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I am a molecular ecologist with interests in freshwater biodiversity. This includes understanding the processes that structure biodiversity across river catchments, the functional role of biodiversity, exploring the impacts of anthropogenic activity on freshwater communities, and applying and developing molecular techniques to assess biodiversity.
Microbes in freshwater ecosystems play a crucial role in major global biogeochemical cycles, including carbon cycling, the cycling of essential macronutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous, and the breakdown of organic pollutants. Despite their importance, we lack an understanding of the processes that determine community composition, and the role that community composition plays in controlling nutrient cycling. My research explores these issues by examining spatial and temporal changes in lotic microbial communities. Much of this work has been done on the river Thames, using the Thames Initiative https://www.ceh.ac.uk/our-science/projects/river-thames-initiative as a platform for sample collection and contextual data.
Anthropogenic impacts on freshwater ecosystems, including antimicrobial resistance in the environment
Freshwaters are some of the most highly impacted environments due to our reliance on them for water abstraction and waste removal. I am interested in the impact of chemicals (organic pollutants, pharmaceuticals) and nutrients on the structure and function of microbial ecosystems. One aspect of this is the impact of farm and human effluent waste on the prevalence and composition of pathogenic microbes and in particular, antimicrobial resistant bacteria. This work is supported by the NERC funded REHAB project http://gtr.ukri.org/projects?ref=NE%2FN019660%2F1, in collaboration with the University of Oxford http://modmedmicro.nsms.ox.ac.uk/ and the Animal and Plant Health Agency https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/animal-and-plant-health-agency
The application of environmental DNA (eDNA) for assessing biodiversity
Understanding how biodiversity is changing over time is critical to determine how human activity is changing ecosystems and the services they provide. However, conventional approaches using morpho-taxonomy, whilst often providing a gold standard, are often time-consuming and rely on a dwindling pool of expertise. DNA based approaches for assessing community composition have great potential to reduce costs, both through reductions in sampling and identification time, as well as the ability to identify cryptic genetic diversity. My research focussed on developing new approaches for assessing biodiversity based on high throughput sequencing and applying this to metabarcoding of bulk invertebrate samples as well as metabarcoding of environmental DNA (eDNA).
Jade Ward (2016-2019). Co-supervised with Dan Lapworth (BGS) and Steve Pedley (University of Surrey). Project title: Application of novel field sensors for tracking pathogens in drinking water supplies in Africa.
Liz Davidson (2018-2022). Co-supervised with Steve Thackeray (CEH Lancaster) and Steve Ormerod (Cardiff University). Project title: Molecular resolution of historic and contemporary food web interactions in lake ecosystems.
2014-Present: Senior Scientific Officer, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Wallingford.
2008-2014: Higher Scientific Officer, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Wallingford.
2007 to 2008: PDRA, Cardiff University.
2003-2007 Doctor of Philosophy, Cardiff University. Thesis Title: Molecular detection of trophic interactions is subterranean food webs (BBSRC funded).
1999-2002 BSc. Hons 2.1 (Biology), Cardiff University.