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Investigating initiatives to tackle deforestation

Carbon credit prices are too low to protect forests from conversion to rubber plantations. Read more.

Exeter marine biologist stars in Blue Planet II

Professor Steve Simpson highlighted the underwater soundscape in Blue Planet II. Read more.

Environmental Biology

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

The fate and toxicity of nanoparticles in aquatic environments

Manufactured nanomaterials have become a mainstay of modern industry, but their fate once discarded into the environment remains a mystery. Using oyster embryos as an elegant model system, Marie Curie Fellow Dr Seta Noventa has tested the so-called ‘Bandgap hypothesis’, in which the toxicity of metal oxide nanomaterials is predicted based on the potential for electron transfer between metal atoms on the particle surface and toxicity targets in cells. She found that the sorption capacity of the particles and their interaction with organic matter in seawater was able to override the Bandgap width, emphasising that for particle toxicity, it’s the surface that counts the most.

Noventa S et al. (2018). Environmental Science: Nano 5:1764-1777.

Investigating initiatives to tackle deforestation

Across Southeast Asia, conversion of forests to rubber plantations is a major cause of deforestation. Dan Bebber and a team of national and international collaborators calculated the minimum price for forest carbon required to break even against potential earnings from rubber plantations. Unfortunately, the study concluded that rubber is so valuable that the minimum required carbon price far exceeds that paid on carbon markets.

Warren-Thomas EM et al. (2018). Nature Commun. 9: 911. | Read more here.

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.