Our group's research aims broadly to understand how human activities are altering the structure and diversity of ecological communities, and what the consequences of these changes are for human societies. Our work falls within a number of (often overlapping) research projects.

Quantifying and Predicting Land-use and Climate Effects on Terrestrial Biodiversity

Land use and climate are likely to present the two greatest pressures on terrestrial biodiversity in the coming decades, but our understanding of their joint and interacting effects is still very limited. Much of our recent work has sought to quantify the effects of land use and climate on biodiversity, and to make predictions about the future effects of these pressures. This work has so far focused mostly either on vertebrates or on bumblebees.

This work has been funded primarily by my University Research Fellowship from the Royal Society, but also by a Research grant and an International Exchanges grant, also from the Royal Society. This work has been carried out mainly by Jess, Adrienne, Gonzalo, Chloe, Carolina and Tim, in collaboration with Jeremy Kerr and Peter Soroye.

Biodiversity Interactions and Trade-offs with Agriculture (BIOTA)

Agriculture is one of the main drivers of biodiversity changes on land, but itself depends on the many ecosystem services that biodiversity provides. The BIOTA Project aimed to understand the feedbacks, interactions and trade-offs between agriculture and biodiversity loss, and the role of international trade in these relationships. The work has three main areas of focus. First, to understand how characteristics of agricultural landscapes shape biodiversity. Second, to understand the consequences of biodiversity change for agriculture by understanding responses to agriculture of two groups of species that provide key ecosystem services to food production: pollinators and pest predators. Third, to understand the role of international trade in agricultural commodities in impacting biodiversity.

BIOTA was funded by the UK Research and Innovation Natural Environment Research Council. Although the main period of funding has now finished, we are still wrapping up some aspects of the research. BIOTA is a collaboration with Carole Dalin. Work has mainly been carried out by Charlie, Monica, Joe, Lizzie, Daan and Tim.

Global Insect Threat-Response Synthesis (GLITRS)

Several recent studies have highlighted steep declines in insect population and distributions, but the available evidence is mixed, and biased toward well-studied groups of species and regions of the world. The GLITRS Project, which is led by Nick Isaac, aims to understand better insect declines globally, and their consequences for human societies. Our work within GLITRS has focused on quantifying the impact of key pressures on insect biodiversity, with a focus so far on land-use change, climate change and their interaction.

GLITRS is funded by the UK Research and Innovation Natural Environment Research Council. Our contribution to GLITRS is carried out mainly by Charlie, Justin and Tim.

Land-use and climate impacts on bumblebee biodiversity

Bumblebees are an important group of species for pollinating both wild plants and crops, but have been shown to be in steep decline at least in North America and Europe. In this project, we explored how land-use change and climate change drive changes in bumblebee communities.

This project was funded by an International Exchanges grant from the Royal Society. Although the funding has now ended, we are still finishing some of the papers. The research was undertaken in collaboration with Peter Soroye and Jeremy Kerr at the University of Ottawa. In our group, the research was mainly carried out by Jess and Tim.

Social and environmental trade-offs in African agriculture (Sentinel)

Africa is expected to see rapid land-use changes to meet growing human demands for food, both within Africa and internationally. The Sentinel Project investigated how ongoing and potential future changes in African agriculture are influencing social and environmental outcomes in three sub-Saharan African countries: Ethiopia, Ghana and Zambia. At UCL, we explored how current land-use patterns encroach on areas of importance for biodiversity, how historical land-use changes have impacted biodiversity and people, and how future land-use changes may impact biodiversity.

The Sentinel Project was funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund, and led by Barbara Adolph. Our contribution to Sentinel was led by Abbie, Lizzie and Tim.

The Dynamics of African Ecosystems Under Multiple Human Pressures

Africa is a particularly interesting case study for trying to understand human effects on ecosystems. African ecosystems are expected to be exposed to high levels of several important pressures on biodiversity: climate change, land-use change and bushmeat hunting. Data on the structure of ecological communities in Africa is sparse and patchy, and thus predicting the effects of human activities across the whole of the continent remains a challenge.

In this project, we made improvements to the Madingley General Ecosystem Model to make it better able to represent the effects of human pressures on ecosystems, and then used the improved model to make predictions about the past and future effects of land use, climate and bushmeat hunting on the structure of ecological communities. In order to test whether our predictions agree with observed changes, we also conducted empirical analyses using the PREDICTS database.

The Dynamics of African Ecosystems Project was funded by the Leverhulme Trust. Work on this project was carried out by Georgina, Lizzie and Tim.

Trade, Development and the Environment (TRADE) Project

Traded commodities have a substantial impact on biodiversity worldwide. At the same time, changes to trading arrangements can also be part of the solution to biodiversity declines. Trade also has important impacts on human societies.

The Trade Development and the Environment Research Hub, which is led by Neil Burgess, is investigating the social and environmental consequences of trade, and exploring how trade could lead to a more sustainable future for people and biodiversity. Our contribution to the TRADE Hub is fourfold. First, we are developing better models to understand the impact of land use on biodiversity, in particular focusing on the effects of agricultural intensification versus expansion. Second, developing scenarios to understand the potential future biodiversity impacts of different international trading patterns. Third, quantifying the biodiversity footprint of traded agricultural commodities in terms of both Land-use impacts and greenhouse gas emissions. Fourth, assessing the risk to trade routes from biodiversity loss, including of key groups of species that provide ecosystem services important for agriculture, focusing initially on pollinators.

The TRADE Hub is funded by the UK Research & Innovation Global Challenges Research Fund. Our contribution to the TRADE Hub has been carried out mainly by Silvia, Lizzie, Adrienne and Tim.

The Madingley Model

A few years ago, I was part of the team that developed the first global General Ecosystem Model, the Madingley Model. This is a mechanistic, individual-based model of the dynamics of ecological communities. It represents all plants, and all animal organisms larger than 10 μg. Since its publication, we have applied the Madingley Model to understand and predict the effects of human activities on the structure and dynamics of ecosystems.

James Rosindell had a project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, which combined insights from ecological neutral-theory with predictions made by the Madingley Model to make predictions of changes in species richness, thus making the Madingley Model more comparable with other models currently in use and more relevant to applied conservation questions.

Our recent work on the Madingley Model has been carried out mainly by Tania, Georgina, Lizzie and Tim, in collaboration with James Rosindell, Mike Harfoot and Derek Tittensor.

Species Traits and Responses to Human Pressures

A lot of my work over the past few years has investigated how the ecological characteristics of species influence the way that they respond to environmental change driven by human pressures. These ideas have featured in several of our funded projects described above. Research has mainly been carried out by Adrienne and Tim.

▼ Past Projects (click to expand) ▼

Projecting Responses of Ecological Diversity In Changing Terrestrial Systems (PREDICTS)

Before moving to UCL, I worked full time on the PREDICTS Project. We compiled a global database (now publicly available) of observed land-use effects on species in ecological communities. The 2016 release of the database contained over 3 million records, from nearly 30,000 terrestrial locations globally, for nearly 50,000 species including invertebrates, vertebrates, plants and fungi. These data have been used in many different ways to understand how biodiversity responds to different land uses and land-use intensities.

Species Distribution Models as a Tool for Conservation

In my PhD I investigated the use of species distribution models for guiding conservation, particularly in the context of Egypt. At the time one of my PhD supervisors, Francis Gilbert, was on sabbatical in Egypt running - together with Samy Zalat - the BioMAP Project, which collated recorded sightings of species in Egypt. I used these data to develop distribution models, which I used to estimate patterns of species richness, and to show that ecological characteristics of butterfly species influence how well their distributions correlate with c limatic conditions. I also conducted fieldwork to show that the distribution models gave a reasonable estimation of species' distributions .