Ecology and Evolution Research Group website

Our research is focused on the effect of Anthropogenic Climate Change on emerging infectious disease, species extinction, phenology and shifts in species’ distributions.

Climate change is associated with an increase in infectious diseases and species extinctions. Dr Rob Puschendorf and collaborators were amongst the first to link tropical amphibian decline to a climate-stimulated increased virulence of lethal amphibian viruses (see the classic Pounds et al 2006). Rob has now turned his attention to amphibians in the UK, showing that higher temperatures drive increasing severity of ranavirus epidemics, with climate projections to predict how severe ranavirosis outbreaks will spread over wider areas and an extended season (Price et al 2019).

Many species are also shifting their distributions to higher latitudes and elevations, but not all species respond at the same rates. Dr James Buckley is particularly interested in how changes in between-species interactions impact the ability of organisms to respond to climate change, using field surveys and greenhouse experiments to explore how plant communities at high elevations might respond to colonization by low-elevation herbivores (Buckley et al. 2019).

Drs Andy Foggo and Anthony Knights are interested in understanding how environmental change, including rising sea surface temperatures and ocean acidification, affects trophic interactions between, and the fitness and distribution of, marine species. Andy’s work shows how climate‐driven substitutions of foundation kelps by warm-water species increases the cycling and release of organic matter by up to 80% with concomitant changes in ecosystem functioning likely (Pessarrodona et al. 2018). Research from Tony’s group is providing understanding of the mechanisms underlying the formation and development of marine communities in terms of ocean processes (James et al. 2019), and the link between dispersal capacity and environment change in promoting local adaptation (see Jupe et al. 2020 and Charlie Clubley’s PhD).

The impacts of climate change are often exacerbated by other anthropogenic stressors. Using grayling (Thymallus thymallus) to study the combined impacts of pollution and climate change in freshwater rivers, Dr Vanessa Huml and Dr Jon Ellis demonstrated how pollution control can be used to reduce negative impacts of low habitat quality on immune genetic diversity and mitigate grayling range contractions under future climate change conditions (Huml et al., 2020)

Finally, although we were sad to see Professor Camille Parmesan move to France in 2019, we are delighted that she retains links with our University and research group. Her work is far too influential to summarise here, so please see her CNRS webpage for further details.

Ecology and Evolution Research Group. frog
Ecology and Evolution Research Group

Selected publications

Pounds JA, Puschendorf R, et al. (2006). Widespread amphibian extinctions from epidemic disease driven by global warming. Nature 439: 161-167.

Price SJ, … Puschendorf R, et al (2019). Effects of historic and projected climate change on the range and impacts of an emerging infectious disease. Global Change Biology 25: 2648-2660.

Buckley J et al. (2019). Variation in growth and defence traits among plant populations at different elevations: Implications for adaptation to climate change. Journal of Ecology 107: 2478-2492.

Huml JV, …, Ellis JS 2020. Pollution control can help mitigate future climate change impact on European grayling in the UK. Diversity and Distributions 26: 517-532.

James M, …..Knights AM (2019) Reverse engineering field-derived vertical distribution profiles to infer larval swimming behaviors. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 116: 11818-11823.

Jupe LL, Bilton DT, Knights AM (2020) Do differences in developmental mode shape the potential for local adaptation? Ecology 101: e02942

Parmesan C & Hanley ME (2015) Plants and climate change: complexities and surprises. Annals of Botany 115: 849-864. (WoS ‘Highly Cited’)

Pessarrodona A, Foggo A, Smale D (2018) Can ecosystem functioning be maintained despite climate-driven shifts in species composition? Insights from novel marine forests. Journal of Ecology 107: 91-104. 


Dr Tony Knights (PI with Co-I’s incl Firth LB & Bilton DT) Testing environment filters as mechanisms of ecosystem resilience to non-native species invasion. SoBMS and Cefas Consortium £120,000. Oct 2020-Sept 2023.

Dr Tony Knights (Co-I with Dr Phil Hosegood) Conservation strategies for biodiversity hotspots and safe havens in a changing climate: Oceanographic drivers of ecosystem variability in the Chagos Archipelago. Garfield Weston Foundation £922,343. April 2019-March 2021.