SAM_0583Research Interests

My research interests lie primarily in rainforest ecology and the vast biodiversity found here. I am dedicated to help conserve these immense ecosystems and seek to understand the interactions between species and the impact on ecosystem functioning of species loss.

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Current Research Project

I am a Ph.D student working with Dr. Kate Parr and Dr. Matthew Spencer at the University of Liverpool and Dr. Paul Eggleton at the Natural History Museum, London.

My research is attempting to address the question of vertical stratification in ants and termites in tropical rainforests. How distinct are subterranean, ground and arboreal ant and termite communities? How similar are invertebrate species inhabiting the different strata? To what extent do ants that live on the ground influence the spatial distribution of subterranean and arboreal ants? I also aim to quantify to what extent ground ants influence resource use and predation in the canopy.

Ants and termites are important ecosystem engineers within tropical rainforests in decomposition and in bioturbation. Furthermore both ants and termites are highly abundant in tropical rainforests. Up to 60% of all arthropod biomass in tropical rainforests can be accounted for by ants. These ants play additional important and varied ecological roles such as predators, mutualists and seed dispersers, with many species occupying more than one trophic level. It would therefore be expected that any changes to ant or termite assemblages would have ensuing effects on ecosystem functioning. Tropical rainforests are increasingly threatened by logging, fragmentation and habitat modification. Through improving our understanding of species interactions and species diversity in tropical rainforests this study will help provide a more comprehensive view of ecosystem processes and aid ecological predictions for modified forests. This project is working within the framework of a larger consortium called Biodiversity and Land Use Impacts on Tropical Ecosystem Functioning (B.A.L.I), who are exploring the biogeochemical impacts of tropical forest degradation

Masters Research Project

In 2010 a new large, monitor lizard was described to science for the first time.

Residing in the Sierra Madre mountain range in the Philippines with an unusual diet thought to be based primarily on fruit it was named Varanus bitatawa (after the locally used name). The shy and secluded nature of Varanus bitatawa combined with it’s arboreal lifestyle has made conducting research to collect primary data on its biology and ecology problematic. As such no further research was carried out to understand the ecology of this new species. Rising to this challenge I set out to the biggest stretch of rainforest remaining in the Philippines in an attempt to discover more.

Wild Varanus bitatawa, Sierra Madre Mountain Range, Philippines
Wild Varanus bitatawa, Sierra Madre Mountain Range, Philippines

Working with Dr Selvino de Kort, Merlijn van Weerd and the Mabuwaya foundation we aimed to discover more about the habitat requirements of this enigmatic lizard. Accompanying local hunters, individual monitor lizards were caught and tracked using a spool and line tracking technique. A simple but effective technique borrowed off an experienced and knowledgeable researcher of monitor lizards, Dr. Daniel Bennett. Attaching cotton reels to their tails, with my two incredibly adaptive field assistants I spent 3 months scrambling through dense vegetation to follow the thread trails left behind. Finding out more about their diet and how they utilize the rainforest along the way.

Academic history

2012-2014: MSc Conservation Biology, Distinction. Manchester Metropolitan University.

2006-2007: PGCE, teacher of science with a biology specialism (11-18). University of Leeds.

2002-2005: BSc Zoology, First class honours. University of Liverpool.

field experience

2014: University Field Course, Tanzania.

2013: MSc Field Research, Sierra Madre Mountain Range, North Eastern Philippines.

2012: Science Leader for the British Exploring Society (BES),  Rock art expedition, Namibia.

2011: Chief Leader for BES, Amazon expedition, Peru.

2008 – 2010: Chief Scientist for BES, Amazon expedition, Peru.

2003: Research Assistant for Operation Wallacea, Buton Island, Sulawesi, Indonesia.

prizes, awards and grants

2015: Phoenix Zoo Conservation and Science Grant.

2013: Chester Zoo Studentship Grant.

2005: Liverpool Biological Society, 2nd Prize.

2004: Sir W H Tate University Undergraduate Scholarship.