Ecology and Biodiversity

Ecology and Biodiversity

Why this theme?

Earth’s life support system depends on the security of food provision as well as biodiversity and ecosystem function, but both are under immense pressure from growth and demand by human populations, and we currently face a sixth mass extinction. 21st-century environmental scientists need the advanced skills to quantify and understand biodiversity, as well as effective communication capabilities to inform political decisions.


ARIES has depth and breadth of expertise across partners in measuring, analysing and understanding biodiversity from microbes to mammals, in a wide range of ecosystems on land and sea, and from the gene to the ecosystem. Projects will combine expertise in taxonomic and functional assignment, ‘omics, analysis of big data, and social sciences to inform policy on food security, ecosystem functions and services. ARIES is uniquely placed to couple these strengths in ecology and evolutionary genetic theory with: i) agri-tech expertise (e.g. at JIC and via Agri-Tech East); ii) aquaculture and fisheries expertise (e.g. at Cefas); iii) an array of end users from the energy, water and engineering sectors (see below); iv) the UK’s key policy makers for environmental protection and food security on land and sea.

Student training and employability

This topic will provide unparalleled opportunities for students to develop expertise in an area of the utmost societal importance. In addition to developing advanced field and experimental skills related to selected environments, students will be exposed to habitat-specific field methods from across ARIES, ranging from ROVs and purpose-built sleds for seabed surveys analysed using modern eDNA techniques, to the application of detection dogs to map the distribution of endangered mammals in unexplored and inaccessible field sites. Skills developed within the project, via cohort training and advanced training courses, will result in highly employable environmental scientists, who have excellent coverage of the NERC most-wanted skills, namely: modelling, multi-disciplinarity, data management, numeracy, translating research into practice, fieldwork, risk and uncertainty.

Wider engagement

ARIES has a large number of diverse partners heavily invested in this topic, including: expert non-HEI hosting partners (e.g. IoZ, BTO, CEH, JIC, EI), major policy makers in the UK (including the Defra group: EA, Cefas, JNCC, FR, MMO, NE), water, infrastructure and engineering organisations (e.g. AW, Balfour Beatty, Mott MacDonald, Royal Haskonings DHV), consultancies (e.g. MarineSpace Ltd., PML Applications), conservation bodies of varying breadth in terms of habitats, taxa and global reach (e.g. Amphibian & Reptile Conservation Trust, Chester Zoo, RSPB, Woodland Trust, West Country Rivers Trust, Wildwood Trust, WWF-UK), in addition to links to international governmental and non-governmental organisations.

Hot Topics in this Theme

❖ Information on bird distribution in space and time (at least seasonality) with associated habitat usage e.g., rafting, moulting or nesting. This should include both designated and UK BAP priority bird species.

❖ Emerging technologies such as GIS and Lidar techniques in assessing habitat and conservation status

❖ Coastal ecosystem biodiversity: Understanding the factors that determine biodiversity – pressures, threats, ecosystem response and resilience to climate change.

❖ What emissions reduction pathways lead to the best outcomes for biodiversity? (i.e. what temperature rise should we target)?

❖ Ecosystem Services: – What do the people want in their environment? What can any given parcel of land offer (e.g. interest, return to business, health)