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Robbie Girling

Areas of interest

My research focuses on investigations into the ecology of insects found in both agricultural and forestry ecosystems and my specific areas of expertise are in 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 regulation, pollination etc). One focus of my research is to develop our understanding of how anthropogenic factors impact on these insects and the ecosystem services and disservice that they provide. This can be through changes in land use management, or as a consequence of pollution, particularly ground-level air pollution.

I manage a NERC-funded Free-Air Diesel and Ozone Enrichment (FADOE) platform, which was designed and built in collaboration with researchers at UKCEH Edinburgh. This platform is located at the University of Reading’s Sonning Farm and enables field-scale evaluation of ozone and diesel exhaust pollution on insect and plant ecology. It is open to use by the wider environmental science research community and I would welcome enquiries from academics who wish to make use of the FADOE platform in their research.

My other research focus is on developing our understanding of the ecological processes and interactions that occur amongst pest and beneficial insect species and to use that knowledge to contribute to the development of agroecological approaches for pest control This includes: i) the enhancement of natural biological controls (conservation biological control), ii) the development of tools for Integrated Pest Management (IPM), and iii) the evaluation of changes to pest and pollination services and disservices provided by novel farming system approaches, with a particular focus on temperate silvoarable agroforestry.

Postgraduate supervision

PhD students:

  • Georgia England (2020-2024): Love isn’t in the air: Assessing how air pollution interrupts insect sex pheromone signalling (NERC SCENARIO DTP)
  • Rene Micor (2019-2024): Nutraceutical properties of honeys from stingless bees and honeybees from three ecosystems (UPLB-University of Reading)
  • Laura James (2019-2023): Investigating the Impact of Volatile Organic Compounds Released by Plants in Response to Biotic and Abiotic Stressors under ambient and elevated CO2 conditions (VOC–Plant–Stress–CO2) (Leverhulme Trust)
  • Stuart Edwards (2017-2022): Pests, plants and parasitoids: how does climate variability affect tri-trophic interactions in crop producing ecosystems? – (BBSRC Berry Gardens CTP)
  • Fiona Gierer: Improving our understanding of residue behaviour in pollen, nectar and bee products (Syngenta)
  • Tom Staton (2017-2021): Evaluating how plant community composition influences natural enemy biodiversity and pest regulation services in temperate agroforestry systems (NERC QMEE CDT, The Woodland Trust)
  • Patricia Ortega-Ramos (2017-2021): Investigations into the ecology of cabbage stem flea beetle in winter oilseed rape crops (Rothamsted-Reading Alliance)
  • Matthew Kaan Alkan (2016-2021): Exploring the mechanistic rationale of plant-pollinator communication disruption by ozone (NERC SCENARIO DTP)
  • Emem Kingsley-Umana (2016-2021): Evaluation of pheromone-based techniques for the monitoring and control of mealybug pests on cocoa farm (University of Port-Harcourt)
  • Richard Sands (2014-2018): The population ecology of oak processionary moth (Defra/Forest Research)
  • Christine Reitmayer (2011-2015): Effects of diesel exhaust pollution on behaviour, neurobiology and forager success in honey bees (Apis mellifera) (The Gerald-Kerkut Charitable Trust)

Research projects

  • The little things that run a polluted world – 2021-23 (Leverhulme Trust Fellowship – James Ryalls)
  • The effects of two common air pollutants (diesel exhaust and ozone) on plant VOC mediated Interactions – 2020-22 (Finnish Cultural Foundation Fellowship – Adedayo Mofikoya)
  • Deciphering how common air pollutants impact on pest regulation services – 2020 (RETF)
  • A novel Free-Air Diesel and Ozone Enrichment (FADOE) research platform – 2019-20 (NERC)
  • Ecological Intensification of Smallholder Farms in Kenya – 2018-2019 (GCRF Development of Equitable Partnerships Project Fund)
  • Does air pollution inhibit the recruitment of plant bodyguards? – 2018-2019 (BES)
  • Degradation of Odour signals by air pollution: chemical Mechanisms, plume dynamics and INsect-Orientation behaviour (DOMINO) – 2016-20 (NERC)
  • Optimising Subsidiary Crop Applications in Rotations (OSCAR) – 2012-2016 (EU FP7)
  • Coordinating Organic Plant Breeding Activities for diversity (COBdaeRA) – 2013-2016 (CORE organic/Defra)
  • Does diesel pollution compromise an insect’s ability to smell a flower's scent? – 2012-2015 (Leverhulme Trust)

Publications