gain knowledge and synthesise information to understand fundamental ecological principles, which can be used to develop new ideas, especially in relation to understanding the causes and consequences of humans on natural landscapes. I think it is important for students to question received evidence and opinions, and to develop their own critical thinking.
As an ecologist, I teach about global diversity and factors affecting the natural world. My research inspires my teaching, and I use examples and case studies from my current research in my lectures. My research covers topics such as the impacts of climate change on species, and the consequences of habitat loss on biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. Much of my work focuses on butterflies. These iconic species are very sensitive to environmental changes and there is a vast amount of ecological knowledge about them, making them great model organisms to study. The fascination of the general public in these species makes them important for developing new policy and conservation managements options. How do species vary in their responses to climate and landuse change? How will ecological communities change in future? What are the implications of biodiversity changes? How can we reduce biodiversity losses?
We analyse existing data for species that go back many decades to examine ecological and evolutionary factors affecting species declines. We carry out field work, analysis of existing data and computer modelling to understand the ecological factors affecting species' declines. We examine the effectiveness of conservation actions to conserve species. Computer models can determine the best places to conserve habitat to improve landscape connectivity for species. I try to convey state of the art knowledge and understanding in biodiversity conservation and environmental change impacts.
I cover a broad range of topics in tutorials, in the fields of conservation ecology. Issues concerning species declines are particularly evident in tropical regions and so we often discuss topics related to rainforests. Tutorials are a forum for students to learn and practice how to question, have ideas and to discuss topical scientific issues. I get students to discuss and critically assess published papers and to talk about designing research programmes to tackle current conservation problems The informal nature of the small tutorial group is a great place to explore ideas and come up with solutions.
Students taking a project in my lab will work on topics aligned with our research. Students can chose to do field work projects over the summer, or computerbased projects during term-time. Most recent projects have arisen from questions about testing consensus in the existing literature on the effects of environmental change on biodiversity. Student gain skills in data extraction and synthesis, meta-analysis and new quantitative approaches and investigate the drivers of biodiversity declines and the consequences of species extinctions.