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The University of Southampton
Institute for Life Sciences

Ecology & Organismal Biology

Our researchers apply a multitude of approaches to study the interactions between organisms and their environment. They are interested in how individuals and species change and adapt because of one another and their environment, and how this in turn impacts the environment and human society around them.

Image credit: Michael Buckingham and Prof Joerg Wiedenmann

Scientists across Life Sciences are examining the interactions between organisms and their environments on land and in the oceans around the world. Teams from biological sciences, geography and ocean and earth sciences are examining current and future issues of global significance such as the adaptation to changing environments, sustainable use of natural resources and biodiversity conservation. Our teams are looking at these issues in terrestrial and aquatic environments, devising new ways to protect biodiversity in the face of challenges such as habitat destruction, pollution, hunting and overfishing and climate change. We use advanced molecular analytical techniques, pioneering modelling approaches and analyse big data on present and past environments to understand the impact of anthropogenic activities and climate change and to define trajectories of organismal and ecosystem responses at the local and the global scale.   

We work across a variety of levels, from molecules to whole organisms and examine populations, communities and ecosystems, combining expertise in ecological and evolutionary processes, conservation science, physiology, advanced molecular biology, and modern analytical approaches for large data sets.

Our research is also having an international impact on policy and legislation. For example, Southampton research has been included in reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and our scientists founded the Mideast Coral Reef Society (MCRS), an association of researchers and members of governmental, non-governmental, academic, industry and private sector organisations who aim to promote the conservation and sustainable use of these unique ecosystems.

Slideshow image
Prof Joerg Wiedenmann Lab
Slideshow image
Prof Joerg Wiedenmann Lab
Dr Mark Chapman
Image courtesy of Dr Mark Chapman
Dr Orly Razgour Lab
Image courtesy of Dr Orly Razgour Lab

Understanding Coral Reefs

Understanding Coral Reefs | Our Blue Planet too - Prof Joerg Wiedenman

Coral Reef Lab

Related Staff Member

Key words

Adaptation, Climate change, Ecology, Ecosystems, Interdisciplinary, Physiology, Species

Please see a selection of postgraduate courses related to this subject area below. 

For the full range of undergraduate and postgraduate courses at the University of Southampton, please visit our courses webpages:  https://www.southampton.ac.uk/courses.page

Research PhD in Ocean and Earth Science

Doctoral study takes place in a stimulating research environment, with supervision by research-active members of staff with expertise in your area of interest.

MSc Oceanography

The MSc Oceanography degree is suited to those with a degree in biological sciences, chemistry, physics, maths, environmental sciences, physical geography or related disciplines.

MRes Ocean Science

This MRes degree programme gives students the opportunity to focus on a particular area such as physical, chemical or biological oceanography.

MSc Marine Environment and Resources

This is a European degree programme with collaboration between 3 leading European institutions in this field, based in Bordeaux, Liege & Southampton.

MSc Sustainability

The MSc in Sustainability is an interdisciplinary master’s degree designed to explore sustainability issues in both developed and developing societies.

MSc Applied GIS and Remote Sensing

This innovative, interdisciplinary programme combines the areas of remote sensing and spatial analysis to provide a broad overview of the subject, with scope for specialisation.

MSc Biodiversity and Conservation

The MSc Biodiversity and Conservation will develop your understanding, providing excellent preparation for careers in ecological consultancy or conservation management.

MSc Integrated Environmental Studies

This masters course which aims to develop the interdisciplinary environmental skills and knowledge required for a career in this exciting and fast-growing industry.

MRes Wildlife Conservation

This masters degree is an exciting addition to our portfolio of programmes, designed for graduates of biology, zoology, ecology and other relevant biological or ecological disciplines.

Identifying wildlife under threat from climate change


Climate change is one of the world’s most pressing challenges and is affecting global biodiversity, food security and human migration. Rising temperatures and regular extreme events will produce new selection pressures on many different species.

Our researchers are using novel genomic tools with ecological research and spatial, ecological and mathematical modelling to examine wildlife responses to global change. Our research is providing new insight into how environmental changes affect geographical distributions, genetic composition and ecological interactions between species.

In particular, our biological scientists are examining the effects of climate change on several bat species and have developed an integrated framework that guides conservation efforts by identifying wildlife populations under threat.

Using genetic analysis alongside ecological modelling and climate change projections we have been able to determine which bat populations are likely to be most sensitive to the effects of climate change because they lack adaptations associated with hot and dry climatic conditions. We also predicted the ability of populations to track suitable conditions in the future based on the effects of the landscape on their movement and how these effects will be modified in the future.

We show that while conditions in the UK could actually improve for some bats, populations in southern Europe that hold the key to the survival of the species as a whole could be devastated.

The framework assigns a level of risk to the species, which can help guide conservation priorities and management decisions. For example, do we need to focus on translocating high risk populations or would it be enough to improve landscape connectivity so that range shift potential will be increased? This framework can be widely applied to other groups and ecological systems to help decide how to focus conservation efforts to help species survive. We are currently taking this approach a step further looking at how interactions between species can affect their response to future environmental changes.

Contact: Dr Orly Razgour
https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/1755-0998.12694

Image credit: Razgour Lab
Image credit: Razgour Lab

Coral bleaching


Our researchers are providing critical insights into why coral reefs are declining and develop new ways to preserve these key marine ecosystems.

Coral reefs are home to a substantial part of all marine life forms and provide numerous benefits for human populations, providing food and income for millions, and protecting coastal areas from erosion.

In two projects, worth more than 1.5million, our researchers have conducted tightly controlled physiological experiments under laboratory conditions together with field studies to show that changes in ocean nutrient levels and seawater temperature can leave corals in a dilapidated state.

They have shown that a depletion of the water from nutrients, particularly from phosphate, renders corals more susceptible to bleaching and that these conditions can be induced through nitrogen enrichment of coral reef waters or through a disturbance of the natural nutrient balance by phytoplankton blooms. The critical understanding of the underlying molecular mechanisms was boosted by a cross-campus collaboration between researchers at the waterfront campus and the University Hospital Southampton.

Our scientists used molecular approaches to describe a new species of photosynthetic symbionts that enables corals to survive in the world’s hottest reef environments. However, despite their adaptation to extreme environmental conditions, these organisms are threatened by a combination of deteriorating water quality and high temperature anomalies. Our teams are now working with policy makers, through the Public Policy | Southampton unit, to develop management plans to ensure these unique ecosystems survive for future generations.

Contact: Prof Joerg Wiedenmann

Symbiodinium thermophilum with scale bar
Symbiodinium thermophilum with scale bar

Controlling disease in Asian aquaculture

Life Sciences researchers are leading an international collaboration to examine how the environment can help to control the risk of disease in fish and crustacean aquaculture in India and Bangladesh.

The global population is expected to rise to nine billion by 2050, the majority of which will be in the Middle East and throughout Asia. As the available land for agriculture becomes limited and as wild fish stocks become depleted, it is essential that aquaculture production is sustainably enhanced to ensure global food security and poverty alleviation. But infectious disease outbreaks represent a key limitation to the sustainable expansion of the aquaculture industry. For example, global losses to White Spot Syndrome Virus (WSSV), the causative agent of white spot disease (WSD) in shrimp and other crustaceans, have been estimated to cost between US$ 8-15 billion.

Unfortunately, at present there is no effective means of controlling this globally significant pathogen that has been proven effective at farm scale. Hence, the best option is to understand how the environment controls disease progression in shrimp ponds as a means to reduce the risk of infectious outbreak. Our project, which involves nine other research institutions from the UK, India and Bangladesh, will evaluate the role of physical pond conditions in controlling two socio-economically devastating pathogens of decapod crustaceans and freshwater fish in Asian aquaculture.

The results will be incorporated into guidelines for best management practice that will allow for the development of novel intervention strategies to be implemented in the future.

ContactProf Chris Hauton

https://preventcontrol.org/

 

Image credit: www.preventcontrol.org
Image credit: www.preventcontrol.org

SCALEFORES

People get a lot of things we want and need from nature – ‘ecosystem services’. These include the food we eat, the water we drink, beautiful places for recreation, space for bees to pollinate crops, and the storage of carbon, which can help reduce the risk of climate change. However, there is limited space on Earth- especially in crowded countries like Britain - both to grow the food and trees we need and the natural spaces that make our landscapes beautiful and able to give us the clean water and plants and animals we also want. As such, we need to understand how to maximize our food and timber production while still leaving our environment healthy enough to support these other key ecosystem services. Scientists have been working on this problem for years, but we still don't quite understand how to best achieve this 'landscape multifunctionality' that is required in our crowded world. This is because ecosystem services respond differently to management in different places, due to differences in things like climate and soil that we can't control.

In SCALEFORES, a project funded by an European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant to Prof Felix Eigenbrod, our teams are developing and testing a novel spatial methods that take advantage of previously collected ‘big data’ to understand where, when, and how we can best manage our British and global landscapes sustainably.  Doing so ensures we can design, protect, and enhance landscapes to ensure society gets what it needs from the land in a sustainable way, thereby helping to address a grand societal challenge.

ContactProf Felix Eigenbrod

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