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)

Theme Leaders

Dr Tom Cameron, Lecturer in Community Ecology, School of Biological Sciences, University of Essex
Tom Cameron obtained his PhD in Ecology from the University of Leeds before undertaking postdoctoral work and fellowships in the UK (Leeds) and Sweden (Umea). He is currently a lecturer in community ecology in the Environmental and Microbial Ecology research group in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Essex.Tom has a wide research interest in the responses of ecological communities to environmental change, but this mostly focuses of the interactions between predation, including harvesting, and resource competition on demographic structures of populations. He is currently working on different research projects across a variety of taxonomic groups and approaches spanning from laboratory based invertebrate and fish microcosms to large scale long term field based studies in lakes and coastal seas.
Tom is a founding Board Member of the University of Essex Centre for Environment and Society. Tom works on a number of stakeholder led initiatives, is a Board Member of the Essex Native Oyster Restoration Initiative (ENORI), and collaborates with scientists at University of East Anglia, CEFAS and IGB Berlin and the Universities of Leeds, Aberdeen and Umea.
Dr Simon Tollington, Conservation Scientist at Chester Zoo, DICE UoK
Simon Tollington’s research interests lie in maintaining and replacing the ecological and evolutionary processes that support species and populations as dynamic, adaptable entities. Much of his work to date has been to provide evidence based solutions to managing endangered bird populations on Mauritius. Simon’s work on population genetics, the effects of supplemental feeding and impacts of disease in the Mauritius parakeet, has direct management implications for this and other species. His experience in population genetic research also extends to using non-invasive sampling methods on tigers in Bangladesh and Arabian leopards in Oman.
Simon is currently involved in numerous in-situ projects at Chester Zoo providing experimental, methodological and data analyses inputs. Many of these projects focus on developing ways to improve coexistence between people and wildlife and they include Indian elephants in Assam, Andean bears in Bolivia and fruit bats in Mauritius. He is also involved in the assessment of populations of Ecuadorian Amazon parrots in Ecuador. Simon joined Chester Zoo in 2016 as Conservation Scientist from DICE, University of Kent where he completed his PhD and was subsequently a Lecturer in Conservation Biology.
Prof Jenny Gill, Professor of Applied Ecology, University of East Anglia
Jennifer Gill obtained her PhD in Population Ecology from the University of East Anglia, and was subsequently a Senior Research Associate (funded by the RSPB, NERC and the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research) a NERC-funded Fellow and a Reader at UEA. She is currently Professor of Applied Ecology and Director of the MSc in Applied Ecology and Conservation. Jenny is an ecologist with primary interests in the ecology and evolution of migratory systems, and in applied issues of understanding and managing the impact of environmental changes on biodiversity. She has been a British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) member for over 25 years, and is the current Chair of the BTO Board. In 2010, she was the inaugural recipient of the Marsh Award for Ornithology.
Jenny has previously served as President of the British Ornithologists’ Union (BOU) and, in 2017, she received the Union Medal of the BOU. She is also a core panel member of the NERC Peer Review College and In-Focus Editor and Associate Editor for the Journal of Animal Ecology.

Dr Jennifer Smart, Principal Conservation Scientist, RSPB Centre for Conservation Science
Jen Smart is an ecologist with more than 15 years’ experience in avian population ecology and applied conservation and she spends a lot of her time testing possible solutions to conservation problems. She has expertise in a range of species and habitats and her research has focused on using habitat, management and demographic data to understand patterns of occupancy and abundance at a range of scales from nests to landscapes. Jen is passionate about developing scientists of the future and about science communication.
Jen has an Honorary Research position at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, where she is based most of the time. In addition, Jen is a British Trust for Ornithology Council appointed member of Ringing Committee, a British Ornithologists’ Union Council Chair and also Chair of the Ibis Management Committee.