We are a collaborative group of researchers broadly interested in questions which span the fields of microbial ecology, molecular ecology and evolution, evolutionary genetics, conservation genetics, and genomics. Our major research themes are: (i) Biodiversity assessment and community ecology, (ii) Microbial and disease ecology, (iii) Evolution in the anthropocene, (iv) Evolutionary ecology of parasites and pathogens, (v) Herpetology, toxinology and phylogenetics, (vi) Chronobiology, and (vii) Conservation genetics/genomics.
Biodiversity assessment and community ecology monitoring
Understanding and quantifying the distribution of biodiversity both within and across species using molecular genetic methods is a major research focus of the MEEB team. Areas of current activity include: use of qPCR, amplicon and metagenome sequencing, genome skimming and metabarcoding of community (bulk) environmental DNA (eDNA) for the assessment/biomonitoring of airborne pollen, microbial communities, terrestrial, freshwater and marine life, pollinators and dietary interactions.
Microbial and disease ecology
We apply a combination of cultivation-based, molecular and microbiome engineering approaches to characterise both host-associated and environmental microbiomes, including viromes, in soils, landfill sites, aquatic environments and tree disease systems, in order to understand the role of microbiomes in plant health and disease, biogeochemical cycling, and ecosystem function. Current research themes include high-throughput methods for the detection of human pathogens in aquatic environments and microbiome analysis of; (i) of biomass-degrading microorganisms for biofuels and biotechnology, (ii) complex tree diseases (e.g., Acute Oak Decline) and (iii) plants specialised to contaminated soils.
Evolution in the Anthropocene
Humans are having profound impacts on the ecology and evolution of species around the globe, so much so that the current geological epoch has been coined the “Anthropocene”. Groups in MEEB are tackling questions related to evolution in the Anthropocene that include how organisms are able to adapt to human altered environments and what demographic and evolutionary processes act as controls on biological invasions. These projects focus on understanding adaptation at phenotypic and genomic scales and utilize a diverse set of experiments, data types (e.g. high-throughput phenotyping, whole genome DNA sequencing, and RNA sequencing), and analyses.
Evolutionary ecology of parasites and pathogens
Anthropogenic pressures on wild and domesticated species are leading to alterations of host exposure risks to both native and novel pathogens. Consequently, the dynamics of host-pathogen interactions are currently changing at unprecedented rates in both natural and managed animal populations. Using a combination of experimental parasitology and molecular approaches, current research activities include comparative transcriptomics of host infection responses, parasite landscape genomics, and the impacts of human interventions on parasite genetic structure and diversity.
Herpetology, toxinology and phylogenetics
Herpetological research in MEEB focuses on the evolution of snake venoms, systematics and phylogenetics of venomous snakes, and the treatment and mitigation of snakebite. Bringing together ecology, evolution and genetics, our aim is to develop an integrative view of venoms at the interface between snakes and their environments. Our research is global in scope and covers all continents on which snakes occur. Additional lines of research include the ecology, conservation biology and genetics of native and non-native snake species, adaptation and speciation in island lizards, and the evolution of aposematic signals in poison frogs.
Almost all organisms possess time-keeping capabilities, enabling them to anticipate and prepare for regular changes in their environment. ‘Biological clocks’ are endogenous mechanisms that temporally organise metabolic, physiological, behavioural and life-history events within individuals. In MEEB, we study circadian rhythms of hosts, microbiomes and parasites to improve our understanding of disease dynamics in captive and wild animal populations, as well as the impacts of light pollution on aquatic animal rhythmicity and health.
Modern genomics tools provide a powerful means to document the timescales, significance and consequences of losing genetic diversity in natural populations. In MEEB, we use a combination of genetics and genomic tool to investigate shifts in population sizes, loss of adaptive and neutral diversity and the accumulation of deleterious genetic variation in small populations. Study systems include, Snakes in the UK, Drosophilid flies, Madagascan plants, Arctic charr and fisheries genetics more broadly - investigating the population genetic structure, management and traceability of marine fishes.