Students – ACCE 2 – Cohort 4

Lily Amos

University of Liverpool

Lead Supervisor: Dr Liam Dougherty

Project Title: How does the environment impact female control of fertilisation?

Research Interests: My PhD project aims to identify how different environmental factors can affect a females ability to actively select some sperm over others for fertilisation, using the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, as a model system. Female mate choice can continue after copulation, within the female reproductive tract, in a process known as cryptic female choice or sperm choice. Before mating, mate choice is known to be very variable, with different environmental factors affecting the cost of being ‘choosy’. Variation in sperm choice after mating has not been studied however, nor has it been linked to different environmental conditions, which is what we aim to explore here. We will develop a novel experimental protocol to measure the extent of female sperm choice, whilst eliminating male affects, and test whether sperm choice varies according to a female’s social environment or condition. In achieving this, we will be able to better understand and predict how our current climate crisis is likely to impact the evolution and reproductive behaviour of species across the animal kingdom.

Charllotte Blacka

University of York

Lead Supervisor: Dr Jessica Hendy

Project Title: Developing rapid and low-cost mass spectrometry-based identification of biological sex in fossils 

Research Interests: The protein amelogenin has shown great promise in being the next leading form of sex determination of fossils however, the current methodology implemented for such use is time-consuming and expensive, meaning that running multiple samples and offering amelogenin sex determination as a commercial service is unviable at this moment in time. This project aims to make use of analytical methods, such as mass spectrometry and high-performance liquid chromatography, to decrease the time and monetary cost of sex determination by amelogenin analysis.

Edward Cairns

University of Liverpool

Lead Supervisor: Dr Sharon Zytynska

Project Title: Eco-evolutionary dynamics of soil microbiomes for crop health

Research Interests: My project will focus on how microbes within the root rhizosphere can confer and influence resistance to insect pests. This has the potential to reduce our reliance on environmentally harmful pesticides, while still maintaining high crop yields.

Abigail Catterall

Sheffield University

Lead Supervisor: Dr Jill Edmondson

Project Title: Right tree, right place, right reason: understanding species specific benefits and disbenefits of urban trees

Research Interests: As cities look to improve their urban forest provision, it is important that they know how certain tree species will affect both local people and the environment. My project will investigate Sheffield’s urban forest in order to establish the benefits and disbenefits provided by different species of tree. I hope to combine field and remote sensing data, along with work from citizen science groups, to establish a close understanding of the impact of trees in a city. As part of my research, I will be looking at the effects of different tree species on population health and well-being, in addition to local environmental conditions.

Matthew Clements

Sheffield University

Lead Supervisor: Dr Dylan Childs

Project Title: Multi-scale approaches to ecological monitoring

Research Interests: This project aims to look at whether the predictive power of population models can be maintained when the resolution of available data decreases.

Anna Gilbert

University of York

Lead Supervisor: Prof Roland Gehrels

Project Title: History and impacts of microplastic pollution in UK salt marshes

Research Interests: I am interested in pollution and its environmental impact, particularly microplastic pollution within coastal areas.

My PhD research involves the extraction and analysis of microplastic pollution from salt-marsh sediment. The aims are to identify the type and source of the plastic, and to determine when microplastic pollution commenced and how it has developed. 

Lucy Goodwin

University of Liverpool

Lead Supervisor: Dr Rachel Jeffreys

Project Title: Climate change in the deep sea: assessing the resilience of deep-sea communities. 

Research Interests: My research aims to assess the resilience of deep-sea communities to climate change by using abyssal time-series data combined with stable isotope analyses. These will be used to determine how food supply impacts deep-sea food webs, and how changes in this effect the biological and ecological traits of deep-sea species. I am hoping to extrapolate these results to predict how deep-sea communities may respond to ongoing climate change. I am also interested in translating deep-sea research into policy to promote protection and sustainable use of the deep sea. 

Lucy Handford

University of York

Lead Supervisor: Dr Laura Fitton 

Project Title: Functional development within the mammalian masticatory apparatus: an investigation into feeding capabilities with changing diets 

Research Interests: My interests include functional evolution, particularly in the masticatory system. This project will investigate the adaptations that allow juvenile mammals, specifically primates, to consume the same foods as adults and how their morphology may be changing in response to different diets. This will include analysis of different parts of the masticatory system, for example examining the strength and composition of musculature and identifying points of stress on the skull during mastication. 

Linnett Jessell

University of Liverpool

Lead Supervisor: Dr Samantha Patrick

Project Title: Can polar seabirds really adapt to climate change?

Research Interests: My research will focus on polar seabirds ability to adapt and respond to environmental change. Using a variety of metrics to assess variation in foraging behaviour, I will compare and contrast differences between individuals, populations and species and link this to environmental variability and population trends. 

Twitter: @linnetjessell

Indiana Jones

University of Liverpool

Lead Supervisor: Dr Jenny Hodgson

Project Title: The success of strategic restoration for pollinator connectivity.

Research Interests: This project aims to quantify the success of habitat restoration which has been strategically selected as part of the Buglife ‘B-lines’ project. This will be investigated using data collected from both field work and GIS modelling and analysis. Throughout the project the CONDATIS programme will be used to identify potential areas suitable for restoration, and then assess the impact that this restorative work would have on various pollinator species. This will take into account a range of environmental and biological factors, including dispersal ranges and reproduction rates. CONDATIS was developed by a team at the University of Liverpool, lead by Dr Jenny Hodgson, to aid in large-scale projects which require prioritisation. Field work will be carried out in sites which have undergone work by Buglife to increase connectivity. Pollinator surveys will be carried out to assess the impact of reduced fragmentation via the creation of flower-rich pathways. Thus providing evidence for the efficacy of this conservation approach. This study is particularly relevant due to the rapid decline in pollinator species and overall abundance within Europe, largely driven by land-use changes and climate change. The findings of this PhD study will be used to develop a framework for similar ‘ecological network’ projects in the future.

Sonal Ladwa

Sheffield University

Lead Supervisor: Dr Nicola Nadeau

Project Title: Nature as miniature solar panels: the thermal properties of butterfly wing scales and their evolution

Research Interests: I will be researching the evolution of wing nanostructure and thermal properties in Heliconius species, a tropical Andean butterfly. I will analyse the role of the wing nanostructure, and its importance in thermal regulation to allow better understanding of how organisms respond to climate change. This project will be based in Sheffield and with the museum collections at the Natural History Museum. 

Twitter: @BuggyLadwa

Thomas Lansley

Sheffield University

Lead Supervisor: Dr Gavin Thomas

Project Title: A global analysis of the effectiveness of Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas for conserving the world’s birds

Research Interests: Identifying sites for efficient safeguarding of biodiversity is a major challenge in conservation. A global and systematically identified network of important sites for conserving species is BirdLife International’s Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) network. This research project will measure the effectiveness of the IBA network in capturing avian biodiversity, identify shortfalls in the network, assess patterns of habitat loss and the impacts on the IBA network’s aims, and assess how IBAs conserve other aspects of biodiversity.

Instagram: @travellingornithologist

Charlotte Le Marquand

University of York

Lead Supervisor: Dr Colin Beale

Project Title: Woodland-mediated predator impacts on open ground birds

Research Interests: Government policies for woodland expansion, particularly in upland habitats, have their benefits however previous afforestation efforts have impacted open ground biodiversity, including wader species, and future policies need to better understand these biodiversity trade offs. My PhD will be assessing the effects of predators such as foxes on waders in areas of woodland expansion. I will also be looking at whether recovering an apex predator, the golden eagle, could discourage fox use of open upland habitats and so reduce wader predation.

Twitter: @CharlieLeMarq

Ana Marquez Rosado

University of Liverpool

Lead Supervisor: Dr Stuart Wigby

Project Title: Diet and thermal limits: eating for survival and fertility

Research Interests: High temperatures not just kill organism but affect their fertility, and some species change their diets to survive under these temperatures. I will focus on understanding how species adapt to new environments in light of climate change through behavioural assays and physiological thecnics, and if these changes affect the way males and females interact during reproduction.

Twitter: @anamrqu

Björn Matthies

University of Liverpool

Lead Supervisor: Prof Kate Parr

Project Title: Exploring the unintended consequences of zero-deforestation oil palm

Research Interests: My PhD project focuses on the unintended consequences of zero-deforestation commitments and the resulting shift of oil palm cultivation from tropical rainforests to savanna biomes. My research aims on assessing the changes in biodiversity (with a focus on ground flora and ants), ecosystem functioning, and carbon stocks caused by the oil palm expansion into savannas and to determine yield-biodiversity trade-offs.
Furthermore, I am aiming to develop indicators of High Conservation Values for savannas, comparable to the High Carbon Stock Approach which is used to identify rainforest areas for protection.

Benjamin Miller

University of Liverpool

Lead Supervisor: Dr Caroline Millins

Project Title: Assessing the changing risk of tick-borne diseases within woodland creation projects

Research Interests: Tree planting and woodland creation projects which aim to benefit biodiversity, climate change mitigation and connecting people to nature are increasing in number across the UK. However, as well as many benefits, increased woodland cover may also result in certain undesirable impacts unless carefully managed. For example, woodland is among the most suitable habitat for the tick vector Ixodes ricinus, which transmits several pathogens significant for human and animal health. How tick-borne disease risk changes as woodland establishes and how this threat may be managed, particularly in areas with increasing human use and/or proximity to farmed livestock is a major open question which this research aims to answer. By selecting woodlands of different ages since woodland creation, which include fenced areas to exclude deer, this project will assess how tick-borne disease risk changes as woodlands establish and how managing deer by fencing affects this risk. The project will combine empirical fieldwork, quantitative modelling and engagement with local decision makers to understand how tick-borne disease risk changes with woodland establishment. It will also contribute to evidence on how best to manage deer within ecological restoration projects to maximise biodiversity and tree regeneration objectives whilst minimising risks of tick-borne disease.

Twitter: @Ben_is_Outside. 

Brooks Rady

Sheffield University

Lead Supervisor: Dr Stéphane Mesnage

Project Title: Bacterial cell envelope remodelling in Rhizobium leguminosarum: contribution to symbiosis and resistance to abiotic stress

Research Interests: At the core of this project is understanding how peptidoglycan remodeling in Rhizobium leguminosarum helps these bacteria to out-compete others in the Rhizosphere and establish a successful symbiosis with their host plant. To do this we’ll investigate the biochemical activity of Rhizobia’s 17 LD-Transpeptidases (a key class of peptidoglycan remodeling enzymes), characterise the natural structure of R. leguminosarum’s peptidoglycan, and then examine how that structure changes throughout the symbiosis process. Better understanding how Rhizobia survive in the rhizosphere and colonise their host will open the door to engineering this agriculturally-important symbiosis into a wider range of organisms.

Sheffield University

Lead Supervisor: Prof Andrew Beckerman

Project Title: The dynamics of freshwater food webs under multiple threats

Research Interests: Using a long-term dataset from Lake Windermere on species interactions, I aim to apply modern statistical modelling and food web modelling methods to understand the mechanisms driving resilience and resistance to environmental change in freshwater ecosystems.

Irene Solano Regadera

University of Liverpool

Lead Supervisor: Dr Jakob Bro-Jorgensen

Project Title: Hindcasting faunal distributions in the Holocene to understand interactions between ancient societies, biodiversity and climate

Research Interests: My PhD project aims to investigate drivers of animal population trends and subsistence change in prehistoric and ancient societies. During the Holocene, drastic climatic changes occurred that affected both animal populations and human societies. By combining archaeological and paleontological records and species distribution modelling, we seek to recreate the ecological background in which historical events unfolded. Thus, reconstructing the climate-animal-human relations of this period of drastic change could help us to predict the consequences of current and future climate change. My project is working in affiliation with the project BEAST and the “Leverhulme Centre for Anthropocene Biodiversity” at the University of York.

Jake Spong

University of York

Lead Supervisor: Dr Robert Mills

Project Title: A changing climate in the oceanic mountains; the role of foodweb ecology in the response of belowground functions.

Research Interests: Working with the RSPB research team at Haweswater and functional ecologists from the University of York and UKCEH in Lancaster, this project will explore how our upland soils and ecosystems function from the perspective of microbes, invertebrates and plants, using exciting field techniques to ask how climate change may alter these ecosystems.

Project Title: Bioprospecting for Sustainable Mineral Management

Research Interests: My project focuses on understanding microbial populations found on mine waste sites and their interactions with the metal rich environment. We hope to use this information in future biotechnology, to allow access to the metals locked up in these sites, in a sustainable manner.

Daniel Turk

University of York

Lead Supervisor: Dr Elva Robinson

Project Title: Ants as Ecological Engineers

Research Interests: Ants act as effective geoengineers, increasing the habitat heterogeneity and constructing niches within their ecosystems. Yellow meadow ants, Lasius flavus, were historically common on pastures and have been found to promote biodiversity, for example they increase floral species richness because the ant mound soil differs from surrounding areas. Many modern farming practices reduce or eliminate their populations.

Belton House, a National Trust property including 650 hectares of historic (Grade 1 Registered) wood pasture parkland, which is a UK priority habitat, has areas hosting an unusually high density of meadow ants, but also other areas where they are entirely absent. Previous management of the site has resulted in some areas suffering from over-grazing and soil compaction. The study site is undergoing a period of management change, to a more biodiversity-friendly approach of mixed and lighter grazing.

Despite the known importance of ants within the soil ecosystems, very little is known about how the ecosystem impacts of meadow ants are mediated, and how these impacts interact with past and present pasture management practices. In collaboration with the National Trust, there is an opportunity to carry out controlled experiments, altering management to assess impact on ant populations, and altering ant populations to assess impact on ecosystem composition and function.

The objectives of this project are :-
– To assess the impact of management regimes on ant populations, using controlled manipulations of activities such as grazing and mowing
– To assess the role of soil-dwelling ants as agents of rehabilitation of compacted soil using experimental transplantation of ant colonies
– To identify the ecological processes mediating the unusually high ant population densities at certain sites, using behavioural studies and genetic data

This study will provide novel data on the impact of ants on soil rehabilitation and ecosystem function, and on how grassland management impacts these processes, giving key insights to the academic ecology/evolution communities, policy-makers and land managers.

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