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Nature - People - Data
My research focusses on two main themes. Firstly, I am interested in citizen science: running projects, innovating, building an evidence base for excellence, and using the data. Secondly I am interested in ecological interactions, especially combining interactions between species into ecological networks and so considering nature, and the benefits we gain from nature, in the context of a whole system. Throughout I am interested in consider public engagement with research and how genuine public engagement, via citizen science or other means, leads to research with more impact.
The value of nature-based citizen science
Citizen science - which can be simply described as the invovlement of volunteers in research and monitoring - is a wonderful range of approaches that has a long history in providing high quality data for analysis. At UKCEH I work within the Biological Records Centre that has a 50+ year history of supporting naturalists making records that help us quantify changes in biodiversity. However there is increasing use of citizen science approaches, especially influenced by new recording technologies (such as smartphones), and I and my colleauges seek to be at the forefront of innovations in citizen science. We are also building an evidence base to support best practice, including producing guides on when to use citizen science, running projects, and evaluating citizen science.
My research in citizen science is becoming increasingly collaborative across disciplines because we need to understand the virtuous circle of people-nature-data: people's interactions with nature and with data, and how that influences motivations and recording behaviour.
Network approaches in ecology and environmental change
Each species does not exist in isolation, but interacts with other species to form highly complex ecological networks, such as food webs. I am interested in whether the structure of networks is affected by environment change and how this affects ecosystem resilience.
Interactions are at the very heart of ecology, and I have used network analysis of these interactions to study the impacts of environmental change on nature. One of the benefits of network appraoches is that we can answer questions about environment change at the level of the whole system of ecological interactions, rather than just for species individually. I have applied this approach in networks of plant-pollinators, and insect herbivores and their parasitoids, to answer questions about agricultural intensification, habitat fragmentation, light pollution and tree health. And this also scales up when we include people within these systems to seek to understand socio-ecological systems, for example in my work on how farmer behaviour may affect biodiversity and ecosystem services.
Part of my motivation is my love of natural history, and so it has been wonderful to have undertaken fieldwork on a wide range of plants and many types of animals, including small mammals, birds and insects such as bees, moths and hoverflies.
For a piece of network science trivia, my Erdös number is 3.
Public engagement with research and with nature
The engagement of people with scientific research and with nature is really important. One way in which I am developing this is through innovations in citizen science, but I am also academic lead for public engagement with research at UKCEH and so I work with others in UKCEH to embed public engagement with our research, throughout the research cycle, to ensure that research at UKCEH has real world impact.
- 2011-present: Ecologist, CEH
- 2009-2012: NERC Research Fellow
- 2003-2009: Research Associate, University of Bristol
- 2002: Research Assistant, University of Leeds
- 1997-2001: PhD, University of York
- Board of Directors of the Citizen Science Association (2018-2020)
- Associate editor, Journal of Applied Ecology (2010-2020) and Citizen Science: Theory & Practice (2019 onwards)
- Member of the NERC peer review college
- Chair of the A Rocha International Conservation Science Advisory Council
- Member of the RCUK Public Engagement with Research Advisory Panel (to 2018)