Dr Paul Ramsay
Associate Professor in Ecology
School of Biological and Marine Sciences (Faculty of Science and Engineering)
- Conservation genetics
- Tropical ecosystems
- Community ecology
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School of Biomedical & Biological Sciences, University of Plymouth
School of Biological Sciences, University of Plymouth
Lecturer/Senior Lecturer in Ecology
School of Biological Sciences, University of Plymouth
Visiting Lecturer in Ecology, Biogeography Laboratory, Department of Ecology and Natural Resources, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico City
Consultant Ecologist, Hunting Land & Environment Limited (now HTS Development Limited).
PhD in plant ecology, University of Wales, Bangor. (The Páramo Vegetation of Ecuador: the Community Ecology, Dynamics and Productivity of Tropical Grasslands in the Andes)
BSc (Hons) Biology, University of Wales, Bangor.
Fellow of the Society of Biology
My teaching interests reflect my research themes: biodiversity and conservation. During my time at the University of Plymouth, I have contributed a wide variety of subject matter on many different courses. I currently contribute to three modules in our postgraduate programmes and to nine undergraduate modules in our BSc (Hons) programmes in Environmental Biology, Marine Biology, Marine Biology & Coastal Ecology, and Biological Sciences.
I have taught on the following modules: Adaptations of Plants and Insect Herbivores; Biological Diversity; Biological Sciences Field Course (Azores); Coastal Ecosystems; Community Ecology; Concepts in Ecology; Conservation; Contaminated Land Remediation; Ecology Fieldcourse (UK, Spain, Borneo, Mexico); Ecology: Applications and Developments; Ecology and Conservation; Environmental Biology Field Course (Azores); Field Biology of Plants; Fundamentals of Ecology; Global Ecology; Habitat Restoration; Individuals, Populations and Communities; Introduction to Ecology and Evolution; Methods in Biology; Methods in Ecology; Restoration Ecology; Skills in Ecology; Skills in Marine Biology and Coastal Ecology; Research Skills and Methods in Biology; Terrestrial Ecosystems; Terrestrial Environments.
My work is mostly focused on biodiversity and conservation management in two distinct geographical areas: the Andes and European uplands. However, I started off my career as a marine biologist and I have also been involved in several projects on aquatic ecology. Before joining the University of Plymouth, I worked for four years as an environmental consultant and I appreciate the need for practical advice on biodiversity conservation.
1. Biodiversity and sustainable use of tropical alpine grasslands in the Andes
Over 20 years ago, I carried out the first comprehensive survey of the vegetation of the high-altitude grasslands (páramos) of Ecuador. I also studied plant population dynamics in relation to agricultural fires. Subsequently, my interests broadened to include invertebrates and birds, and other Andean countries. Currently, I am involved in diverse projects in Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru: plant community ecology, spatial relationships between plants, and hummingbird-plant interactions.
2. Biodiversity and sustainable use of high-altitude forest remnants in the Andes
Alongside the páramo grasslands are high-altitude forest patches. Since 1985 I have carried out investigations in these Polylepis woodlands—the highest woodlands in the world. Usually small and isolated, these woodlands are under threat from the gradual loss of trees at the woodland edge during grassland fires and from fuelwood collection by poor, high-altitude farmers. My current work is in Peru and Ecuador.
There are three themes to my work:
a. The population dynamics of Polylepis itself
How does Polylepis regenerate inside the woodland? Why does it fail to recolonise areas outside the woodland boundaries? How quickly do the trees grow? How old are they?
b. Biodiversity of Polylepis woodlands
What species are found in these patches? How does the biodiversity relate to “forest quality”?
c. Conservation of Polylepis woodlands
What are the main threats to Polylepis woodlands? How have the woodlands changed over time? How can we monitor the success of Polylepis woodland conservation and restoration? Part of this work involves working alongside local communities to provide alternatives to Polylepis fuelwood, and to minimise the impact of ongoing and past loss through replanting. This work also provides an opportunity for an occasional, humbling game of football at 4100 m!
I am also supervising a project in the Colombian Andes, looking at the ecology of two species of threatened parakeets (Leptosittaca branickii and Bolborhynchus ferrugineifrons) and evaluating different approaches to habitat assessment and management for these birds.
3. Conservation and habitat management
Another research theme involves the study of particular organisms of conservation importance. Particular plants and animals have a greater significance for research than others because of their ecological, economic or cultural importance. I am particularly interested in spatial relationships between species, and the conservation importance of these relationships. Some of this work involves relatively complex spatial analysis and modelling.
Current projects with plants involve Espeletia and Puya (high-altitude giant rosette plants in Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela), Euphrasia vigursii (an endemic plant of south-western Britain), and Berberis holstii (a medicinal shrub in Malawi). Projects with animals include Bolborhynchus ferrugineifrons and Leptosittaca branickii (two vulnerable parakeets in Colombia), Ctenosaura pectinata (the Black Iguana, eaten by people in Mexico), and Danaus plexippus (the monarch butterfly, whose overwintering sites in Mexico are under threat).
Conservation management is another element of my research interests. In particular, I am investigating the relationship between land use and conservation. I have been involved in surveys of Mexican mountain forests, some with regard to the monarch butterflies mentioned earlier. In the UK, I have worked with postgraduate students on grazing management and its effects on plant communities. We are evaluating the impact of mowing as a surrogate for grazing in Dartmoor National Park. In the Andes, I have studied the effects of fires on plant and animal communities.
Restoration of damaged ecosystems is another area of interest for me. I am currently involved in forest restoration projects in Ecuador and Peru, both working with local people to replant native trees for conservation and ecosystem services.
4. Approaches to studying biodiversity that do not involve species identification
I often work in places where the taxonomy of the organisms I meet is poorly understood. This has obvious implications for the kinds of studies that are possible within reasonable time frames. One solution to this problem is the use of functional types: groups of organisms with similar resource use and responses to environmental change. With this approach, it is possible to compare different ecosystems with few, or no, species in common. It also permits ecological studies with groups that have not been described adequately in taxonomic terms. However, the obvious question with such studies is, “Do functional types provide useful information, or information comparable to that obtained using traditional taxonomic approaches?” Part of my interest, therefore, is to explore this basic question. In a similar way, I have looked at the suitability of using supra-specific identifications for studying biodiversity.
I am tackling more specific issues, too. I have defined plant functional types using morphological and ecophysiological traits in Ecuador, Spain and Mexico. Using this approach I have tested ideas about evolutionary convergence at high altitudes (Ecuador) and the detection of plant communities with functional types (Picos de Europa, Spain). I have also worked with biomass-size spectra (how biomass is divided up between organisms of different sizes) to describe communities of aquatic invertebrates in river, estuary and marine benthos. Again, I have used this approach to consider similarities and differences in systems with completely different taxa to test hypotheses about community structure.
Key publications are highlightedJournals