I'm a scientist and wildlife photographer working at the University of Oxford, having recently completed my PhD at Queen Mary University of London. As an undergrad I studied Conservation Biology, and was lucky enough to undertake fieldwork in Malaysia, Peru and Mexico. I consider studying the feeding ecology of Caiman in the Peruvian Amazon for my honours research to be one of the formative experiences of my life, giving me a deep passion for ecological research. Conservation science finds itself at an interesting point where the natural world faces arguably the most extreme pressure of historic times, whilst we scientists also possess the most sophisticated toolkit that we have ever known. Through the recent rapid technological advances in fields such as genetic analysis, high power computing, animal tracking and remote monitoring we have the ability to understand the natural world in fantastic new detail. It is up to us to use these new techniques to improve conservation around the globe.
During my undergrad degree I worked as a field assistant on a research project studying the potential link between inbreeding depression in fragmented bumblebee populations and their intestinal parasite load. This application of genetic analyses to conservation questions fascinated me, and so after finishing I decided to become better acquainted with new molecular techniques. I undertook a strictly laboratory-based research masters degree, spending a year in the lab using DNA barcoding and confocal microscopy to study the little known bioluminescent plankton order Pyrosoma. After this I then worked as a research assistant for the Bats in Churches project, using radio tracking to find bat roosts.
This combination of tropical ecology, dietary study, DNA barcoding and bat research then led me onto my PhD, using DNA metabarcoding to study the diet and network ecology of insectivorous bats in different habitat types in Malaysian Borneo so as to better conserve them in future.
I am now undertaking Postdoctoral Research position at the University of Oxford, using DNA metabarcoding and ecological network analysis to understand the ecology of Anopholes gambiae, the main vector of malaria.
Working under Elizabeth Clare, Stephen Rossiter and Matthew Struebig I studied the bats of Borneo and how logging impacts their ecological networks. My research contains three main practical components:
- Field biology. Over the past three years I have spent roughly ten months in the rainforests of Borneo, heading a team living in remote locations catching bats under difficult conditions (elephant charges, leeches, tropical storms, parasitic infections in the face, the usual...). We have to date captured over 3,000 individual animals.
- Molecular biology. To generate food webs of bats and their insect prey, I extract, amplify and sequence arthropod DNA from bat guano collected in the field.
- Computer programming and data handling. The resulting sequence files are several gigabytes large, containing millions of raw reads. I have developed a bioinformatics pipeline to convert these reads into ecological matrices. My analyses then take place using a combination of Rstats, Python and BASH. The applied bioinformatics components of my research have inspired me to undertake some more theoretical and technical work, with papers on ecological modelling and informatics techniques currently being written.
Outside of my scientific career I am also a keen wildlife photographer, and so use my time in the tropics to document and share the amazing wildlife that I encounter there.