Evolutionary ecology of host-parasite Interactions
50% of all animal species are parasites, and how they interact with their hosts impacts ecology and evolution from individuals – e.g., host reproductive fitness – to ecosystems – e.g., parasites determine ecosystem structure and stability. We work on the interactions between parasites and social insects (mostly bumble bees, but also ants and honey bees) using a range of approaches, including fieldwork, infection experiments, functional immunology, and molecular ecology. Projects available in this area include the impact and epidemiology of natural and emergent diseases, parasites in invasive species, how hosts defend themselves against parasites, and parasite phylogeography. Please contact me for further information.
Conservation: the behaviour and ecology of bumble bees
Bumble bees are a major, and attractive component of UK (and global) ecosystems, providing the essential service of pollination to wildflowers and crops. Our interests include understanding the ecological needs of bumble bees, understanding patterns of decline, and re-introduction programmes. Available projects include the behaviour and ecology of bumble bee queens, the reintroduction of the short-haired bumble bee to the UK, and the ecology and behaviour of male bumble bees. Please contact me for further information.
Biology of social insects
Social insects are the ecologically dominant terrestrial animals, playing roles as major herbivores and predators, as well as providing the services of pest control, soil production and maintenance, and pollination. We are broadly interested in the biology of social insects, and are happy to support MSc projects in this area. Please look at my webpage and publications to see examples of previous work, and contact me for further information.
Research Pages - Dr Brown - http://tinyurl.com/MarkJFBrown
Interactions between symbiotic fungi and insects
“Plants are not discrete entities, but instead are mergers of fungal cells with plant tissues” (Wilson, 1993). This statement implies that every living plant has fungi living within the roots and shoots. What are the consequences of such infection for insects that also feed upon these plants? Can certain fungi protect plants against insect herbivore attack and so be used to help control pest insects? Meanwhile, if other fungi decrease the resistance of plants to herbivore attack, could these be used to improve biological weed control practises? Do the effects of the fungi extend to other trophic levels, such as predators and parasitoids? Our laboratory is trying to answer these questions and more, so as to understand the role that symbiotic fungi play in structuring communities of plants and animals.
Two projects are available, one involving arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi and one with foliar endophyte fungi. Each would involve laboratory and field experiments in which we infect plants with combinations of fungi and examine the effects on higher tropic levels. The two areas are not exclusive, and we could easily run projects involving both mycorrhizas and endophytes together.
Gange, A.C., Eschen, R., Wearn, J.A., Thawer, A. & Sutton, B.C. (2012). Differential effects of foliar endophytic fungi on insect herbivores attacking a herbaceous plant. Oecologia 168,1023-1031.
Hartley, S.E. & Gange, A.C. (2009). The impacts of symbiotic fungi on insect herbivores: mutualism in a multitrophic context. Annual Review of Entomology 54, 323-342.
Gange, A.C., Brown, V.K. & Aplin, D.M. (2005). Ecological specificity of arbuscular mycorrhizae: evidence from foliar- and seed-feeding insects. Ecology, 86, 603-611.
Gange. A.C., Brown, V.K. & Aplin, D.M. (2003). Multitrophic links between arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi and insect parasitoids. Ecology Letters, 6, 1051-1055.
Gange, A.C., Stagg, P.G. & Ward, L.K. (2002). Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi affect phytophagous insect specialism. Ecology Letters 5, 11-15.
Wilson, D. (1993). Fungal endophytes – out of sight, but should not be out of mind. Oikos 68, 379-84.
Research Pages - Professor Gange
Behavioural ecology of tropical mixed-species spider colonies
Colonies consisting of two different spider species (genus: Chikunia; family: Theridiidae) were recently discovered on Bali. Both spider species show extended maternal care by catching prey and feeding it to their young. Although females of both species live in close proximity within colonies, they do not appear to cooperate with each other in foraging and brood care. Despite this lack of cooperation, mothers seem to readily adopt foreign young.
Possible research questions:
- What is the geographical distribution of each species on Bali and what is the extent of their range overlap?
- Do females adopt abandoned young in the field and does hetero-specific adoption occur?
- Are inter-specific interactions mutualistic or asymmetric: Is one of the species a parasite and the other its host?
- What are the costs and benefits associated with group living in single- versus mixed-species groups?
The project will include behavioural assays in the field on Bali and may be combined with molecular lab work (microsatellites).
Research Pages - Dr Lena Grinsted
Models for social interaction in microbes.
Microbes interact in various ways, for instance they can release antibiotics to stave of competitors, or they can release substance which help other microbes take up iron from the environment. In this way basic ecological interactions, such as competition or mutualisms can be realised in very simple organisms. This project aims to develop simple models for the interaction of microbes. Once such a model is formulated and analysed, it can then be used to study the evolution of microbes in a theoretical fashion. This project will concentrate on the production of siderophores, which allow microbes to interact through the production of a public good. This is a theoretical project that will require some experience and interest in mathematical modelling.
Models for social interaction between fungi and plants.
Fungi interact with plants in various ways, for instance as pathogen, but they can also engage in a mutualistic interaction through the formation of mycorrhizas. they can release antibiotics to stave of competitors, or they can release substance which help other microbes take up iron from the environment. In this was basic ecological interactions, such as antagonisms or mutualisms can be realised. This project aims to develop simple models for the plant-fungal interaction of microbe. Once such a model is formulated and analysed, it can then be used to study the evolution of microbes in a theoretical fashion. This is a theoretical project that will require some experience and interest in mathematical modelling
Research Pages - Professor Jansen
Does leaf variegation reduce herbivore damage?
Leaf variegation is the appearance of differently coloured zones in leaves which is caused by a decrease, deficiency or masking of chlorophyll. Degree of leaf variegation often varies within plant species and many ornamental plants have variegated varieties. Leaf variegation may reduce photosynthetic efficiency of plants, but this may be compensated by other benefits, and it has been suggested that variegated plants may suffer less herbivory. This project will explore evidence of the anti-herbivory effect of leaf variegation by using holly and associated leafminer Phytomyza ilicis. Normal and variegated varieties of hollies will be compared and amount of herbivory received and herbivore performance will be recorded.
For dioecious plants, plant quality might vary between male and female plants due to their differential investment in vegetative growth
and reproduction and its consequences for tissue nutritional quality. This project will explore difference in herbivory by leafminer Phytomyza ilicis on holly. Male and female holly plants will be selected and compared in terms of various leaf traits which might affect herbivory. The amount of herbivory received and herbivore performance on male and female plants will also be compared.
Research Pages - Professor Koricheva
Mechanisms underlying social learning abilities in bumblebees
This project will focus on the evolution of social learning abilities. Most social animals are adept at learning from others, but we understand little about how these abilities are shaped by natural selection, or indeed whether they have evolved at all. We will use a series of behavioural experiments in the lab to elucidate the types of learning process that underlie social learning, using bumblebees as a model. Note that this project is not suitable for anyone with an allergy to beestings or to pollen.
Bumblebee cognition in the wild
Bees and other pollinators visit thousands of flowers during each foraging trip. Remembering the locations of patches that have already been visited most likely selects for good working spatial memory abilities, and here we will 1) demonstrate the use of spatial working memory in laboratory-based bumblebee foraging assays 2) investigate the link between working spatial memory and foraging success in the wild. Note that this project is not suitable for anyone with an allergy to beestings or to pollen.
Research page- Dr Leadbeater
Biology of Chinese mitten crabs in the River Thames
The project, which will involve collaboration with the Natural History Museum, London, could investigate various aspects of the reproductive biology and population migrations of the invasive alien Chinese mitten crab, Eriocheir sinensis. This crab is one of only two brachyuran crabs listed in the 100 worse invasive species and has a number of adverse impacts on native biota, river banks and fishing activities. Recent evidence suggests that small crabs may have successfully recruited into sites on the Thames following a period when they were less widely recorded (possibly due to extreme flood events in the past two winters). The project could explore the extent of this apparent proliferation in numbers as well as consider other aspects of the biology of the species. There will also be an opportunity to interact with collaborators at other institutions working on different aspects of mitten crab biology, including a current public recording scheme.
Morritt, D., Mills, H., Hind, K., Clifton-Dey, D. & Clark, P.F. (2013) Monitoring downstream migrations of Eriocheir sinensis H. Mine Edwards, 1853 (Crustacea: Brachyura: Grapsoidea: Varunidae) in the River Thames using capture data from a water abstraction intake. Management of Biological Invasions 4: 139-147
Webster, J.M., Clark, P.F. & Morritt, D. (2015) Laboratory based feeding behaviour of the Chinese mitten crab, Eriocheir sinensis, (Crustacea: Decapoda, Brachyura, Varunidae): fish egg consumption. Aquatic Invasions 10: 313-326
Mills, C.D, Clark, P.F. & Morritt, D. (2016) Flexible prey handling, preference and a novel capture technique in invasive, sub-adult Chinese mitten crabs. Hydrobiologia 733: 135-147
Research project webpage - www.mittencrabs.org.uk
The impacts of plastic pollution on River Thames biota
During fyke net trials in the River Thames it became apparent that large quantities of litter, especially plastics, are moving along the river bed. These data (see Morritt et al., 2014), and well-established monitoring by organisations such as Thames 21 and Port of London Authority, highlight a serious environment issue. Preliminary studies have now demonstrated how Thames organisms may be exposed to plastics in the environment (McGoran et al. 2016). The aim of this project is to further describe and quantify the presence of plastics in the guts of Thames organisms, e.g. crustaceans and bottom-feeding fish, in order to provide a comparison with data for marine species. Work to establish the role trophic links in plastic ingestion could form an important part of the study. The project will involve collaboration with colleagues at the Natural History Museum, London and in the Thames Estuary Partnership.
Morritt, D., Stefanoudis, P.V., Pearce, D., Crimmen, O.A. & Clark, P.F. (2014) Plastic in the Thames: a river runs through it. Marine Pollution Bulletin 78: 196–200
McGoran, A.R., Clark, P.F. & Morritt, D. (2016) Presence of microplastic in the digestive tracts of European flounder, Platichthys flesus, and European smelt, Osmerus eperlanus, from the River Thames. Environmental Pollution http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.envpol.2016.09.078
Research Pages - Dr Morritt
Conservation: behavioural interactions between humans and other primates
Primates are relatively large bodied mammals with slow reproduction rates, making them vulnerable to population declines. Distributed across the tropics, they face numerous threats, including habitat decline and unsustainable hunting. Our group is interested in primate behavioural responses to direct (e.g. hunting and ecotourism) and indirect (e.g. habitat decline and degradation) human disturbances. Available projects would require field work in the tropics to collect data on primate behaviour. Please contact me for further information.
The shifting baseline syndrome and its impacts on conservation management
Shifting baseline syndrome describes how a lack of information about past ecological conditions can change the decisions made in conservation and environmental management. This information may be lacking as ecological information (for example from surveys) was never collected. Where this information is not available, managers may forget past ecological conditions or be too young to have experienced them. Since it was first proposed, research on shifting baselines in conservation has largely focused on either quantifying changing biological conditions over time, or on identifying whether local communities are aware of changes in environmental conditions. Yet as originally proposed, the shifting baseline syndrome was a particular issue if resource managers and conservation professionals could not identify environmental changes due to lack of past biological information or lack of experience of past conditions, and thus did not address them. This project will use social science methods to examine the evidence for shifting baseline syndrome in conservation managers. Please contact me for further information.
Research pages - Dr Sarah Papworth
Group Dynamics, Navigation & Behaviour in homing pigeons
Body mass is an important component of the energetic costs involved in bird flight. Fat stores are an essential source of fuel for the body during long flights, but excessive body mass will increase flight costs dramatically. Body mass is also known to play a role in certain animal societies in determining social structure and dominance hierarchies. Birds will have a trade-off, therefore, between optimal body mass for flight, and requirements for body fuel in the form of fat, and social dynamics.
This project aims to investigate flock social structure and group dynamics in homing pigeons. Birds will be flown from release sites equipped with data loggers, and factors such as speed, flap frequency and wing-beat amplitude of all birds within the flock will be investigated. Individuals will then have their body mass artificially manipulated, to measure the outcomes this has on the birds general flight behaviour. These manipulations will be achieved through the addition of small weights to the back of the birds. Furthermore, this project will investigate dominance hierarchies in pigeon flocks, and leader follower dynamics during group navigational flights, again with respect to manipulations of body mass.
Cuckoo physiology and embryonic development
Certain species of cuckoo are obligate avian brood parasites, laying their eggs in host’s nests and playing no role in the provisioning of their progeny. Many cuckoo eggs hatch before their hosts, and the altricial chick evicts host eggs and/or nestlings. This eviction behaviour is achieved by pushing the eggs or nestlings over the edge of the nest, typically using the back and neck. Such actions require impressive strength, and suggest cuckoos have a different development physiology both to their hosts, and altricial hatchlings in general. This project will aim to understand how cuckoo embryos are able to develop quicker than their hosts, and grow such strong musculature. Experiments will focus on the degree of embryonic movements during development, gas exchange and metabolic rate during incubation, and mobilisation of eggshell calcium for bone development of the embryo. The project will involve spring fieldwork in Panama, Czech Republic and Ithica (New York), in collaboration with Dr. Christine Riehl, Dr. Marcel Honza and Prof. Mark Hauber.
Research Pages - Dr Portugal
Mathematical Models of Parent-of-Origin Expression
Genomic imprinting refers to the silencing of genes according to their parental origin (either paternally silenced and maternally expressed or vice versa). In this research I m interested in elaborating mathematical models that explore why would natural selection favour losing the advantages of diploidy to produce a functionally haploid locus
Mathematical Models of Gene Transmission.
Meiotic drive refers to the preferential transmission of an allele (driving allele) during meiosis in diploid individuals. In this research I am interested in elaborating mathematical models that explore why is fair (Mendelian) segregation the rule and not the exception
Research Pages - Dr Ubeda