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Ecology, Evolution and Conservation

In Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation, we seek to understand a broad variety of processes that determine how organisms interact with their environment and how changes in environment can alter the characteristics of organisms over ecological and evolutionary timescales.

Human populations and associated habitat modification have a substantial impact across almost every region of the globe. Changing human population pressures and patterns of resource use can lead to the rapid expansion of some species and the decline of others. Consequently, in this research theme we also seek to understand the causal factors behind species invasions and population declines and to develop appropriate tools and guidelines for the monitoring and managing of populations and the habitats that they occupy.

  • Conservation

    The contemporary world is one of rapidly increasing human interference in natural environments and of competition for space and resources. Conservation Science is concerned with understanding threats to biodiversity, and developing practical solutions to try and mitigate these. If we are to manage ecosystems sustainably and retain or enhance existing levels of biodiversity, it is clear that we need to look beyond a narrow disciplinary approach, since environmental change is driven by economic and social factors that determine human behaviour, and because feedbacks exist from environmental change to behaviour.

    Conservation science is key research area within Biological and Environmental Sciences reflecting our established position as a leader in this field within Scotland and our aspirations to be the leading UK institution in the areas of Conservation and Environmental Protection. We have well established and long-standing links with end users including conservation agencies and NGOs (e.g. SNHRSPBBat Conservation TrustWWF International), policy makers both within the UK and internationally (e.g.Scottish GovernmentDEFRA; Parcs Gabon), regulators (e.g. SEPA) and industry, ensuring our research is relevant to societal needs. We are a natural partner for governmental organisations in providing the science base needed to inform strategic responses to issues such as: climate change and its implications; the impacts of pollutants; water management; the global biodiversity crisis and the conflicting pressures on land use; and provision of secure and sustainable ecosystem services.

    Conservation science is a field which is necessarily interdisciplinary in nature and this is reflected in the diverse range of topics discussed on our blog site ( We work with researchers from a diverse range of fields including social science, economics, computing science and psychology to answer key questions relating to the threats facing biodiversity and how to manage these, and sustainable use of resources.

    Research Areas

    Research Staff

    Dr Kate Abernethy (Reader)
    The evolution, ecology and conservation of African rain forests, in particular looking at dynamics of large mammal populations and factors influencing the socio-ecology and ecological role of large mammals in forests.

    Dr Colin Bull (Teaching Fellow)
    The ecology of endangered freshwater fish species,and the development of fisheries management tools

    Professor Nils Bunnefeld (Senior Lecturer)
    The conservation and management of social-ecological systems using the combination of empirical data collection and modelling to investigate the interaction between human decision-making and the dynamics of ecological processes.

    Dr Elisa Fuentes-Montemayor (Research Fellow)
    Bat conservation and ecology in fragmented agricultural landscapes

    Dr Andre Gilburn (Lecturer)
    The ecology, conservation and management of sandy beach ecosystems, with a particular focus of the environmental impacts of seaweed removal on strandline macroinvertebrates, shorebirds and dune plants and stability, and the evolutionary ecology of seaweed flies.

    Dr Kathryn Jeffery (Research Fellow)
    Conservation of great apes

    ‌Professor Kirsty Park (Reader)
    Invasive alien species; Animal ecology and conservation; Human-wildlife conflict; Exposure of vertebrates to endocrine disruptors.

  • Plant Ecology and Biogeography

    We investigate the interactions between plants and their environment from the processes involved to the patterns that they generate and from the individual level to the distributions of biomes at the planetary scale. Members of this research group work in systems spanning from the tropics to the poles and from alpine plants to tropical trees. 

    Whilst routed deeply in theoretical understanding, our work often has strong practical applications, for example, assessing how tropical forests recover from disturbance and the functional differences between undisturbed and regenerating forests. We use approaches including experimental manipulation of plants in controlled conditions or their natural environment through to observational approaches and mathematical modelling. We exist in a time of rapid environmental changes, understanding how plants respond to change and the scaling up from individuals to populations, communities, and distributions is, therefore, crucial to help us to predict impacts of change on natural systems and the human societies that depend on them.

    Dr Daisy Dent (Lecturer)
    The effects of land-use change on tropical forest biodiversity and ecosystem functions

    Professor Alistair Jump (Professor) 
    Plant responses to climate change; Determinants of species distributions at global and local scales; Evolutionary responses to range shifts and habitat fragmentation; Forest conservation and sustainability.

    Dr C E Timothy Paine (Lecturer)
    The community structure and dynamics of tropical rain forests, with an emphasis on species coexistence.

    Dr Mario Vallejo-Marin (Associate Professor) 
    The role of adaptation in the evolution of plant reproductive strategies. 

  • Evolutionary Ecology

    We study a range of problems that relate broadly to the evolution and ecology of organisms. This work includes fundamental and applied research that investigates how ecological processes affect evolutionary patterns, and how evolutionary mechanisms, such as natural and sexual selection, shape ecological diversity. Our work spans the study of mechanisms regulating the function of important traits such as immunity, ageing, thermal tolerance and reproductive characters. It examines the expression of traits across sexes, populations and species over time, e.g. the mode and tempo of host-parasite coevolution, variation in investment in sexually selected traits, or environmental influences on an organism’s distribution and performance. Such research is urgently needed to understand how species adapt to new conditions, for example in response to climate change or biological invasions. Through collaborations with researchers in BES and other UK and overseas universities we apply our understanding of evolutionary processes and differences in trait expression to the conservation management of key species and habitats.

    Dr Stuart Auld (Research Fellow)
    The links between ecological, coevolutionary and epidemiological patterns in natural host-parasite systems, with particular focus on the crustacean Daphnia and its bacterial and fungal parasites.

    Dr Luc Bussière (Lecturer) 
    How interspecific differences in selection alter investment in sexual traits relative to investment in other aspects of life history, and the role of these differences in creating diversity.

    Dr Matt Tinsley (Senior Lecturer) 
    The ecology and evolution of host-parasite interactions in invertebrate and vertebrate systems, focusing on ageing-immunity interactions, the influence of parasites in biological invasions and the influences of symbiosis and parasitism on sexual reproduction.

    Dr Mario Vallejo-Marin (Associate Professor)
    Evolutionary interactions between plants and their animal pollinators

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