The Wildlife Ecology research theme forms part of our Biological Sciences research team. Our work falls into three main areas:
We investigate species, population and community relationships with anthropogenic drivers of change to biodiversity, ecosystems, and the provision of co-beneficial goods and services. Our outcomes inform conservation and restoration options, processes and policies that remediate impacts of anthropic activities. We undertake and support field research in the Azores, Costa Rica, Honduras, Indonesia, Ireland, Mexico, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Africa and the UK.
Our work on the challenges of conserving and restoring tropical ecosystems, both terrestrial and marine, includes understanding species and community interactions along gradients of environmental quality or degradation, and modelling these to provide specific ecological benchmarks for effective conservation and restoration management of species and systems. Our work endeavours to support the co-benefits of biodiversity, ecosystem functionality, goods and services, and local communities. Current research projects include relating spatial patterns in threatened forest birds of the Negros and Panay Endemic Bird Area (the Philippines) to gradients of habitat degradation and recovery, ecological consequences of long-spined sea urchin (Diadema antillarum) dieback on degraded Caribbean coral reefs (Honduras), and forest restoration that supports the conservation of the globally threatened sun bear (Helarctos malayanus; southeast Asia).
Heterogeneous mosaic of previously logged lowland forest in Sumatra. Image by David Lee.
We collaborate with government and public bodies on research in upland landscapes, both in Wales and internationally, that contributes to landscape management decision-making. Our projects are identifying landscape attributes that affect breeding birds of the uplands, for example, hen harrier (Circus cyaneus) and red grouse (Lagopus lagopus), suitability metrics for key birds in the Brecon Beacons, including the locally extirpated black grouse (Lyrurus tetrix), consequences of commercial afforestation on ecological communities and species abundances in upland habitats, and spatio-temporal patterns in bird communities in remote areas of Pakistan.
The Blorenge Site of Special Scientific Interest, Brecon Beacons National Park. Image by Willow West, KESS2 MRes Student 2019-20.
Our research on biodiversity conservation focuses on understanding the interactions between species and their anthropic stressors to inform effective species conservation decision-making and management. Project areas include hen harrier genetics and movement ecology (Europe), human-nonhuman primate interactions, including the impacts of ecotourism on non-human primates (Costa Rica), climate change and breeding woodland birds, particularly pied flycatcher (Ficedula hypoleuca; UK), Asiatic black bear (Ursus thibetanus) habitat use and human interactions (southeast Asia), population assessment of tarictic hornbill (Penelopides panini; the Philippines), and invasive rodents and nesting seabirds (Gough Island).
A volcanic hot spring in Caldeira Velha, Sao Miguel Island, Azores. Our research in the Azores encompasses the study of animals living in extreme geothermal sites. These biotopes are reducing environments with particular unique features, such as elevated soil, water, and atmospheric elemental composition, together with constant diffuse degassing and high temperatures. Image by Luis Cunha.
Our multidisciplinary research involves collaboration with public bodies, charitable organisations, industry, academia and Government partners. These include:
Lindsell, J.A., Lee, D.C., Powell, V.J., & Gemita, E. (2015). Availability of large seed-dispersers for restoration of degraded tropical forest. Tropical Conservation Science 8(1): 17-27. Available at Tropical Conservation Science.
Globally vulnerable Southern Pig-tailed Macaque (Macaca nemestrina). Image by Mike Prince, licensed under CC Commons BY-NC 2.0
An estimated 63% of Southeast Asian forests are classed as disturbed and secondary as a result of human activity. Many of these forests remain important for biodiversity conservation and ecosystem services so there is much interest in their capacity for restoration.
The role of larger animals as seed dispersers in natural regeneration is well attested, since they are often the only agent by which some trees can disperse effectively. This is especially important for late successional, shade-tolerant species that might otherwise be excluded from disturbed sites. However, many larger animals are sensitive to habitat degradation so may be lost from the very areas that require them.
We investigated the persistence of a suite of large mammals that are known seed-dispersers and also threatened species, in a degraded site in lowland south-central Sumatra. We used camera traps and field observations to relate their distributions to prevailing vegetation conditions.
Outcomes and impact:
Lee, D.C., Powell, V.J., & Lindsell, J.A. (2019). Understanding landscape and plot-scale habitat utilisation by Malayan sun bear (Helarctos malayanus) in degraded lowland forest. Acta Oecologica 96: 1-9.
Malayan sun bear (Helarctos malayanus) is a forest-dependent species globally threatened by loss of suitable habitat and hunting. Understanding how sun bears utilise habitat in more degraded landscapes is increasingly important for the effective conservation of the species.
We conducted surveys of bear sign alongside habitat classification to indicate how landscape and plot attributes affect sun bear habitat use along a gradient of logging disturbance in a lowland forest site of Sumatra. This research informs forest restoration strategies that benefit the conservation management of the species.
Male mantled howler
While howler monkeys are the most ecologically flexible of the atelines, they must still respond to issues arising from anthropogenic modifications, such as fragmentation or dietary changes. Mantled howlers living in a highly modified landscape (commensal group) at the Curú Wildlife Refuge in Costa Rica was compared to howlers with limited human influence (control group).
Outcomes and impact:
English, H.M. & Caravaggi, A. (2020). Where’s wallaby? Using public records and media reports to describe the status of red‐necked wallabies in Britain. Ecology and Evolution 10(23): 12,949-12,959.
Investigating the range and population dynamics of introduced species provides insight into species behaviour, habitat preferences, and their potential for becoming established populations.
Using records from Local Environmental Records Centres (LERCs), the National Biodiversity Network (NBN), and popular media from 2008 to 2018, this research describes the current population status of red‐necked wallaby (Notamacropus rufogriseus). All records were mapped and compared to a historical distribution map (1940–2007), derived from published data.
Outcomes and impact:
Prosser, N.S., Gardner, P.C., Smith, J.A., Goon Ee Wern, J., Ambu, L.N. & Goossens, B. (2016). Body condition scoring of Bornean banteng in logged forests. BMC Zoology 1: Article number 8.
The Bornean banteng (Bos javanicus lowi) is an endangered subspecies that often inhabits logged forest; however very little is known about the effects of logging on their ecology, despite the differing effects this has on other ungulate species. A body condition scoring system was created for the Bornean banteng using camera trap photographs from forests in Sabah, Malaysia, with various past and present management combinations to establish if banteng nutrition suffered as a result of forest disturbance.
Outcomes and impact:
Dr Anthony Caravaggi, Lecturer in Conservation Biology, focuses on conducting research that increases our understanding of species-specific and community ecology. Dr Caravaggi uses field studies and historical data, along with R code and GIS software, to answer robust questions related to species distributions, community ecology, habitat selection, and anthropogenic impacts. Dr Caravaggi's work has implications for and informs conservation and management processes, policy, and commercial enterprises.
Dr Caravaggi is the Editor of the journal Birds in Wales; Associate Editor of Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation, a member of the British Ecological Society Welsh Policy Group and the University's Athena SWAN committee. Read more on his website.
Dr Luis Cunha is a molecular ecologist specialised in soil ecology. Most of his research projects are related to the evolutionary ecology, phylogenetics and population genetics/genomics of invertebrates. His latest research project focus on the study of biodiversity signatures in historical anthropogenic ecosystems, and the role of humans as niche constructors. He is also interested in using the genetics of commensal animals (relationship with humans) as proxies to track and infer ancient human migrations/dynamics across South America.
Dr David Lee is a wildlife ecologist and conservation biologist with academic and research interests that include the application of biodiversity survey and analytical techniques to evaluate avian and mammalian species and community responses in modified landscapes, particularly in tropical forest and UK upland ecosystems, and inform stakeholder-driven conservation and restoration management strategies.
He has developed and delivered multidisciplinary forest-based conservation research projects in Indonesia, the Philippines, China, Pakistan and Peru.
He is the University's Board Representative (Wildlife Ecology and Conservation) for the USW-Brecon Beacons National Park Strategic Partnership, and initiated with support from the National Research Network for Low Carbon Energy and Environment
He is a Fellow of Advance HE (FHEA).
Harri, an alumnus of our BSc Natural History course, is a Technical Demonstrator who supports practical and technical aspects of biology research across several disciplines, including ecology, marine and freshwater biology, and biomedical sciences.
Harri has research interests in woodland ecology and using technology enhanced learning to improve ecology practical skills for students and in non-governmental organisations.
Dr Tracie McKinney is a biological anthropologist with expertise in nonhuman primate responses to anthropogenic disturbance.
Tracie is particularly interested in how wild primates deal with human disturbance, including habitat alteration, ecotourism, provisioning, and crop-raiding.
Dr McKinney's field research focuses on mantled howlers (Alouatta palliata) and white-faced capuchins (Cebus imitator) in Costa Rica.
She is a member of the IUCN SSC Primate Specialist Group section for Human-Primate Interactions, working on primate tourism and primates in agroecosystems, and a member of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.
She is a Senior Fellow of Advance HE (SFHEA).
Dr Rhian Newman is interested in the interactions between people and the environment, in particular how anthropogenic influences alter ecosystem functioning and individual species.
Dr Newman's research looks to combine both behavioural and physiological responses when examining the species level impact of particular stressors.
Dr Elke Scheibler is a behavioural eco-physiologist with research interests that include behavioural plasticity in changing environments especially in rodents, and antelopes.
Dr Scheibler is interested in interdisciplinary approaches answering research questions in the area of wildlife biology and ecology, eco-physiology, chronobiology, animal welfare of wild, farm and pet animals in both terrestrial and aquatic environments.
Dr Jeremy Smith has a background in woodland ecology and population modelling with a focus on migratory birds. His current research focuses on the interactions between the population and community ecology of trees, invertebrates and birds.
Prior to joining the University of South Wales as a Lecturer in Natural History, Dr Smith was a consultant ecological statistician, co-authoring Data Analysis in R Software - A Guidebook for Scientists and leading statistical modelling training courses.
He has published his research on a variety of taxa, including pied flycatcher (Ficedula hypoleuca) in Nature Ecology and Evolution, as well as Bornean Banteng (Bos javanicus lowi) and Barn swallow (Hirundo rustica).
He is a council member of the Welsh Ornithological Society, with a focus on student awards and the Society's small grant scheme.
Natalie’s PhD research investigates the ecological consequences of Diadema antillarum (Long-spined Sea Urchin) dieback on degraded Caribbean coral reefs. Her work compares the functionality of reef systems in the presence/absence of this keystone herbivore, quantifying phase shifts and barriers to recovery, and classifying the genetic basis of different urchin populations. Her research is supported by Operation Wallacea. Natalie's supervisory team includes Drs David Lee and Dan Exton, Head of Research at Operation Wallacea.
Daisy’s PhD research is quantifying the ecology and conservation status of the critically endangered Utila Spiny-tailed Iguana (Ctenosaura bakeri) in Honduras. Her work is providing robust population densities across environmental gradients, assessing spatial-temporal patterns in habitat use, and evaluating threats. This is informing targeted conservation efforts, including the efficacy of protected area management. Highlights include lead author of the 2018 IUCN Red List assessment. Links include the IUCN SSC Iguana Specialist Group, and the Kanahau Research and Conservation Facility, Utila. Daisy's research supervisors are Drs David Lee and Stesha Pasachnik, Conservation Program Officer at Fort Worth Zoo, Texas, and Co-chair of the IUCN SSC Iguana Specialist Group.
Lynsey is a Graduate Teaching Assistant in Ecology studying her PhD part-time. Her research is focusing on macroinvertebrate communities of upland lentic ecosystems in the Brecon Beacons National Park. She is investigating spatio-temporal patterns in the composition of these communities relative to land management and restoration strategies, alongside evaluating the efficacy of different survey and monitoring methods. Her research is supported by the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority. Lynsey's research supervisors are Drs David Lee and Anthony Caravaggi.
We welcome UK and international applications from suitably qualified graduates interested in joining us for either Masters by Research, MPhil or PhD research programmes. We also offer a one-year taught MSc in Wildlife and Conservation Management, which is accredited by both the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM), and the Environment and Resources Professional Group of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS). Find out more on the Graduate School website or contact Dr David Lee for an informal discussion.
While we have a strong focus on field-based research, we have excellent ecology laboratories equipped with a wide range of analytical equipment that complement this work. Working alongside our Genetics and Molecular Applications research theme, particularly, we have access to polymerase chain reaction (PCR) thermal cyclers, and portable, real-time RNA and DNA sequencing units (MinION), which support collaborative work at the interface between conservation genetics and wildlife ecology.
We utilise a wide range of field equipment, including drones, bioacoustic recorders and microphones, camera traps, platform-transmitting terminals (PTT tags) and global positioning system (GPS) trackers, to support our applied research. Licensed specialist ecology software includes ArcGIS, Kaleidoscope Pro, and PRIMER.