I am broadly interested in the effect of biodiversity on ecosystem properties and processes, but with a particular focus on how global change erodes emergent properties of ecosystems. My PhD is asking how multiple aspects of global change influence multidimensional ecological stability. See below for a list of current themes in my research, and some additional research interests.

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Current Research Themes

PhD | Assessing the impact of Global Change on Ecological Stability

Supervisor: Prof. Ian Donohue (Trinity College Dublin)
My PhD is with Ian Donohue at Trinity College Dublin. Together, we are investigating how global change erodes multiple dimensions of ecological stability. This will be a broad effort across subfields of ecology, since we hope to find general patterns of how ecological systems and their properties respond to different aspects of global change (e.g. climate change, urbanisation).

Expanding theory surrounding the insurance effect of biodiversity
Collaborators: Cian White, Prof. Jane StoutProf. Ian Donohue (Trinity College Dublin)
One project aims to advance our understanding of the stability of ecosystem service provision over time by producing a conceptual framework that builds on the insurance effect of biodiversity. A complementary project is reviewing recent advances in measuring the diversity of responses to disturbance within a community, i.e. ‘response diversity’.

Ryūkyū Soundscapes: Bioacoustic Monitoring across an Island Urban-Rural Gradient
Collaborators: Dr. Nick FriedmanDr. Masashi YoshimuraKenneth DudleyDr. Evan Economo (Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology)
We are currently operating a landscape-scale sensor network to monitor the diversity, behaviour, and phenology of the Ryūkyū fauna. We collect thousands of hours of acoustic recordings each week and curate them using machine learning approaches for automated species detection and soundscape analysis. Our aims are: 1) to understand acoustic niche ecology across taxa, 2) to describe the impact of human disturbance on species distributions and behaviour, and 3) to curate a soundscape archive for collaborative research in ecology and evolution. First paper published in Ecological ResearchRead about this work in the press here.

The Diversity of Forest Ants in Natural and Human-modified Environments in East Africa
Collaborators: Dr. Francisco Hita GarciaDr. Georg Fischer (Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology), Dr. Marcell Peters (University of Würzburg)
I am collaborating with researchers at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology and principal investigator Marcell Peters at the University of Würzburg in Germany, to determine the effect of habitat degradation and land-use change on biodiversity of ants in Kakamega forest, Kenya. We’re looking at the influence of land-use and agriculture on the taxonomic diversity of rare and abundant species, trophic ecology and food chain length, functional diversity and indicator species.

Testing extended island biogeography theory in an Island Archipelago
Collaborators: Dr. Nick FriedmanJulia JanickiDr. Evan Economo (Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology)
In collaboration with researchers at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology, I am exploring the drivers of avian biodiversity across the Ryukyu archipelago. We want to determine the extent to which different components of biodiversity (e.g. taxonomic vs. phylogenetic vs. functional diversity) are equally or unequally influenced by island area and the degree to which these patterns vary by trophic group. We are using a big data approach to these questions based on maximum island occupancy scenarios.

A Blue Rock Thrush (Monticola solitarius), one of the species of interest on Okinawa.

Additional Research Interests

The Ecological Significance of Individuals
All community- or ecosystem-level responses to global change are products of changes at the individual level. For example, if communities lose species (i.e. species go locally extinct), it is because individuals within those species emigrate or die and are not replaced quickly enough by births/immigration. Individuals also vary. This has been recognised for hundreds of years and is the fundamental basis of evolution by natural selection. The impact of variation within species for larger-scale responses is still not frequently addressed, and I’m interested in finding out when individuals do or do not make a difference to ecological processes.

See relevant work in Methods in Ecology and Evolution.
Read more on the Methods.blog.

The future of global change: Urbanisation, Future Cities and Urban Agriculture
With current rates of human population growth and urbanisation, we – as a society – must focus on sustainable future development. A greater proportion of people live in cities than ever before, and the number is rising. We need more research into how cities and, in particular, megacities can sustain the millions of people that live in them while reducing the impact of these urban areas on the environment. I am particularly interested in how megacities can adopt novel technologies to reduce environmental impacts, as well as developments in urban agricultural practices and carbon-neutral buildings. These strategies are now often being referred to as ‘nature-based solutions’. I’m particularly interested in the growing popularity of zero-acreage farming (e.g. rooftop gardens etc.) and ‘vertical farming’ where purpose-built food/energy farms occupy multiple levels to increase the space available for farms. Grand projects are being conceptualised as sustainable cities tower over land and sea; these are especially popular projects in rapidly growing South-East Asian countries. As well as researching the impacts of urbanisation on ecosystems, I am interested in collaborating with architects/engineers and policymakers to better understand how we can continue to sustain a growing population in balance with nature in future years.

An example of a conceptual vertical Zero-Acreage ‘Z-farm’. Credit: Zoubeir Azouz Architecture

Advancing Methodologies: Reality Mining
I am also interested in the development of new monitoring techniques that allow real-time biodiversity monitoring. We often have more data on anthropogenic disturbance or on weather and climate than we do on biodiversity itself, so by combining biodiversity monitoring with these data, we can begin to see in very fine detail, the costs of human activity on wildlife. Studies over long time-scales or over very small time-scales but in huge detail are really interesting for asking questions about human impacts on biodiversity.

See relevant work in Ecological Research.
Read (and watch!) more here.