New method for population genetics

Josephine Paris (front and centre) leading a workshop on how to analyse RAD-seq data

The impact of pesticides and pathogens on bee populations

Research on pesticide-disease interactions aims to identify strategies for the conservation of bee populations.


Exeter marine biologist stars in Blue Planet II

Professor Steve Simpson Blue Planet II

Environmental Biology

Our research focus

The Environmental Biology group has an international reputation for its studies on the effects of natural and anthropogenic environmental change on animals, their populations and ecosystems. Our research spans studies on fundamental biological process to the development and application of solutions for the protection of animal health and ecosystems. Aquatic biology is a major focus (freshwater and marine - fish, invertebrates, reptiles and mammals) but terrestrial insects, birds and humans are also important species studied.

Ecotoxicology is a key research area, having a globally important impact on our appreciation of how endocrine disruptors, nanoparticles, pharmaceuticals, agrochemicals, plastics, climate change and noise affects ecosystem health.

Understanding mechanisms of action and physiological/behavioural adaptations to environmental stressors is vital to predicting impacts on populations and improving the sustainability of aquatic and terrestrial food production. Approaches used include field tracking studies, in vivo experimentation, in vitro techniques, novel transgenic fish models, population genetics, genome-wide sequencing, and ecological modelling. We have a £12M state-of-the-art facility (Aquatic Resources Centre) for supporting our laboratory-based freshwater and marine research.

Recent research highlights

New method for population genetics

An international partnership between the University of Exeter (Jamie Stevens) and University of Illinois has recently developed the first method of its kind for standardising the analysis of Restriction site-Associated DNA sequencing (RAD-seq) data, a technique of increasing importance within the field of population genetics.

Paris JR et al. (2017). Methods Ecol & Evol. 8(10): 1360-1373.

Read more here.

Satellite tracking provides unique insight into basking shark migration

Research led by Matt Witt has applied satellite tracking to monitor the seasonal migration of basking sharks, the world’s second largest fish species. Deploying 70 satellite tags over four years, the research team observed migrations that spanned nine geo-political zones and the High Seas, demonstrating the need for multi-national cooperation in the management and conservation of this species.

Doherty PD et al. (2017). Sci Rep. 7:42837.

Mitigating the effects of carbon dioxide on aquaculture

Sustainable aquaculture is critical for global food security. In their recent publication in Global Change Biology, Rod Wilson and colleagues bring together the fields of climate change and aquaculture science to highlight the need for cross-disciplinary research aimed at mitigating the negative impacts of elevated CO2 on future aquatic ecosystems and the sustainability of fish and shellfish aquaculture.

Ellis RP et al. (2017). Glob Chang Biol. 23(6):2141-2148.

The impact of pesticides and pathogens on bee populations

In conjunction with collaborators at Fera, James Cresswell and Charles Tyler have critically analysed the literature on pesticide-disease interactions in the context of bee populations, assessing effects on the survival, pathogen loads and immunity of bees, and the suitability of strategies for gaining mechanistic understanding of these interactions. In so doing, they highlight future research priorities for the conservation of bee populations.

Collison E et al. (2016). Biol Rev Camb Philos Soc. 91(4):1006-1019.

Exeter marine biologist stars in Blue Planet II

The critically-acclaimed Blue Planet II, which has highlighted the beauty and plight of marine life around the world, featured Biosciences’ Steve Simpson who was using a directional hydrophone to capture the underwater soundscape in surround sound. More broadly, Steve’s research focuses on the impact of anthropogenic noise on marine ecosystems, recently reporting that such noise increases fish mortality by predation (Simpson et al., 2016) and disrupts cooperation between species (Nedelec et al., 2017).

Simpson SD et al. (2016) Nat Commun. 7:10544. | Read more here.

Nedelec SL et al. (2017) Sci Rep. 7(1):6987. | Read more here.