Staff Profile:Dr Robbie Girling

Dr Robbie Girling
Job Title:
Lecturer in Agro-ecology and Sustainable Agriculture
Areas of Interest:

My research focuses on understanding the ecology of insects found in both agricultural and forest ecosystems, with the ultimate aim of enhancing sustainable crop/wood production. My specific areas of expertise are plant-insect interactions, and insect behavioural and chemical ecology. I study the ecological interactions of insects that are either pests or that provide beneficial ecosystem services (pest control, pollination etc). My research to understand the ecological processes that occur amongst these groups contributes to the development of agroecological approaches for pest control, including the enhancement of natural biological control, and the development of tools for Integrated Pest Management (IPM).

I am particularly interested in anthropogenic impacts on pest and beneficial insects and on the ecosystem services that those insects provide. This can be through changes in land use management, or as a consequence of pollution, or through climate change.

My current research projects include:

The impacts of ground level air pollution on insect communication, learning, memory, neurophysiology and fitness

Many insects are dependent on a variety of olfactory cues for effective foraging, communication, mate selection and predator avoidance. The honey bee, Apis mellifera, exemplifies an insect that relies on its ability to detect, learn and respond to floral scents. Research that I am conducting in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Southampton is investigating the effects that the ground level air pollutant, diesel exhaust, have on the honey bee. We hypothesise that diesel pollution will have impacts on bees both indirectly, interfering with floral scent signals in the air and therefore reducing the capability of bees to locate floral resources (Girling et al 2013), and directly by having deleterious neurophysiological effects that will impact on their learning and memory, thereby reducing their fitness.

How agricultural management changes influence the ecology of above and below ground multitrophic arthropod-plant interactions

I am interested in how altering the type and availability of nutrients applied to cropping systems can impact upon those arthropods in the soil and those that feed upon the plant, and what consequences this has for ecosystem services and crop production. Recently there has been an increase in the adoption of anaerobic digestion technology and consequently the volume of digestate that is being produced and used to fertilise soil. In addition, a great deal of investment is being directed toward the research and development of new waste products intended to act as replacement fertilisers. Most studies assessing these products focus almost solely on the resultant crop yields that they produce, however there may be wider ecological impacts of such management changes. I am interested in the impacts that these products have on the ecology of beneficial soil arthropods, insect pests and natural enemies.

The population ecology of invasive insect pests of forestry

Global warming is altering the potential distributions of many insect species. Combined with globalisation of trade, which has led to the accidental import of potential pests, UK forestry is currently experiencing a significant increase in the numbers of invasive insect pest species. I am working in combination with Forest Research to try to understand the population ecology of invasive pests of forestry, in particular the oak processionary moth, to understand how and why they are spreading and to try to develop effective monitoring and sustainable control measures. This pest is both a threat to forestry, causing large scale defoliation of oak trees, and to public health, because its larvae shed toxic hairs, which can cause dermatitis and asthma.

I am on the editorial board of the Nature Group open access journal Scientific Reports.

Research groups / Centres:

Centre for Agri-Environmental Research

Biodiversity, Crops and Agro-ecosystems Research Division

Centre for Food Security

Walker Institute

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This list was generated on Tue Oct 17 08:53:14 2017 BST.
BSc; PhD
Dr Robbie Girling

Contact Details

+44 (0) 118 378 8487

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