Wildlife Ecology GettyImages-1171841017.jpg

Wildlife Ecology Research


The  Wildlife Ecology research theme forms part of our Biological Sciences research team. Our work falls into three main areas: 

  • Tropical ecosystem challenges
  • Upland landscape ecology
  • Biodiversity conservation

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.  

Research Areas

Tropical ecosystem challenges 

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).

Wildlife - Aerial forest view 3 (1).JPG
Heterogeneous mosaic of previously logged lowland forest in Sumatra. Image by David Lee.

Upland landscape ecology 

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.

Wildlife - The Blorenge - Willow West.jpg
The Blorenge Site of Special Scientific Interest, Brecon Beacons National Park. Image by Willow West, KESS2 MRes Student 2019-20.

Biodiversity conservation 

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).

Wildlife Ecology - Azores_Sampling_SiteA 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:

Recent Projects

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.

Wildlife - Southern_Pig-tailed_Macaque_(14839993268).jpgGlobally 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. 

Key findings:

  • Although most species were more frequently detected in the more intact, least disturbed forested areas, most were able to at least occupy habitats with high levels of disturbance. 

Outcomes and impact:

  • Severe habitat degradation does not necessarily lead to the immediate loss of large-bodied seed dispersers, so ensuring adequate protection for these species from external threats, such as hunting, must be built into management plans for restoration concessions. 

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 Wildlife Ecology Research GettyImages-1089521014.jpg


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. 

Key findings:

  • Sun bear habitat use appeared to be non-random and was significantly associated with gradients of increasing habitat intactness, from non-forest habitat to least disturbed forest. 
  • Two environmental gradients explained the probability of bears utilising a given habitat, which increased with tree biomass and decreased with understorey cover. 
  • At the plot level, tree family and species compositions were significantly different between areas where bears were recorded and where they were absent.
  • For example, the abundance and use by bears of Olacaceae tree stems was higher in plots with bear sign. 
Outcomes and impact:

  • Incorporating forest restoration strategies that enhance or increase more intact forest and the availability of key tree resources will benefit the conservation of sun bears and encourage natural forest regeneration in these degraded landscapes. 
  • This emphasises the conservation value of degraded forest habitats for this species, while ensuring bear movement and connectivity within modified landscape matrices.

McKinney, T. (2019). Ecological and behavioural flexibility of mantled howlers (Alouatta palliata) in response to anthropogenic habitat disturbance. Folia Primatologica 90(6): 456-469

Male mantled howler - Dr Tracie MCkinney's research

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). 

Key findings:

  • The commensal group had a more frugivorous diet than the control group, due to crop-foraging of mango fruits.
  • The commensal group maintained a larger home range than the control group, at 39 and 10 ha, respectively. 
  • The commensal group had increased travel and feeding times, as well as reduced proximity to conspecifics.
  • Aggressive or affiliative social behaviours did not change across groups.

Outcomes and impact:

  • Increased home range, shift in diet, increased travel and foraging time and reduced group cohesion demonstrated by the species represent responses to the varied utility of available landscapes and the more widely dispersed resources in their range. 
  • This contributes to our ecological understanding of howler monkeys, one of the most successful of Neotropical primates in modified landscapes.

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.

Wallaby - Ecology Research Dr Anthony Caravaggi


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. 

Key findings:

  • Of 95 confirmed wallaby sightings from the study period, 64 came from media sources, 18 from LERCs, seven from the NBN, and six from the published literature. 
  • The greatest density of wallaby sightings was in southern England, with the Chiltern Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty a particular hotspot.
  • More sightings were recorded in August than in any other month. 

Outcomes and impact:

  • Much of the species’ ecology and responses to British biota and anthropogenic pressures are unknown, and therefore, further research is warranted.
  • The contemporary methods used here are widely applicable to other non‐native species, particularly those that the public are more likely to report and could be an important supplement to existing studies of conservation and management relevance.

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.

Key findings:

  • Banteng within forests that had a recent history of reduced-impact logging (RIL) had higher body condition scores than banteng within conventionally logged forest. 
  • Conversely, when past logging was conducted using a conventional technique and the period of forest regeneration was relatively long; the banteng had higher body condition scores.

Outcomes and impact:

  • The body condition scoring system is appropriate for monitoring long-term nutrition of the Bornean banteng and for evaluating the extent of the impact caused by present-day RIL methods
  • The findings demonstrate the complex effects of logging approaches and history on banteng body condition, which is likely due to differences in regeneration between forests that have been previously logged using differing methods.


Wildlife - Dr Anthony Caravaggi

Dr Anthony Caravaggi is Lecturer in Conservation Biology and Course Leader for BSc (Hons) International Wildlife Biology. His research focuses on increasing our understanding of the various aspects of species-specific and community ecology. Dr Caravaggi uses field studies, remote-sensing and contemporary 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 Milvus: The Journal of the Welsh Ornithological Society; 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, Biology Research

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 Amy Grass specialises in conservation genetics and evolutionary genomics. Dr Grass is a Fellow of the Linnaean Society of London.

She is a Fellow of Advance HE (FHEA).


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.

Current research

  • Bird interactions along environmental gradients in Panay, the Philippines, including doves and hornbills;
  • Evaluating biodiversity monitoring approaches to inform upland management and restoration, south Wales;
  • Asian bear population ecology and conservation management, particularly in Indonesia and Pakistan; 
  • Population ecology and conservation of the critically endangered Utila spiny-tailed iguana (Ctenosaura bakeri) on Utila, Honduras; and
  • Mechanisms for the stimulation of Diadema antillarum recovery on degraded Caribbean coral reefs.

Recent research

  • Landscape suitability assessment for black grouse (Lyrurus tetrix) in the Brecon Beacons National Park (BBNP);
  • Spatial patterns of important upland birds and communities in the BBNP; and
  • Biodiversity value of translocated quarry soils.

Dr Lee is a member of the IUCN SSC Hornbill, Galliformes, and Bear Specialist Groups. 

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 Little, Biology Research, Technical Demonstrator

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

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.

Research students

Natalie Lubbock, PhD student

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 Maryon, PhD student

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.

Ian Beggs Research IMG_0387.jpeg

Ian Beggs is completing a study of the breeding population of the Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) on Skokholm Island, off the Pembrokeshire coast. His research supervisors are Drs Jeremy Smith and David Lee.

Read more about Ian's Masters by Research degree.

Research opportunities

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. 

Research partners

The Universities Federation for Animal Welfare logo

Operation Wallacea logo - Ecology Research


National Resources Wales logo

Contact us

Dr David Lee, Senior Lecturer in Wildlife Ecology, Email [email protected]