We are a group of researchers whose interests span the range of human-wildlife interactions.
At one end of the spectrum we consider urban ecosystems, extreme ecological communities where every facet has been influenced by people's choices. Here, the interactions between people and wildlife are often coloured by the our desire to get close to nature. The supplementary feeding of urban birds is perhaps the dominant form of engagement people have with nature. While we know that providing supplementary food has direct effects on the survivorship and reproduction of individuals which take advantage of this additional resource, we have little insight into how this huge volume of additional energy affects the wider ecological community. It is not only supplementary food which affects urban species, but also our decisions in planting, maintenance and intensity of use. Understanding how our individual decisions affects species is a central part of the rapidly growing science of urban ecology.
To answer such questions we are working with systems as diverse as red kites and house sparrows, mice and mites, bats, plants and insects. Underpinning our approach is a belief that experimental approaches, supported by observational science, will provide knowledge which can be used to support urban biodiversity and improve the public's engagement with the wildlife on their doorsteps.
At the other end of the spectrum is human wildlife-conflict, best epitomised by two contrasting scenarios. First, we have species which cause economic damage to our crops. In our group we work to understand how pest species (notably aphids) interact with their host plants and the fungal pathogens of their host plants, and how both influence the likelihood of successful biological control using insect predators and pathogens.
The second scenario concerns species of conservation concern. Here, we work to understand human-wildlife conflict by understanding the roaming behaviour of the leopard in unprotected areas in South Africa, how this leads to predation upon livestock and how this can be mitigated. The application of an ecological understanding of species behaviour, abundance and distribution lies at the heart of both, leading to a reduction of harm and economic loss.
Taken together, our work uses an understanding of fundamental ecological processes and applies them to situations where we interact directly with biodiversity. We believe that our work can make a difference, and help align the interests of both people and wildlife.
Research must be relevant and must be shared. We actively engage with teaching, providing students with the opportunity to learn about ecological interactions and how this knowledge may be used in applied problems. We emphasise learning in the field, whether on campus or on the Tropical Biology Field Course. We also supervise undergraduate project students and host Masters students from overseas universities for their dissertation work
Sharing knowledge also occurs outside of the lecture theatre, and we support active outreach programmes. We run the Apiary in the Harris Bee Garden, where we maintain hives for demonstration purposes (and for the honey!). We are regularly featured in the media. We ran Reading's first Bioblitz event on Whiteknights Campus, contribute to local environmental organisations, the British universities BirdWatch Challenge and provided the 2014 University's Children's Christmas Lecture.