Professor Frank Van Veen
Professor of Ecology & Conservation
The Farmhouse G09
The Farmhouse, University of Exeter, Penryn Campus, Cornwall, TR10 9FE, UK
Office hours: My office hours are Mondays and Thursdays 11:00-12:00 on Teams: Join Microsoft Teams Meeting
My office hours are Mondays and Thursdays 11:00-12:00 on Teams: Join Microsoft Teams Meeting
The parasitoid wasp Trioxys acalephae laying an egg in a black bean aphid, Aphis fabae. Photo Dirk Sanders.
I am an ecologist with a particular interest in the processes that determine the structure and dynamics of networks of interacting species (food webs). By gaining a mechanistic understanding of these complex ecological systems I hope to be able to make predictions on how they, and the services they provide, will respond to environmental change. Much of my work has focussed on fundamental processes using temperate arthropod communities as model systems. More recently I have also increasingly started to apply this to issues such as biodiversity conservation, sustainable agriculture and the impact of climate change on exploited ecological resources, with diverse study systems in the UK, New Zealand, Africa and Indonesia.
Click the Research tab for details on current and recent projects
1999 PhD (Imperial College London)
1994 MSc (Leiden University, The Netherlands)
2016 - Present Associate Professor of Ecology & Conservation, University of Exeter
2009-2015 Senior Lecturer in Climate Change Biology, University of Exeter
2006-2009 Research Fellow, NERC Centre for Population Biology, Imperial College London, Silwood Park
2005-2006 Postdoctoral Research Associate, NERC Centre for Population Biology, Imperial College London, Silwood Park
2000-2005 Postdoctoral Research Associate, Imperial College London, Silwood Park
Research group links
Mummified remains of a vetch aphid (Megoura viciae), the result of parasitisation by the wasp Praon dorsale. Photo Dirk Sanders.
Aphid-parasitoid-secondary parasitoid food web
The core of my research is in community ecology with a particular focus on gaining a mechanistic understanding of the processes that structure networks of interacting species in ecological communities (food webs) and to predict how these systems may respond to environmental change. Much of the work in my group has focussed on fundamental processes using temperate arthropod communities as model systems. More recently we have also increasingly started to apply this to issues such as biodiversity conservation, sustainable agriculture and the impact of climate change on exploited ecological resources, with diverse study systems in the UK, New Zealand, Africa and Indonesia.
Below is a list of current and recent projects
Determining causal links between interaction type and network structure in microbial communities
Personnel: Dirk Sanders (Post Doc)
Funding: Natural Environment Research Council standard grant (PI: Angus Buckling)
*New* project using bacteria - plasmid model system to test fundamental ecological theory with direct relevance to understanding the spread of anti-microbial resistance.
Preventing Borneo’s peatland fires to protect health, livelihoods and biodiversity.
Personnel: Helen Morrogh-Bernard (post-doc), Will Healy (MbyRes student), Abi Gwynn (MbyRes student)
Funding: Darwin Initiative; Royal Geograpgical Society; Swansea Educational Trust
Borneo’s biodiverse peat-swamp forests are being destroyed by annual fires resulting from poor management and land use decisions. These cause huge public health problems, are a major contributor to global carbon emissions and destroy large swathes of rainforest. In collaboration with Borneo Nature Foundation we address the causes of these fires in the critical Sebangau region by restoring drained and deforested peatlands and encouraging behaviour change amongst local communities, while simultaneously tackling fire impacts by improving local fire-fighting capacity and developing fire-prevention networks. Our research focusses on monitoring the effectiveness of various approaches for preventing fires (Helen), the restoration of biodiversity (Will) and the long term population and health effects of fires on the critically endangered Bornean orang-utan (Abi).
The role of habitat heterogeneity on faunal diversity and density in a low-productivity peat-swamp/ kerangas mosaic forest landscape
Personnel: Shari Mang (PhD student), Wendy Erb (visiting fellow), Chloe Field (MbyRes student), Ellie Wyatt (MbyRes student)
Funding: University of Exeter (Vice Chancelor’s Scholarship); Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC); Clevelan Metroparks Zoo; British Academy Visiting Fellowship; Royal Geographical Society
The so-called Rungan landscape between the Rungan and Kahayan rivers is the largest area of unprotected lowland forest remaining in Borneo, yet has long been a conservation afterthought because the low-productivity peatswamp and kerangas (heath) forests that dominate there were thought to be of relatively low biodiversity value. However, Initial surveys by Borneo Nature Foundation, Universitas Muhammadiyah Palangkaraya and us have shown that the faunal diversity is high and contains a number of unique and globally rare species, including relatively high densities of orang-utan and white-bearded gibbon. Our research focusses on testing hypotheses relating to the role of habitat complementarity in resources and phenology in supporting mammal diversity and density in this habitat mosaic. We use permanent forestry plots, camera traps, orang-utan nest surveys, passive acoustic monitoring and small mammal-traps. In addition, we run annual student expeditions to gather data on a wide range of taxa.
Climate change: the impact of changing day light regimes on range-shifting insect populations
Personnel: Rachel Kehoe (PhD student)
Funding: Natural Environment Research Council GW4+ Doctoral Training Programme
A consistent effect of the warming of the earth’s climate is shift or expansion of species’ ranges to higher latitudes. However, while the climate in the new range may match the pre-climate change conditions at the lower latitude, other aspects of the environment will not match. A notable example of this is day length: with increasing latitude the difference in summer and winter day length increases and therefore also the rates of day-length change in spring and autumn. We study how the population dynamics of aphids that are agricultural pests are affected by this through effects on their life cycles and their interactions with their natural enemies.
Kehoe, R. C., Cruse, D., Sanders, D., Gaston, K. J., van Veen, F. J.F (2018) Shifting daylength regimes associated with range shifts alter aphid-parasitoid community dynamics. Ecology and Evolution DOI:10.1002/ece3.4
Climate change: Spatial dynamics of range expanding Gilt-Head Bream in UK inshore waters
Personnel: Jen Lewis (PhD student)
Funding: Natural Environment Research Council Industrial CASE studentship with CEFAS
Gilthead bream (Sparus aurata) is one of the most sought after marine fish species in Europe for fisheries and aquaculture. It has established persistent populations in Cornwall in recent decades, in response to sea temperature warming. As such, it represents an excellent model species for studying the range expansion of marine organisms in response to climate change and the associated ecological and societal impacts.
Extinction cascades due to indirect population dynamic processes
Funding: Natural Environment Research Council standard grant
Staff: Dirk Sanders (Post doc), Rachel Kehoe (Research Assistant)
Collaborator: Elisa Thebault (Universite Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris)
Human activities cause species extinctions. These primary extinctions can themselves cause further extinctions, potentially leading to a domino effect. We use experimental insect communities to test whether predicted extinction cascades do happen in response to over-exploitation of one species, by what mechanisms and how this all depends on the network structure of webs of interacting species (so-called food webs).
Sanders, Dirk, Elisa Thebault, Rachel Kehoe, F. J. Frank van Veen (2018) Trophic redundancy reduces vulnerability to extinction cascades. PNAS 115 (10) 2419-2424
Sanders, D., Kehoe, R., van Veen, F.J.F., McLean, A., Godfray, H.C.J., Dicke, M., Gols, R., Frago, E. (2016) Defensive insect symbiont leads to cascading extinctions and community collapse. Ecology Letters. doi: 10.1111/ele.12616
Kehoe R, E Frago, C Barten, F Jecker, F van Veen, D Sanders (2016) Non-host diversity and density reduce the strength of parasitoid–host interactions. Ecology and Evolution
Dirk Sanders, Rachel Kehoe, F. J. Frank van Veen (2015) Experimental evidence for the population-dynamic mechanisms underlying extinction cascades of carnivores. Current Biology 23, 3106–3109. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2015.10.017
Sanders, D., Sutter, L., van Veen, F.J.F. (2013). The loss of indirect interactions leads to cascading extinctions of carnivores. Ecology Letters, 16(5):664-9. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ele.12096/full
Effects of artificial light on multi-trophic population dynamics
Personnel: Dirk Sanders (Post Doc)
Funding: Natural Environment Research Council standard grant (PI: Kevin Gaston)
Artificial light at night is well known to affect organisms in various ways. Less is known how these effects on individuals affect the population dynamics of the affected species and the species they interact with. We test this with our well-established aphid-parasitoid community experimental system, varying both light intensity and light spectrum.
Sanders, D., Kehoe, R., Cruse, D., van Veen, F. J.F, Gaston, K. J. (2018) Low levels of artificial light at night strengthen top-down control in insect food web. Current Biology 28, 2474–247.
Sanders, D., Kehoe, R., Tiley, K., Bennie, J., Cruse, D., Davies, T., van Veen, F.J.F., and Gaston, K.J. (2015) Artificial nighttime light changes aphid-parasitoid population dynamics. Scientific Reports
NETWORK: Quantifying indirect costs and benefits of natural ecosystems to tropical agriculture
Personnel: 23 British, French and South African postgraduate students
Funding: European Commission Marie Curie International Research Staff Exchange Scheme
Natural vegetation near farmland can sustain populations of natural enemies of pest insects and of pollinators but can also be a source of the pest insects themselves, thus providing both ecosystem services and disservices. We quantify these opposing effects in an important tropical crop (mango) in a landscape dominated by natural vegetation and with high biodiversity. NETWORK brings together scientists with expertise in the empirical (UK), theoretical (France) and applied (South Africa) aspects of studying these interactions.
Karp, D. S., Chaplin-Kramer, R., Meehan, T. D. et al. (2018) Crop pests and predators exhibit inconsistent responses to surrounding landscape composition. PNAS 115 (33) E7863-E787.
Simba, Lavhelesani D., Stefan H. Foord, Elisa Thébault , F.J.Frank van Veen, Grant S. Joseph, Colleen L. Seymour (2018) Indirect interactions between crops and natural vegetation through flower visitors: the importance of temporal as well as spatial spillover. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 253, 148-156.
Hansen S., F. Roets, C.L. Seymour, E. Thébault, F.J. van Veen, J.S. Pryke (2017) Alien plants have greater impact than habitat fragmentation on native insect flower visitation networks. Diversity and Distributions
Nel L., J.S. Pryke, L.G. Carvalheiro, E. Thébault, F.J.F. van Veen, CL Seymour (2017) Exotic plants growing in crop field margins provide little support to mango crop flower visitors. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 250, 72-80
Moxley C, W Lammers, FJF van Veen, E Thébault, KJ Esler, CL Seymour (2017) A major subtropical fruit pest accumulates in crop fields and spills over to a wild host. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 242, 102-109
Morgan WH., C.L. Seymour, E. Thébault and F.J.F. van Veen (2016) Density dependence and environmental factors affect population stability of an agricultural pest and its specialist parasitoid. Biocontrol 62, 175-184
Geslina Benoît, Melissa Oddie, Morgane Folschweiller, Gaëlle Legrasa, Colleen L. Seymour, F.J. Frank van Veen and Elisa Thébault (2016) Spatiotemporal changes in flower-visitor abundance and functional traits in mango orchards with increasing distance to natural habitats. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 229: 21-29
Henri, D.C., Jones, O., Tsiattalos, A., Thébault, E., Seymour, C.L., van Veen, F.J.F. (2015) Natural vegetation benefits synergistic control of the three main insect and pathogen pests of fruit crop in southern Africa. Journal of Applied Ecology, 52: 1092-1101. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12465
Ehlers-Smith, Y.C., Ehlers-Smith, D.A., Seymour, C.L., Thébault, E., van Veen, F.J.F. (2015) Response of avian diversity to habitat modification can be predicted from life-history traits and ecological attributes. Landscape Ecology, 30: 1225-1239. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10980-015-0172-x
- 2020 GCRF, NERC
Drought and peatland fires in Indonesian Borneo: Understanding drivers and impacts to build resilience through sustainable development
- 2018 The British Academy
Visiting Fellowship Dr Wendy Erb: “Integrating Ecological and Ethnographic Research to Develop Effective & Socially Just Conservation in a Threatened Bornean Landscape”
- 2018 Darwin Initiative for the Survival of Species
“Preventing Borneo's peatland fires to protect health, livelihoods and biodiversity"
- 2018 NERC
“Determining causal links between interaction type and network structure in microbial communities”
- 2017 NERC Life Sciences Mass Spectrometry Facility
Drivers of food chain length in parasitoid‐hyperparasitoid networks
- 2016 BBSRC
GCRF Impact Accelerator Award “Improving sustainability of agricultural development in peat ecosystems in Indonesia”
- 2015 NERC CASE Studentship (open competition)
NERC Industrial CASE studentship with CEFAS
- 2015 NERC
Daphne Jackson Fellowship for Dr Helen Morrogh-Bernard. “Social network of a Bornean orang-utan population”
- 2015 NERC
"Effects of artificial light on multi-trophic population dynamics” (PI Kevin Gaston)
- 2013 NERC Life Sciences Mass Spectrometry Facility
Forest-litter food webs and decomposition
- 2012 NERC
Cascading extinctions due to loss of indirect ecological interactions
- 2012 Marie Curie International Research Staff Exchange Scheme
- 2012 Marie Curie Fellowship
- 2010 Systematics Association
Resolving Alloxystini taxonomy to facilitate the geographic comparison of insect food webs
- 2010 NERC Life Sciences Mass Spectrometry Facility
Tertiary parasitism in aphid-parasitoid food webs
- 2009 FERA
Novel Technologies for Quantifying Ecosystems Function and Biodiversity.
- 2008 NERC New Investigator Grant
Phylogenetic analysis of a highly resolved insect food web
- 2008 European Science Foundation SIZEMIC programme
Human impact on food webs: Are there common patterns across ecosystems?
- 2006 BBSRC
Aphid secondary symbionts: from model system to agricultural pest.
Publications by category
Publications by year
External Engagement and Impact
Member of the Natural Environment Research Council Peer Review College
Adult and nymphs of the pea aphid (Acyrthosiphon pisu) Photo Dirk Sanders.
Supervision / Group
- Rachel Kehoe
- Matthew Perkins (FERA)