Research Group

Ecology and Environmental Microbiology Group

Two  orange clown fish swimming just above the yellow strands of an anenome.

Global biodiversity and by association ecosystem functioning is changing rapidly in response to changes in environmental and climatic conditions.

Understanding the ecological mechanisms behind these changes and providing clear management and policy recommendations are among the great challenges of the 21st century.

We address these challenges across all levels of biological organisation (from genes to ecosystems) and across taxonomic groups (from microbes to macro-organisms), focussing on four broad themes:

  • Biodiversity (including microbial)
  • Climate and environmental change
  • Biogeochemical cycling
  • Environmental biotechnology

Our research benefits society in the areas of conservation and sustainable use of living resources and their habitats, assessment of anthropogenic impacts on the environment, and detection and remediation of pollution.

Our impact

Our research has had significant impact on the natural world.

Through our work we have helped protect a range of marine environments and species, improved conservation outcomes, and developed new tools and technology to help improve research across the globe.

Our activity

Latest papers

Funding and facilities

We have an extensive network of national and international collaborations through projects funded by UKRI (especially NERC, and also BBSRC, STFC and ESRC), the EU, and various foundations and stakeholders. We also have access to funded PhD studentships via the NERC ARIES doctoral training partnership.

We have also been involved in several responsive projects and many major large directed research programmes from NERC, including: Biodiversity and Ecosystem Service Sustainability, Environmental Microbiology and Human Health, INSITE, Emerging Risks of Chemicals in the Environment, Understanding Urban Soil Properties, Functions, and Below-Ground Inter-Connections.

Our research is supported by state-of-the-art laboratory and facilities infrastructure, which includes the latest molecular ecology facilities (e.g. ddPCR, NGS and robotic high-throughput liquid handling systems), analytical equipment (including new triple-quadrupole GC-MS, and ICP-MS). We have large-scale mesocosm and microbiological cultivation facilities, as well as access to the marine and freshwater environments via our group’s new research vessels.

Working with stakeholders and end-users to understand and improve our environment

We offer many ways for you to access our expertise, including consultancy, collaborative and commissioned research and Knowledge Transfer Partnerships.

Below are some examples of industry, government and third-sector partners with whom we have recently collaborated:

Marine, coastal and freshwater resources

  • Sustainable management of marine resources - Defra, Cefas, Natural England, the Environment Agency, Mars Inc.
  • Aquaculture and fisheries management - Cefas, Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute, Colchester Oyster Fishery, Kent and Essex Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities
  • Sustainable methods for reducing biofouling - Office of Naval Research Global
  • Management of freshwater resources – Anglian Water, Severn Trent

Environmental pollution

  • Pollution prevention, detection and remediation – Oil Spill Response Ltd., Oil Plus Ltd, and ITOPF
  • Impact of the decommissioning of energy-related structures (oil and gas platforms, wind turbines, cables) – Shell and Repsol

Air quality

  • Bioaerosol detection and characterisation – PHE, DSTL and the Environment Agency 

Research degrees in Life Sciences

We have a vibrant postgraduate community, and are always keen to recruit new postgraduate research students (both PhD and Master of Science by Dissertation). Throughout the year we may have funded opportunities, such as PhD projects funded by NERC ARIES Doctoral Training Partnership.

Please feel free to contact individual group members if you are interested in postgraduate research or applying for postdoctoral fellowships. Many of our academics maintain lists of project areas that they are happy to supervise, and will be able to help you narrow down a research topic.

Our academic members

Dr Nick Aldred

Group member

School of Life Sciences, University of Essex

Dr Thomas Cameron

Group member

School of Life Sciences, University of Essex

Dr David Clark

Group member

School of Life Sciences, University of Essex

Professor Alex Dumbrell

Group member

School of Life Sciences, University of Essex

Dr Robert Ferguson

Group member

School of Life Sciences, University of Essex

Dr Leanne Hepburn

Group member

School of Life Sciences, University of Essex

Dr Natalie Hicks

Group member

School of Life Sciences, University of Essex

Dr Jennifer Hoyal Cuthill

Postdoctoral Research Fellow

School of Life Sciences, University of Essex

Dr Philippe Laissue

Group member

School of Life Sciences, University of Essex

Dr Boyd McKew

Group member

School of Life Sciences, University of Essex

Dr Gerrit Nanninga

Group member

School of Life Sciences, University of Essex

Dr Eoin O'Gorman

Group member

School of Life Sciences, University of Essex

Professor David Smith

Group member

School of Life Sciences, University of Essex

Dr Michael Steinke

Group member

School of Life Sciences, University of Essex

Dr Anna Sturrock

Group member

School of Life Sciences, University of Essex

Dr Michelle Taylor

Group member

School of Life Sciences, University of Essex

Professor Graham Underwood

Group member

School of Life Sciences, University of Essex

Dr Corinne Whitby

Group member

School of Life Sciences, University of Essex

A sample being held up to the light in a lab
Our research

Our research covers the whole spectrum of biology – from the cell right through to communities and ecosystems. Two-thirds of our research was rated as 'world leading' or 'internationally excellent' (REF 2014)

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Contact us
Liz Lee Reynolds Research Manager