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.

ARIES PhD studentships

Studying relationships at biological interfaces through directed assembly of marine biofilm communities

Supervised by:

  • Dr Nick Aldred (University of Essex, School of Life Sciences)
  • Prof Terry McGenity (University of Essex, School of Life Sciences)
  • Dr Phillippe Laissue (University of Essex, School of Life Sciences)
  • Dr Mette Burmølle (University of Copenhagen, Department of Biology)

Closing date: 11th January 2023.


View on ARIES website

Migration, movement and the effects of hunting on birds in a changing world

Supervised by:

  • Dr Tom C Cameron (University of Essex, School of Life Sciences)
  • Dr James Gilroy (School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia)
  • Dr Matt Ellis (CASE) (British Association for Shooting and Conservation)
  • Dr Chas Holt (Kent Wildlife Trust and Independent Ornithologist and Abberton Reservoir)

Closing date: 11th January 2023.


View on ARIES website

Cryptic microbial hydrocarbon cycling in the ocean

Supervised by:

  • Prof Terry J McGenity (University of Essex, School of Life Sciences)
  • Dr Boyd A McKew (University of Essex, School of Life Sciences)
  • Dr David Lea Smith (UEA, School of Biological Sciences)
  • Dr Nikolai Pedentchouk (UEA, School of Environmental Sciences)

Closing date: 11th January 2023


View on ARIES website

Understanding coral connectivity and its drivers across the Indian Ocean

Supervised by:

  • Dr Michelle Taylor (University of Essex, School of Life Sciences)
  • Dr Catherine Head (Institute of Zoology, London, and University of Oxford)
  • Prof Leanne Hepburn (University of Essex, School of Life Sciences)
  • Prof Stephen Monismith (Stanford)

Closing date: 11th January 2023


View on ARIES website

Aiming for Nature Recovery: Data Science to Inform Biodiversity Conservation and Restoration

Supervised by:

  • Dr Martin Wilkes (University of Essex, School of Life Sciences)
  • Dr Kyle Jerro (University of Essex, Department of Language and Linguistics)
  • Dr Joe Cooper (British Trust for Ornithology)
  • Dr Cecilia Larrosa (Biodiversify)

Closing date: 11th January 2023


View on ARIES website

Departmental studentships

MSD: Assessing the environmental benefits and educational value of tree-planting projects in schools

In this one-year Master of Science by Dissertation (MSD) project, you will work as part of a team to address the overarching question “what do trees and their associated biota do for us?”

You will co-design field experiments with supervisors, teachers and school children, and carry out laboratory techniques and analyse data. You will also support teachers and school children to perform experiments and analyses.

Title: Assessing the environmental benefits and educational value of tree-planting projects in schools

Based in: School of Life Sciences

Deadline: 6th January 2023


Find out more about this studentship

PhD: Ecological impacts of Nature-Based-Solutions for flood-risk management from catchment to coast

This fully funded PhD studentship will evaluate the impact of natural flood risk management (NFM), and related nature-based solutions, on catchment ecosystem functions including co-benefits for ecosystem services (biodiversity, carbon sequestration, flood defence).

We are looking for candidates with at least a 1st class or upper second class BSc degree in a relevant science subject (or expected to achieve this, for applicants who are in their final undergraduate year), who carry out active fieldwork in remote locations.

Title: Ecological impacts of Nature-Based-Solutions for flood-risk management from catchment to coast

Based in: School of Life Sciences

Deadline: 27th January 2023


Find out more about this studentship

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

Selected papers - 2022

Selected papers - 2021

Recent news

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

Professor Leanne Hepburn

Group member

School of Life Sciences, University of Essex

Dr Jennifer Hoyal Cuthill

Group member

School of Life Sciences, University of Essex

Dr Natalie Hicks

Group member

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 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

Professor Corinne Whitby

Group member

School of Life Sciences, University of Essex

Dr Martin Wilkes

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. Our dedicated research groups bring together experts for collaboration research projects that deliver real-world impact.

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Contact us
Liz Lee Reynolds Research Manager