Research

As a scientist, I am interested in the interactions between wildlife and its environment, and how this may in turn inform conservation and management objectives. Given that population-level trends emerge as a result of individual-level behaviours, I believe we can learn a lot from studying known individuals over time. My research aims to understand how individuals interact with and respond to their environment, and how differences between individuals can help us understand the bottom-up drivers of population dynamics. Through this means, I aim to recognise threats to the persistence of biodiversity posed by future environmental change.

I am currently looking for my first post-doctoral position where I can apply my skills in modelling and spatial analysis to inform conservation and wildlife management. If you are keen to know more about my work or want to collaborate, please get in touch here.


Current projects

Modelling elephant movements and population dynamics using remote sensing to estimate food availability:

PhD – Prof Richard Sibly, Dr Tristan Quaife, Prof Phyllis Lee –  School of Biological Sciences, University of Reading, UK 

At a time of rapid global change, wildlife is increasingly squeezed into smaller and more isolated pockets of land, with ultimate impacts on population dynamics and ranging behaviour. This is particularly apparent in the African elephant (Loxodonta africana), which once had a near-continental range, but is now greatly fragmented and largely in decline. As a keystone species, it is important that scientists and wildlife managers are able to make accurate predictions about how future changes to ecosystems are likely to impact elephant populations.

Elephant population dynamics and ranging behaviour are largely governed by access to food. I use remotely-sensed (satellite) measures of vegetation to map food availability over time and space for the elephants inhabiting the Amboseli Basin, Kenya. Population dynamics and movement behaviours are predicted using an individual-based model developed in NetLogo. The model incorporates a newly proposed energy budget model so that variation in food availability results in differential survival, growth and reproductive rates. The model is calibrated and evaluated using demographic data from the long-running Amboseli Elephant Research Project and is then applied to project the effects of climate change and habitat loss on elephant population size. Results will help inform management plans to ensure the conservation of elephants and their habitats.

The toolkit we have developed to project elephant population size under environmental change and management scenarios has been design to allow easy implementation to any African elephant population. We are currently seeking project partners studying elephant populations who would be interested in implementing the toolkit to inform management plans – please get in touch here if you are interested.

 


Modelling red deer population dynamics in relation to food availability:

In collaboration with Sophie Watts, Prof Richard Sibly & the Isle of Rum Red Deer Project

Having established an individual-based energy budget model for elephants during my PhD, I am working alongside MSc student Sophie Watts to adapt the model for red deer (Cervus elaphus). The model has been developed and evaluated with data provided by the Isle of Rum Red Deer Project and will ultimately be applied to project red deer numbers under future environmental scenarios.

[Need to get out and take some red deer photos!]

 


The behavioural implications of non-lethal elephant population control methods:

In collaboration with Heike Zitzer of Space for Elephants Foundation

In many South African reserves, African elephant (Loxodonta africana) populations have grown to a point where densities are considered unsustainable. For decades, reserve managers have attempted to control elephant numbers, employing a range of both lethal and non-lethal techniques. Whilst lethal control (culling and hunting) once dominated, increasing ethical concerns saw an end to culling in the mid-1990s. The application of non-lethal techniques – including translocation, contraception and range expansion – has since expanded, but there is little information available on the long-term impacts of these methods.

Alongside my friend and colleague Heike Zitzer, I am studying a population of elephants which have experienced several types of non-lethal control. These individuals present a unique opportunity to study:

  • The behavioural implications of vasectomies and GnRH vaccination on male elephants
  • The subsequent impacts of low birth rates on female elephants
  • The life-long behavioural and physical implications of two different translocation methods
  • The physical and behavioural implications of range expansion projects

 


Previous projects

Investigating habitat features which influence survival of the breeding Northern lapwing:

MSc – School of Biological Sciences, University of Reading

Recent declines in UK populations of Northern lapwings (Vanellus vanellus) have been attributed to poor breeding success. Eggs and chicks are vulnerable to predation, food limitation and adverse weather, but hatching and fledging success vary by location, with marked differences even between pairs nesting in adjacent fields.

Working with the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust on the Waders for Real project, I radio-tracked lapwing chicks from hatching and monitored their fate. I constructed maps of the Avon Valley, an important breeding site for lapwings, and related successes and failures of broods to habitat features in the landscape. I was able to identify important habitat features affecting lapwing chick survival – including shallow water sources, perimeter woodland and livestock density – and made recommendations for habitat manipulations. The recommendations I made have since been implemented as part of a greater effort to aid breeding wader recovery in the Avon Valley.

 


Assessing elephant impact patterns on vegetation diversity:

BSc – Dept of Life Sciences, University of Southampton

Contrary to the overall decline in African elephant (Loxodonta africana) numbers, in many small, fenced reserves in South Africa, elephant populations are growing. There is growing concern that some reserves now have ‘too many elephants’, as high elephant densities can cause changes to the structure and composition of vegetative communities.

For my undergraduate dissertation, I studied a population of elephants inhabiting a small, private reserve in South Africa. I used habitat surveys and elephant tracking data to assess how heavy habitat utilisation by elephants impacted the diversity of tree species . My results indicated no significant effect of high elephant densities on tree diversity.