Where are they now: Moving up and scaling down

James Stewart, MRes 2013

A quick lunch break on North Rona, Oct. 2013.

A quick lunch break on North Rona, Oct. 2013.

After leaving the Twiss lab at the end of my MRes, it didn’t take long for me to return for a bit of fieldwork at Amy’s site and North Rona – they weren’t going to get rid of me that easily! After the 2013 field seasons I took up a post as a research assistant, studying sheep behaviour and electrophysiology at Cambridge University. The cold tolerance that I developed in the field hides proved vital in my outdoor work, and after dealing with seals, sheep were a doddle! Observational skills, honed in the field, are also key in this kind of work and I was pleased to be able to build on these and also apply them in an experimental setting, both here in the UK and with collaborators in Australia. Though they may seem simple, observational skills and an eye for detail can come in very handy, and in my spare time I’ll even be putting them to use underwater, surveying coastal habitats here in the UK. I see this as an extension of my general research interests: relating climate and habitat to the distribution and abundance of organisms. The MRes was a great opportunity for me to begin developing these interests.

After almost two years at Cambridge University I moved on again to my current position, having secured a NERC-funded PhD position at Exeter University as part of the GW4+ DTP scheme. My research is focused on understanding the interacting effects of climate change and fine-scale habitat interactions on the abundance and phenology of butterflies – the brown argus here in the UK, and a set of 10 species in the Sierra de Guadarrama, a mountain range in Spain.

I am interested how fine-scale changes and variability in microclimate and host plant quality affect butterfly populations, and the effects that this has on metapopulation persistence, local adaptation at the level of the genome, and the timing of butterfly emergence. My MRes research relied heavily on the use of Geographic Information Systems (a computing tool for analysing spatial data) and on applying modelling techniques to understand the effects of fine-scale habitat variability on the grey seal. Moving forward, the skills that I learnt during this time are proving vital in my current research; although the species I’m studying seem to be getting smaller and smaller, these skills are no less relevant. Conferences and a long fieldwork season are on the horizon for me at the moment, though thanks to the MRes I’m well versed in both!

For more from me, please head over to @JStewartEco.

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