World Wildlife Day spotlight on the Centre for Ecology, Evolution and Conservation

Published by  Communications

On 1st Mar 2021

From protecting pollinators to studying bird migration, safeguarding Antarctic penguins and writing about jellyfish superpowers – a group of UEA researchers are making new discoveries about wildlife here in Norfolk and around the world. 

World Wildlife Day is celebrated annually on March 3 in support of animals and plants across the world.

The Centre for Ecology, Evolution and Conservation at UEA brings together ecologists and evolutionary biologists to study everything from micro-organisms such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi to plants and animals.

With more than 70 research staff and PhD students, it is one of the largest groups of its kind in Europe, with strong links to major institutions like the RSPB.

Professor of Ecology Alastair Grant said: “CEEC is a loose grouping of ecologists and evolutionary biologists across UEA’s School of Biological Sciences and the School of Environmental Sciences.

“The breadth of research carried out here covers population biology, ecosystem ecology, conservation, evolution and genetics, spanning spatial scales that range from the microscopic to continental and global.

“Our external collaborators include the British Trust for Ornithology, RSPB, the John Innes Centre, ELSA and CEFAS. Inside UEA we have collaborations with social scientists, environmental chemists, molecular biologists, and staff in Norwich Medical School and the School of International Development.”

The theme of World Wildlife Day 2021 is ‘Forests and Livelihoods: Sustaining People and Planet’.

A new study from CEEC researcher Prof Carlos Peres shows the devastating effects of human activity on wildlife in the American tropics over the last 500 years.

Image credit: Juliano A. Bogoni, 2016

More than half of the species in local ‘assemblages’ – sets of co-existing species – of medium and large mammals living in the Neotropics of Meso and South America have died out since the region was first colonised by Europeans in the 1500s.

The UEA team worked with researchers at the University of São Paulo (USP), Brazil, and found that human activity such as habitat change and overhunting is largely responsible for the overwhelming loss of mammal diversity across Latin America.

Closer to home here in Norfolk, Prof Paul Dolman and Dr James Gilroy are tracking biodiversity along the North Norfolk Coast using data collected by amateur naturalists. The project is the first to record in full the thousands of species that inhabit the area. 

Prof Dolman also leads a sustainable Houbara management programme to help protect the Asian bustard, which is threatened by unregulated hunting, trapping for illegal trade and habitat degradation.

Led by Prof Diana Bell, CEEC researchers were the first to rediscover an ‘extinct’ Bahama nuthatch and a rare and elusive Annamite Striped rabbit in Vietnam. Prof Bell’s research has also showed that we need a worldwide end to the wildlife trade to avoid future pandemics.

And a recent report from Prof Cock Van Oosterhout called for strict control measures as the only way to reduce the evolution and spread of new Covid-19 variants – including vaccinating pets.

In a new project led by Dr Aldina Franco, CEEC researchers are tracking white storks in a bid to find out about migratory habits that disappeared more than 600 years ago. 

Image credit: Kevin Harwood

Meahwhile, a childhood fascination with birds and the coastline led James Booty to study how shorebirds affect ecosystem functioning, working with Dr Trevor Tolhurst and Dr Richard Davies. His work has shown that Redshank, Grey Plover and Dunlin alter sediment erosion, nutrient cycling and carbon sequestration on intertidal mudflats.

Prof David S Richardson has focused on cooperative breeding in the Seychelles warbler, where adult helpers assist parents in looking after their young. Helpers do this to increase the number of siblings they have. 

Recent work now shows that being helped also has surprising benefits for aged parents – elderly mothers live longer when they have help raising offspring. While the young warblers themselves also grow and survive better if their elderly parents have help raising them. 

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