Dr Karl Wotton
Senior Lecturer and Royal Society University Research Fellow
Stella Turk Building B046-121
University of Exeter, Penryn Campus, Penryn, TR10 9FE
Office hours: Mondays and Fridays 9:30-10:30
Mondays and Fridays 9:30-10:30
My research focuses on animal migration and its ecological consequences. I am particularly interested in the drivers of variation in numbers and species through migration hotspots, the interactions between co-migrants and resident species and the genetic basis of traits found in migratory organisms. If you are interested in PhD or postdoc opportunities, or would like any further information, then please get in touch. Want to see what life is like in the lab? Click here for images and videos of our research.
Hoverfly migration in the Pyrenees
2007 PhD Evolutionary Developmental Biology, University of Oxford
2002 BSc Molecular Genetics and Biotechnology, University of Sussex
2008-2015 Postdoctoral researcher, EMBL/CRG Research Unit in Systems Biology, Spain
2007-2008 Postdoctoral researcher, King's College London
Research group links
Our research focuses on spectacular long-distance migrations of insects and investigates how these tiny organisms move over vast distances and the ecological consequences of these movements.
Long-term monitoring and comparative analysis of migratory insect populations. We monitor insect movement through migration hotspots, including high mountain passes, islands and coastal areas. We have developed a number of methods to quantify the huge numbers of individuals involved and our emerging long-term datasets are used to investigate how environmental and geographic variation influences migrant numbers and species assemblages. We use our field sites to investigate a number of interactions between co-migrants and between migrants and resident species (predation, mutualisms, disease etc) in order to understand how these mobile ecosystems function.
Orientation and energetics in migratory hoverflies. Over 4 billion migratory hoverflies move over Britain each year. These species enter in spring, reproduce through summer and the subsequent generations leave in autumn, flying south to the Mediterranean basin. To achieve this, hoverflies may cover hundreds of kilometres in a single day and thousands of kilometres over the entire period. Yet we do not understand how they know when to leave, which way to head or how they power their journeys. To investigate these questions, we use state-of-the-art flight recording technology including flight-simulators, flight-mills and vertical-looking radar to investigate compass navigation and flight capabilities of migratory hoverflies: see here and here.
Environmental induction and genetic control of migration. We utilise transcriptomics and comparative genomics to identify the molecular determinants of migration in insects. In particular, this research aims to move our understanding of the genetics of migration from correlative studies, which identify genes potentially involved in migration, to a mechanistic understanding of how these factors actually function.
Hoverflies as dual ecosystem services providers ‘pollinators+’. Hoverflies visit many of the major global food crops worth around US$300 billion per year to the world economy. In addition, they provide ecosystem functions not seen in bees: crop protection from pests, recycling of organic matter and long-distance pollen transfer. We investigate a number of questions related to the ecological utilisation of hoverflies to improve agriculture: see here.
Publications by category
Publications by year
External Engagement and Impact
- The essential fly (2021) Knowable Magazine.
- Insects move to the warmth in autumn (2020) Neue Zürcher Zeitung (in German)
- The beauty of Hoverflies (2020) BBC Farming Today (3:45) about the benifits of encouraging hoverflies onto farmland and expanded by PhD student Will Hawkes on Farmerama (33:00) as to why migratory insects are important for farmers
- How the Insects Travel (2020) Will & Ben the Wildlife Men discuss insect migration in their podcast series. Will, a PhD student in the lab, discusses how insects travel long-distances and his life as a researcher in the field
- Unsung heroes? How hoverflies play key pollination role (2020) ScienceX
- In the Company of Insects (2020) Our contribution to a collection of poetry and interviews from award-winning poet Fiona Benson and sound artists Mair Bosworth and Eliza Lomas: interview about our research with me and Will Hawkes with additional poems from children about hoveflies read at the Eden project.
- Insect swarms on Cyprus reveal incredible journeys (2020) The Guardian
- Half a billion hoverflies migrate to the United Kingdom each year. The benefits to farmers are huge. (2019) Science
- These Animal Migrations Are Huge — and Invisible. (2019) The New York Times.
- Migration: Ecosystem Services Helicoptered In. (2019) Current Biology
- Flying insects tell tales of long-distance migrations (2018) Science News
- Royal Society University Research Fellowship Renewal 2022 (URF\R\211003)
- Royal Society Research Grant 2018 (180047)
- NERC GW4+ Doctoral Training Partnership 2018 (NE/L002434/1)
- Royal Society Enhancement Award 2017 (180083)
- BBSRC Global Challenges Research Fund. 2016 (Co-I)
- Royal Society University Research Fellowship 2016 (UF150126)
- Marie Curie Individual Fellowship 2016 (Declined)
- Teaching grant: Fundacio Catalunya La Pedrera 2014, 2015 & 2016 (Joves i Ciència)
- CRG Research Grant 2014
I lead the Pyrenees Field Course (BIO2449) where students can visit our fieldsite and migration hotspot on the Spanish/French border. I also lecture on the genetics and physiology of migrants on the Animal Migration module (BIO3421). I am a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.
Information not currently available
Supervision / Group
- William Hawkes
- Daniel Hull
- Richard Massy
- Toby Doyle
- Kelsey Davies (co-supervisor)
- Amy Hall
- Emma Lane
- Daniel Osmond
- Edward Walliker (co-supervisor)