Friday, 13 December 2013

Camera trapping in Mongolia

by Anna Lindblad

Last spring, the Conservation Biology programme leader sent out an e-mail about a course run by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) on camera trapping survey methods in Mongolia. The course was led by Nathan Conaboy, ZSL’s field representative in Mongolia and Oliver Wearn, an Imperial College London student doing his PhD with the ZSL. Instantly I knew that Mongolia was a place that I wanted to go to. I also wanted the chance to learn something about camera trapping and its use. And so I started the nerve-racking path of getting to there.

News from the woods...

Find out the latest news from the School of Biological Science’s Plymouth Woodland Project’ and how you can get involved in surveys and work with schools to help conserve local woodland biodiversity. Read our winter newsletter here. 

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

P-P-Pick up a penguin...

By Becca Miller, Conservation Biology student at Plymouth University

I travelled to Cape Town, South Africa and completed the 6-month Seabird Care and Conservation internship (January-July 2013) with SANCCOB (The South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds) as part of my placement year with the university. There are other internships available: for more information you can visit the SANCCOB website ( and look at the volunteering tab for the internship section to read more about what’s available. 

Friday, 18 October 2013

BSc Conservation Biology - entry in 2014

The latest pdf guide to the BSc Conservation Biology course is now available. You can download it from here. It is aimed at students who are thinking about starting the course in September 2014.
Important note for students planning to join us in September 2015
An updated version will be available after September 2014 for those students who are planning to join us in September 2015. We cannot guarantee all the details in the document attached here will still be valid in a year from now. So, although you can use this current document to give you an idea of what the course will be like, make sure you check our website nearer the time. You will also be able to download the 2015 version once we have published it here.

Here is the document for 2014 entry. You can read it directly here if you want, or else click on the "BSc Conservation Biology Booklet" link to download a copy to keep on your computer or reading device.

SORRY! This document is now out of date. Find the latest version on this blog (see the entry in February 2015).

Monday, 7 October 2013

Spiders, our unseen lodgers

by Pete Smithers

Standing on the roof of Exeter cathedral I am surveying the the city spread out below me as it runs out towards the Exe estuary. A sprawl of ancient and modern buildings that are a testament to the city's trading history. It is this history that brings a biologist to this stunning vantage point to discuss with the presenter of BBC Radio 4’s "Living World" why there are large spiders living in the Cathedral walls.  

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Barn Owl in Chile

As a quick follow-up to Chris Batey's article on his work with the Barn Owl Trust, I thought I would share these photos with you of a barn owl in the Atacama Desert, northern Chile...

Barn Owl Trust Placement

by Chris Batey

In the 2011/12 academic year, before my final year of BSc Conservation Biology, I undertook a nine month placement at the Barn Owl Trust (BOT). I am passionate about bird conservation and have a particular enthusiasm for raptors and owls: the BOT was a good fit for me! The BOT is a charity, based in South Devon, whose aim is to conserve the barn owl, a bird which has suffered historical decline in the UK due mainly to the effects of agricultural intensification (see 

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Induction Week

Induction week is a hectic time for us with graduation on the Monday and our new cohort of students arriving on the Tuesday thus the tardiness of this post. The week is a mixture of formal and administrative activities for the new students mixed together with some lab skills, a quiz, a welcome party culminating with the annual trip to Mt Edgcumbe on the Friday. We get our students out in the field early! This year we based the activities around some of the OPAL surveys. These included water quality, air quality, tree health and the worm survey. The staff were around to offer advice and encouragement before lunch in the pub.

On the boat to Cornwall

Friday, 27 September 2013

Student membership of the Society of Biology

Society of Biology LogoI am a Fellow of the Society of Biology, and the local representative of the Society at Plymouth University. The Society of Biology is a single unified voice for biology: advising Government and influencing policy; advancing education and professional development; supporting our members, and engaging and encouraging public interest in the life sciences. The Society represents a diverse membership of individuals, learned societies and other organisations.

You might want to consider joining. Here are some of the benefits of student membership (other membership grades are available for more experienced biologists):

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Plymouth Zoological Society

Interested in Wildlife? Enjoy trips to zoos and local Wildlife Trusts? Interested in learning more about Wildlife Conservation, Biodiversity, Behaviour and Welfare? Want to help Fundraise for many local and international wildlife charities that need a helping hand?

Join the Zoological Society this year, with a new committee we promise it will be better than ever.
Just £10 membership fee... and that gets you all your zoo admission fees free!!!
Email for more information or to sign up come and find us at the Society fair on Sunday the 22nd of September in the SU.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Graduation and prize winners

Monday saw our annual graduation ceremony and lots of the staff looking uncomfortable in unfamiliar attire that last saw the light of day exactly one year before! We were there to celebrate the achievements of our graduating students including some of the prize winners. Some photos of the prize winners and amusing staff photos are below:

Assembled academics

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Retirement of Pete Smithers

Our long standing technician Pete Smithers retired at the end of August and this afternoon we celebrated his 40 years at the university. An entomologist, Pete has shared his enthusiasm with students and staff alike as well as being involved in numerous outreach activities. 

Enjoy your retirement but you will be sorely missed.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Azores Photos

With Alison covering the scientific part, I am left to provide photos of students doing stuff. If anyone has any more, send them to me and I'll add them.

Post test group photo

Friday, 6 September 2013

Azores 2013 Day 2

On day two we visited Furnas, the most volcanically active part of Sao Miguel island, where you can see naturally boiling water bubbling up from the ground.

Thermal vents at Furnas. On Thursday night the staff enjoyed a meal cooked in these vents (a stew pig's ears - suprisingly not chewy after being slow cooked underground all day)   
Students took water samples from a lake and the numerous cold and hot water springs around the town of Furnas. Here we were particularly interested in testing the water quality, and looking at the ecology of the springs, which support a fascinating diversity of cyanobacteria, fungi and invertebrates that have adapted to live in and around these waters. 

The boys put their feet up whilst the girls take water samples

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Azores field course 2013

The 2nd year Biological Sciences students are currently on a week-long field course on Sao Miguel island in the Azores archipelago. In the last few days the students have carried out two plant surveys on the island's volcanic slopes, sampled and analysed water samples from four lakes, spotted the endemic and rare Priolo bullfinch and seen a new species of spider!

Here’s a bit more about what we’ve been up to so far…
View from Sierra da Tronqueira where the students carried out endemic plant surveys

Day 1: Lagoa do Fogo
Rob Parkinson talking to students about the island's formation
On our first morning we visited Lagoa do Fogo – one of the island’s calderas. These are remnant volcanoes that have exploded all their magma, and have now become freshwater lakes, fed by rainwater. Here we were investigating differences between leaf physiology of endemic and native plants compared with non-native invasives. This is an important question, as the Azores have a higher proportion of non-native plant species compared with native species, than anywhere else in the world (69% of plants are non-native).

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Chytrid and amphibians

A paper published by Rob Puschendorf and Ben Phillips from Australia called “Do pathogens become more virulent as they spread? Evidence from the amphibian declines in Central America”, re-examines prevalence data on the amphibian chytrid Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) and amphibian population decline across 13 sites from southern Mexico through Central America and show that, in the initial phases of the Bd invasion, amphibian population decline lagged approximately nine years behind the arrival of the pathogen, but that this lag diminished markedly over time.  In total, their analysis suggests an increase in Bd virulence as it spread southwards; a pattern consistent with rapid evolution of increased virulence on Bd’s invading front. The impact of Bd on amphibians might, therefore, be driven by rapid evolution in addition to more proximate environmental drivers.

Atelopus varius - Harlequin Frog

Histo image of chytrid

Citation: Phillips, B. L., & Puschendorf, R. (2013). Do pathogens become more virulent as they spread? Evidence from the amphibian declines in Central America. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 280(1766), 20131290. doi:10.1098/rspb.2013.1290

This story has also been covered here, here and here.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Miguel Franco in the British Ecological Society's list of 100 most influential papers

The British Ecological Society was founded in 1913, so is celebrating its 100th year with a Festival of Ecology. As part of the celebrations, the society asked ecologists across the world to nominate their most influential paper published in the society's journals and regular publications (click on "Read more", below, to see which). The results are now in, and the 100 most influential papers are available to view in an interactive pdf. It's a great selection of classic papers, with some real favourites of mine. I'm happy to say that Miguel Franco, one of our conservation biology lecturers, has made the list with a brilliant paper on plant demography.

Silvertown J, Franco M, Pisanty I & Mendoza A (1993) Comparative plant demography - relative importance of life-cycle components to the finite rate of increase in woody and herbaceous perennials. Journal of Ecology, 81: 465-476.

You can download the full text from the interactive pdf. But please look at the rest of the papers in the list. It really is a fantastic way of broadening your ecological understanding.

And here's to the next 100 years!

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Adventurous Dining - Entomophagy

For those of you who fancy a slightly different dining experience, Peter Gorton (of Gorton’s restaurant in Tavistock) is offering University staff a chance to sample a range of tropical dishes with an entomological flavour. He has devised a four course meal in which UK farmed insects appear in every course. In some courses the insects will be evident and others they will provide a culinary background.

Monday, 12 August 2013

My Andean Adventure

by Nick Holmberg

Discovering the beautiful ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru.
When I heard there was a possibility of going on a work placement in Ecuador and Peru, I knew it was something I had to do. The prospect of discovering a new country, a new culture and more importantly, working in natural habitats that I had never seen before was too exciting to pass up. Paul Ramsay, my supervisor and coordinator of the trip, explained that my work would consist of several short placements with various organisations and NGOs, allowing me to gain experience in different fields. So I packed my bags and boarded a plane to the other side of the world!

As soon as I arrived in Quito, the capital of Ecuador, I realised that South America was very different to any other country I had ever been to and that the next 8 months were going to be unlike anything I had ever experienced before!

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Spotlight on Conservation Biology

Our Conservation Biology degree does exactly what it says on the tin! From a theoretical basis in the science of biodiversity and biology the course teaches you about how we can help to conserve and maintain biodiversity on the planet from conserving species threatened with extinction to managing and restoring ecosystems for biodiversity. Plymouth is in an excellent position geographically and we make use of the wide range of natural laboratories on our doorstep as well as our excellent teaching laboratories and facilities. Click here to get much more information on the course starting in September 2013.

Spotlight on Environmental Biology

With clearing coming up next week and A-level students starting to think about university applications, we thought it might be useful to give a little insight into a couple of our courses outside the formal setting of the University course pages.

Our Environmental Biology degree is an exciting course to study giving a good background in Biology, Biodiversity and Ecology and relating those to the contemporary issues of climate change and the impact that Man has on the planet. We are really keen on practical skills and the course offers a unique mix of field and lab work which allows our students to go on to good jobs in the environmental sector where skills attained during your degree in areas such as Ecotoxicology, Microbiology and Biochemistry can be combined with field Biology and Ecology. Given the breadth of the degree, there are numerous employment and further study opportunities. Our lab facilities will give you access to cutting edge techniques like genomics and proteomics as well as the classics of lab biology. We also have excellent links with local, national and international organisations that will give you the opportunity to interact with biology professionals and if you want to take the opportunity, you can undertake a placement year at the end of your second year.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Developments in the department

From the first of August, the EEB group is now (mostly) in the new School of Biological Sciences in the new Faculty of Science and the Environment. Visit our new website: or follow us on our twitter account: @plymouthbiol

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Taking to the Trees

Staff and students from the School of Biological Sciences at Plymouth University recently completed the Basic Canopy Access Proficiency course.The five-day course at Mount Edgcumbe, led by Canopy Access Ltd, taught us the skills to climb high into the trees. Forest canopies are extremely rich in biodiversity yet understudied and often overlooked. Accessing them is therefore an important skill in forest research, and allows for a wide range of biological and ecological parameters to be sampled, which could not be sampled from the ground.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Insects on the Menu

For some years, I have been promoting the notion of insects as a source of food for people. They are relatively cheap, efficient to farm, and nutritious. The idea is now being taken seriously as a potential solution to feeding billions of humans into the future. 

Recently, I have been involved in a series of activities on insect-eating, with some interesting events still to come. Read on for more details...

Wednesday, 12 June 2013