Students – ACCE 2 – Cohort 3

Sophia Anderson

University of York

Lead supervisor: Dr Philip Cox

Project title: Morpho-functional evolution of the mammalian scapula

Research Interests: I am primarily interested in the evolution of form and function in the mammal skeleton, particularly as it relates to locomotion and limb use, and comparative skeletal anatomy across Mammalia. My PhD project aims to understand form-function relationships in the scapula across the whole mammal class, using techniques such as geometric morphometrics and finite elements analysis. By understanding this form-function relationship, it is possible to look back into the fossil record and better understand extinct mammals.

Twitter @OsteoSophia

Melanie Baker

University of Liverpool

Lead supervisor: Prof Paula Stockley

Project title: Quantifying ecological impacts and long-term sustainability of The Cheshire Beaver Project

Research Interests: I am interested in reintroduction biology, specifically when it is with the aim of rewilding an area to its natural condition. My PhD is a CASE project with the Cheshire Wildlife Trust and is aiming to quantify the ecological impacts of European beavers (Castor fiber) within a reintroduction site in Cheshire. Two beavers were reintroduced in 2020 into a 4.5ha enclosure outside of Hatchmere Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) as part of a five year trial. They were reintroduced with the aim of restoring the water quality of the stream supplying this mere, which has become ecologically poor and high in undesirable nutrients. However, with rare species and habitats found within the nearby SSSI, it is important to quantify the effects these beavers will have before they are fully released into the area. Therefore, my research will be focussing on monitoring water quality and biodiversity changes both within the enclosure and the surrounding areas and trying to detect any changes in quality of the SSSI’s peatlands which need restoration. If all goes to plan, the beavers will breed, and I will link in with future beaver reintroductions in Cheshire and surrounding counties to model population dynamics and the long-term sustainability of the project across the Cheshire landscape.

Roberta Bray

University of Sheffield

Lead supervisor: Dr Penelope Watt

Project title: Surviving the summer as the climate changes: investigating drivers and costs of aestivation in earthworms

Research Interests: My research is investigating the impact of droughts on earthworms, key ecosystem engineers, who are crucial to the functioning of healthy and productive soil. I aim to determine the precise conditions that trigger aestivation in green earthworms (Allolobophora chlorotica), and examine their behavioural, physiological, and molecular responses to drought, to assess the costs of aestivation as a survival strategy.

Eloise Bray

University of Sheffield

Lead supervisor: Prof Paul Blackwell

Project title: Modelling seabird central place foraging under anthropogenic environmental change.

Research Interests: I am interested in animal movement ecology, specifically developing seabird movement models which account for environmental changes. Given the extensive expansion of offshore renewable energy, it is important to anticipate the effects that this may have on the surrounding marine environment. Advances in GPS tagging technology have allowed increased tracking of a wider range of seabird species, creating an opportunity for more biologically realistic modelling to support impact assessment. My project focuses on developing models of the movement paths of central-place foraging seabirds, using novel continuous-time modelling techniques. The aim is to consider how spatial variation in the environment such as prey availability and obstructions (such as wind turbine developments) can affect a seabird’s behaviour and movement patterns.

Edward Carpentier


Lead supervisor: Dr Helen Hesketh

Project title: Impacts of climate change on the resilience of natural enemy communities for biocontrol of insect pests

Research Interests: I am a first year University of Liverpool PHD student studying at UKCEH in Wallingford. My supervisors are Helen Hesketh at UKCEH, Sharon Zytynska at the University of Liverpool, and Gia Aradottir at NIAB. My project title is “impacts of climate change on the resilience of natural enemy communities for biocontrol of insect pests”. Specifically, I will be studying barley as the host crop plant, and the English grain aphid as the insect pest. Aphids are some of the most important pests of many major crops such as barley, wheat and maize, and can produce very large populations on crops very rapidly. The combination of their high levels of herbivory plus the range of plant pathogens they can carry can devastate crop yields. I will test a range of natural enemies which live either below or above the soil which could be used to reduce the impact of aphids on barley, by various direct and indirect interactions with the aphids, barley and plant pathogens. These organisms include fungi and bacteria which are symbiotic with the barley, and parasitic and predatory insects which attack the aphids. I will also test how increased temperature and carbon dioxide affect all these organisms and complex interactions, as climate change is likely to affect them in different ways.

Jacob Cohen

University of Liverpool

Lead supervisor: Prof Andy Fenton

Project title: What are the Consequences of Transmission Heterogeneities for Disease Outbreaks?

Research Interests: Pathogen transmission is the fundamental process that drives the emergence and spread of new infectious diseases. Transmission is typically conceptualised as a ‘mass action’ process, where homogenous groups of susceptible and infected individuals encounter each other at random. But the reality is quite different; due to genetic, phenotypic and environmental reasons, not all individuals are equally susceptible and not all infected individuals are equally infectious. Quantifying these sources of variation, and understanding their consequences for disease emergence, spread and control is vital if we are to develop effective disease mitigation strategies.

My project aims to develop theory to predict the consequences of heterogeneity in the disease transmission process, use this theory to build models of disease emergence, spread and control and then test these predictions experimentally using an invertebrate empirical system under a range of environmental scenarios in the lab and field.

My project will combine theoretical and empirical aspects of infectious disease ecology to provide insight into how heterogeneities in infectiousness, susceptibility and contact rate influence the spread and impact of infectious diseases.

Alex Cranston

University of Liverpool

Dr Jakob Bro-Jorgensen

Project title: Assembly of ungulate communities as an outcome of interspecific Interactions over ecological and evolutionary time frames

Samuel Cross

University of Liverpool

Dr Karl Bates

Project title: The evolution of locomotion in birds

Beth Evans

Natural History Museum (NHM)

Dr Alexa Varah

Project title: Can temperate agroforestry systems benefit soil function?

Katie Lee

University of York

Dr Jon Hill

Project title: The past, present and future of the Great Barrier Reef

Thomas Malpas

University of Sheffield

Dr Dylan Childs

Project title: Ecological risk assessment and food webs: identifying ecosystem tipping points under multi-stress

Research Interests: My research focuses on identifying early warning signals: tools that will help us better predict ecosystem collapse and regime shifts. Specifically, I will use the bioenergetic food web model to simulate population dynamics in systems where multiple chemical stressors are affecting multiple species, and look for early warning signals in changes in ecosystem process.

Chloe Mason

University of Sheffield

Dr Nicola Hemmings

Project title: How does female-specific selection affect male fertility?

Research Interests: I’m interested in the causes of variation in reproductive traits, particularly within birds. During my PhD, I will be investigating how male fertility traits vary across breeds of domestic birds that have been subject to different levels of selection for female reproductive investment. This will enable us to understand if the effects of sex-limited selection are concordant or cause conflict between the sexes.

Hana Mayall

University of Sheffield

Prof Andrew Beckerman

Project title: Ecological risk assessment and food webs: mathematical modelling of multiple stressor effects on biodiversity and ecosystem function

Frederick McKendrick

University of Liverpool

Dr Samantha Patrick

Project title: What are the physiological costs to seabirds adapting to Arctic climate change?

Research Interests: The extent to which individuals demonstrate flexibility in behaviour is likely to be a key determinant of a species ability to adapt to climate change. This is especially true for species living in the Arctic, which is experiencing more severe changes than any other region of the globe. However, altering behaviours to match new environments comes at a cost to individuals when they divert resources away from other internal processes. My research aims to get a better understanding of the physiological costs of behavioural plasticity in response to climate change. Physiological condition can influence the life-history decisions of individuals and therefore has a key role to play in understanding demographic processes. My research will focus on an Arctic breeding seabird that has experienced severe declines across its range, the black-legged kittiwake. The research will measure flexibility in foraging strategies and utilise ecologically important biomarkers, such as telomeres, to provide a better understanding of the relationship between behaviour and physiology across changing environments.


Twitter: @FreddieMck121

Victoria Orr

University of Liverpool

Dr James Hall

Project title: How do interactions between mobile genetic elements enhance microbial community

Research Interests: Many ecologically-important traits, including bioremediation, symbiosis, virulence, and resistance, are transmitted between bacteria by horizontal gene transfer (HGT), driven by the activity of mobile genetic elements (MGEs). MGEs routinely interact with one another, e.g., different transposons on a plasmid enables multiple traits to transfer between bacterial lineages at once, and transposon movement between replicons releases traits from limited plasmid host-range. This modularity of MGEs may help microbial communities in the face of a changing environment, increasing resilience by accelerating the spread of adaptive traits across community members. My project combines computer modelling with experiments to test how MGE interactions enhance trait spread in spatially-structured, multi-species, soil microbial communities. I aim to model the effects of MGE mobility, association, and modularity on trait spread; experimentally test how MGE modularity affects community resilience using a laboratory microcosm system and characterise the major vehicles of horizontal gene transfer in natural microbial communities, by capturing, sequencing, and analysing recipients of HGT.

Twitter: @Vicki_TR_Orr

Edward Page

University of York

Dr Kanchon Dasmahapatra

Project title: The genetic basis of convergent evolution in tropical butterflies

Charly Pain

University of Sheffield

Dr Ellie Harrison

Project title: Don’t go out there! How do bacteria-phages interactions in the soil impact the rhizobia-legume symbiosis

Research Interests: The relationship between rhizobia (nitrogen fixing bacteria) and legumes (beans and peas), is an important ecological and economical symbiosis, where rhizobia are used as green ‘biofertilizers’ while legumes are an important source of plant-based protein. When rhizobia are not interacting with their legume host, they are free living in the soil amongst a diverse microbial community, including phages (bacterial viruses). Phages have the ability to drive selection in rhizobia and may alter the ‘economics’ of the rhizobia-legume ‘market’. My research will focus on, how interactions between phage and rhizobia within the soil, can affect the rhizobia-legume symbiosis.

Susanna Phillips

University of Liverpool

Prof Jane Hurst

Project title: Using population genetics and scent deposits to inform recovery strategies for a threatened UK mammal

Research Interests: Working alongside CASE partner Cheshire Wildlife Trust my project is focused on understanding the genetic status and distinctiveness of Cheshire’s Water Vole population. As one of the UK’s fastest declining mammals this information will assist with designing suitable recovery strategies for the species.

I am looking to utilise non-invasive approaches to collect DNA samples and use them to a) Assess genetic variability and degree of inbreeding within remnant water vole populations in Cheshire b) Test the negative impact of relatedness and inbreeding on reproductive maturation, survival and productivity, while also taking vole social and sexual responses into account, and c) Establish the genetic distinctiveness of Cheshire water voles compared to other regions around the UK.

Dina-Leigh Simons

University of Liverpool

Dr Nova Mieszkowska

Project title: In-situ sustained monitoring and eDNA techniques for determining responses of intertidal species to environmental change.

Research Interests: My project will assess responses of intertidal marine species to environmental change by integrating data from global databases, high quality data from UK surveys (time-series from the MarClim project), and new data generated using eDNA techniques. By conducting field-based, nation-wide sampling, I will investigate eDNA as a practical tool to use alongside traditional surveying methods in biodiversity assessments. I will examine the performance of eDNA metabarcoding in the detection and diversity assessment of intertidal species compared to traditional visual surveys across the UK coastline. The project aims to provide a framework to integrate eDNA and species occurrence datasets to expand the spatiotemporal scope of ecological inferences at a macro-ecosystem scale. For spatiotemporal analyses, I will utilise data on species thermal affinities and life history traits to create mechanistic models for predicting shifts in species distributions under future climatic scenarios. This project will investigate eDNA as a predictive tool for estimating future extensions of leading range edges and species invasions. Finally, I will synthesise evidence to achieve a national view of vulnerability and resilience in coastal marine environments across the UK to optimise conservation policy.


Twitter: @Dina_Simons_Sci

Instagram: @no_ordinary_biologist

Molly Spater

University of Liverpool

Dr Encarnacion Montoya

Project title: Disentangling environmental change in the Amazon: vegetation responses to Holocene drivers in the National Park of Yasuní (Ecuador)

Research Interests: My project aims to 1) characterize the composition of lowland forests in western Amazonia over the course of the Holocene, 2) to evaluate shifts in that composition in regard to changing climatic conditions, river migration, and human occupation, and 3) to chart future trajectories for the Yasuni National Park in Ecuador informed by the paleorecord. We will employ a range of paleoecological proxies such as pollen, charcoal, biomarker, XRF, and OSL analyses, as well as, remote sensing data.

Twitter: @MollyRuth6 @palaeoecology

Josh Thurston  

University of York

Dr Robert Mills

Project title: The microbial of alpine ecosystems in a changing winter climate

Research Interests: Alpine ecosystems are markedly heterogeneous over relatively small spatial scales, driven by complex topography, hydrology and pronounced seasonality. Unlike aboveground communities, the effect of alpine-associated abiotic factors on belowground communities are not well understood. Therefore, this project will investigate how environmental gradients in alpine ecosystems drive differences in belowground microbial community composition, in addition to the effects on microbial-associated ecosystems functions, predominantly biogeochemical cycling.

Twitter: @MicrobiWanEcoli

Alexander Watts

University of Sheffield

Prof Kate Field

Project title: Linking structure to function in plant-fungal symbioses

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