Molecular processes behind adaptation and evolution of microbes, algae, animals and plants to their environments
The adaptation and evolution of organisms is orchestrated by molecular processes at the level of (epi)genes, proteins, and metabolites. They not only help to sense changes in the biotic and abiotic environment of organisms, but they also facilitate an adequate response. Furthermore, (epi)genes and the molecules they encode are products of evolution and therefore the cellular machinery responsible for metabolism and growth. We are interested in identifying and characterising molecular processes involved in the response of key species and their populations to global change such as warming, ocean acidification, and the depletion of essential resources. We apply cutting-edge molecular tools such as stable-isotope probing, long-read Nanopore sequencing and genome editing using CRISPR/Cas. With an advanced understanding of the roles of individual genes and their networks in adaptation and evolution, we aim to leverage organismal biology to predict the effects of global change on our planet.
Population, community and landscape ecology, from the Amazon to the Polar Oceans
Healthy ecosystems are essential for environmental sustainability, but understanding the complex dynamics of ecological communities remains a major scientific frontier. We study ecological systems at every scale, from detailed studies of priority flagship species to landscape-level approaches to devise optimal strategies for conservation planning. Our research spans the globe, with particular foci on tropical forests, temperate agroecosystems and polar marine environments. We adopt a strongly multidisciplinary approach, examining both the ecological processes underpinning ecosystem dynamics and the challenges of management at the policy interface. In the Tropics, current research programs include work examining the vertebrate assemblage structure of fragmented and intact Amazonian forests, the management of timber and non-timber products in those landscapes and the optimal design of agricultural land-uses in the Colombian Andes. In temperate regions, our research has helped develop ground-breaking landscape-scale conservation management plans for threatened agroecosystems including the unique Breckland landscapes of East Anglia. We work closely with NGOs and government agencies around the world to transfer scientific evidence into effective action and policy. As human demands on ecosystems continue to grow, we endeavour to identify emerging threats and find new ways to understand and manage our most precious natural resources.
Movement ecology of birds and other animals, and the role of migration as a response to environmental change
We study the movement of organisms in space and time to achieve new insights in conservation genetics, behaviour ecology, population processes, and biogeography. We use both empirical and theoretical approaches to study movement phenomena including foraging behaviour, dispersal and migration, fundamental processes that determine species ranges. Biodiversity patterns are changing in response to global environmental change, species distributions are shifting towards the poles, higher elevations or bigger depths. A mechanistic understanding of the movement of organisms can help predict how species may respond to current and future changes in the environment.Our work includes the development and use of state-of-the-art tracking technologies and sensors, including GPS, accelerometers, thermometers and barometers that enable a mechanistic understanding of the causes and consequences of organismal movement and how organisms respond to changes in the environment.
Biogeochemical cycles of carbon, nitrogen, sulphur and oxygen in the oceans, including primary productivity and production and consumption of biogenic trace gases
We are currently undertaking research to determine how much carbon dioxide is produced through bacterial respiration in the open ocean, and how much this varies between the polar and tropical oceans, how zooplankton poo contributes to the drawdown of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and how the amount of land-derived dissolved carbon that is not available to bacterial breakdown can be monitored in rivers and coastal waters. We are studying the effect of increasing temperature on the respiration of marine microbes and how this can contribute to decreasing oxygen concentrations in the deep sea (deoxygenation), and investigating why despite the vast diversity of microbes in the sea, an amount of dissolved carbon equivalent to the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is not utilised by them.
Solving the challenges of environmental change, pollution and overexploitation on ecosystem services and conservation of biodiversity
Global environmental change has a massive impact on biodiversity. We study these affects at various levels, including molecular, organismal, population and ecosystem studies. We develop and use novel bioinformatics approaches and Next Generation Sequencing techniques to study adaptive evolution in response to environmental change. We investigate the rapid evolution of pathogens on genetically uniform crops, and the emergence of infectious diseases. At the organismal level, we use GPS/GSM loggers to understand the migration behaviour of birds, and we use molecular markers and mark-recapture techniques to understand the patterns of migration and gene flow across metapopulations. We work on a large number of conservation projects of birds, including kestrels, white storks, the Asian houbara, and the pink pigeon, and many of these projects include collaborations with zoos and wildlife foundations across the globe. Some of our research focusses on biodiversity conservation in human-modified landscapes, whereas other research takes place in the Amazonian rainforests, and on coral reefs in the Caribbean. We study the dramatic impact of warming on polar ecosystems, both in the Arctic and Antarctic. The overarching goal of our studies is to remedy the degradation of biodiversity and our natural habitat, and prevent the extinction of species.