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Conservation, behaviour and ecology

Conservation, behavioural ecology and community ecology


Research in this theme uses a wide range of approaches. Theoretical work models behaviour under different social and ecological conditions while large scale surveys of major conservation issues have direct policy impact and other work has implications for practical management of invasive species. Since 2010 the University has had a strategic research initiative in conservation, which provides an umbrella for work in this area. Below we highlight some examples of our research.


Study of the impact of agricultural development and deforestation on tropical biodiversity and, in particular, how alternative land use strategies can minimize biodiversity loss has shown that high intensity agriculture coupled with the preservation of pristine forest (land sparing) is more effective at preserving biodiversity than low intensity agriculture (land sharing).

Conservation scientists work with other organizations such as the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds).  Field projects include reversing the precipitous decline of vulture populations in the Indian subcontinent caused by exposure to diclofenac. This has had a strong influence on the government policies of the four principal vulture range states (SAVE programme).

Scientists have undertaken major projects with the UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum, including rat eradication projects and population surveys of critically endangered species on oceanic islands.

Behavioural ecology

Field and laboratory experiments have been carried out with brood parasitic birds, revealing conflict and coadaptation, social transmission of host defences and the role of genetic polymorphism in thwarting these defences.

Long term field studies of socially breeding mammals continue, including the red deer of Rhum and the meerkat populations at the Kuruman River Reserve, South Africa. Studies provide important understanding of how the diversity of animal societies affects the evolution of reproductive strategies and the operation of selection.

Community ecology

Documenting the effects on canopy biodiversity of converting forest to oil palm and working with oil palm companies has enabled monitoring of  the effects of different management strategies on retained biodiversity.

Work on monitoring and management of invasive species and conducting survey work includes working closely with, for example, water companies to find out the impact of zebra mussels in water treatment.


Future strategic plans focus on the development of a new Conservation Campus. This will bring together University researchers from biological and social sciences together with applied conservation researchers from a range of conservation NGOs (non-governmental organizations) to create a unique global campus to further conservation understanding, knowledge and expertise.