Centre for Behaviour and Evolution

Staff Profile

Professor Mark Whittingham

Professor of Applied Ecology


Overview - interdisciplinary and ecological research 

There are two major challenges that shape my research. First, the rate of species extinction on earth is rapidly approaching estimates from previous mass-extinction events. The consequences of this are not only the intrinsic loss of the diversity of wildlife on earth but also the services these organisms provide for humans. My work focuses on providing a scientific evidence base to guide management of wildlife in these challenging times. Second, providing enough food for people (Food Security) is of major societal importance but if it is not to directly conflict with biodiversity loss then there is a need for sustainable farming.

Work earlier in my career focused on understanding the ecology and behaviour of a range of organisms with a central focus on vertebrates (especially birds). I continue to try and understand the ecology, particularly foraging ecology and predation risk, of a range of species. However,  I have also become increasingly interested in interdisciplinary work for example: (i) how management aimed at wildlife affects a range of other metrics (e.g. social metrics such as poverty and other environmental metrics, such as soil); (ii) the human benefits of wildlife both in monetary and non-monetary terms.

I have been funded by the following organisations: BBSRC, ESRC, NERC, RELU, VNN, DEFRA, NE, RSPB, Scottish Windfarms Bird Steering Group, BSG Ecology and a range of industrial companies.

PDFs of my publications can be found here.

Citations to my papers in google scholar can be found here.

Twitter: Click here.

Newcastle Ecology group papers in google scholar can be found here

Orchid ID: 0000-0003-4362-3454

Areas of expertise

  • Ecology
  • Agro-ecology
  • Ecosystem services
  • Interdisciplinary science

External roles

  • Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology (FRSB).
  • Recently finished (Jan 2016) as a Senior Editor of Journal of Applied Ecology after six years in the role.
  • Academy of Finland panel (2016-date).
  • IPBES European and Central Asia Lead Author (2015-2017).
  • North-east Local Nature Partnership committee (http://neenp.org.uk/

Career history

  • Ecology BSc (Hons) University of East Anglia (1988-1991)
  • PhD at Sunderland University (1993-1996)
  • JNCC (1997-1998)
  • Post-doc at Oxford University (with John Krebs) (1998-2004)
  • BBSRC David Phillips Fellow (2004-2009)
  • Reader at Newcastle University (2009-2013)
  • Professor at Newcastle University (2013-date)

Informal Interests

Football, running, birdwatching.


Current university administration

Leader of  'Ecology' group comprising 21 academics, 12 post-docs and 50 research students (PhD/MPhil) - see https://www.ncl.ac.uk/nes/research/biology/ecology/#background

Theme leader for IAFRI (http://www.ncl.ac.uk/iafri/)

N8 agri-tech grant steering group

Previous university administrative roles:

1.School of Biology Director of Research and executive school board member (2013-August 2017).

2. After changing the focus and rebranding this course with a new name I was DPD for the Ecological Consultancy Masters programme (2012-2016). The course attracts around 15-20 students in a typical year.

3. Co-wrote UoA7 submission for REF2014.

4. School of Biology postgraduate committee (2009-2011).

Current Research group - 4 post-docs and 10 PGR students

My group currently includes four PDRAs. Drs Caroline Rhymer and Richard Francksen are both part-time post-docs working with me on the EU H2020 SUPERG project (https://www.super-g.eu/) on sustainable grassland systems across Europe (2018-2022). Dr Nadheer Fazaa is funded on a 5 year post doc (until 2022) with me working on environmental issues in Iraq (funded by the Ministry of Environment in Iraq). Lowell Mills is working on a BBSRC funded natural capital project in 2019.

I currently supervise 8 PhD and 2 MPhil students (see Teaching tab for details).

I would be very happy to hear from you if you have funding for a PhD or are interested in collaborating or applying for a Fellowship to work in my group.

The ethos of the group is to work together in a collaborative and supportive environment to achieve high quality research with direct applied outcomes.

Research Interests

Biodiversity, conservation, agro-ecology, interdisciplinary research, foraging ecology and behavioural ecology.

Current and future grants 

1. Horizon 2020 - SUPERG - 10 Million Euros total - c1 Million Euros to Newcastle University.

2. Ministry of Iraq - £230,000 (2017-2022). Funding for five year post-doc to investigate impacts of climate change on the natural environment and the services it provides to Iraq. A range of additional bids are being prepared to develop the protected area network in Iraq, to train Iraqi staff in environmental work and to provide mitigation strategies for climate change in the short, medium and long-term. 

3. Tanzania £12,000 (2017-2018). Pump priming grant to set up larger bids with newly developed significant trust fund for interdisciplinary work in the agricultural and environmental sectors.

4. Charities Aid Foundation - £50,000 (2017-2018). First year is largely a pilot project to investigate the impacts of grouse moor management on birds. 

5. Valuing Nature Programme - Peatland Tipping Points (2016-2019). Researchers from Newcastle and Leeds universities, the Scottish Association for Marine Science, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and the British Trust for Ornithology have been awarded almost half a million pounds by the Natural Environment Research Council’s Valuing Nature Programme to investigate ecosystems that are moving towards “tipping points” where they could rapidly collapse, no longer providing society with important services.  Bogs are important resources currently providing most of the UK’s drinking water and protection for our climate by locking up carbon within the peat.  There is a danger that climate change and current land management practices may lead of rapid and costly loss of water quality and biodiversity, while contributing towards further climate change. See http://lecmsr.wixsite.com/peatlandtippingpoint for further details.

6. FORMAS Mobility Grant (2015-18). Dr Matt Hiron to work in my group for two years and then return to Sweden for a further year to work on the project. Project outline - Biodiversity loss is higher now than at any other time in recorded history. At the same time food security and environmentally friendly farming are at the forefront of the global political agenda. Scientists and policy makers have embraced the notion of Ecosystem Services (ESs) as a way to unite these concepts. Small-scale studies suggest that birds provide an ES via regulating important crop pest populations through the consumption of weed seeds and invertebrates. However, evidence of the extent of the role of birds as crop pest regulators on larger scales and on crop yields is lacking. Birds are charismatic and bird watching is a major pastime for millions; thus birds also provide a Cultural ES. We will also use existing bird survey data in Swedish farmland to guide land management for regulating services, cultural services or both.

7. GCRF Resilience Foundation Award "DRIER-China: Drought Resilience In Ecosystem services and Rural communities in China". 2016-2017.

Recent past grants

1. Marie-Curie Fellowship (2014-17) - £240,000. The main objective of the project is to understand the relationship between community-based forest management practices, and the ecological health of local forests and biodiversity. During the outgoing phase, the Fellow (Dr Johan Oldekop) is working in close collaboration with International Forestry Resources and Institutions (IFRI) Network, which is based at the University of Michigan. Johan is working on combining one of the largest socio-ecological datasets with satellite image analyses of forest cover change.

2. Impacts of soil compaction on agriculture and biodiversity (2009-2014) (DEFRA) - £700,000. Soil compaction is widely perceived by the agricultural community as a negative driver of grass yields. However, the evidence base for this is limited. Here we carry out an extensive observational study of the factors driving associated with increased soil compaction across England and Wales. We then explore a range of mechanical and biological ways to relieve soil compaction and explore the consequences for yield, soil invertebrates, ground-probing farmland birds and hydrology (including flood risk).

3. ESRC (2013-2015) Interdisciplinary Exchanges: Natural Resource Management in the 21st Century. A series of six interdisciplinary workshops to explore a current issues including community-based natural resource management and food security.

4. Belmont Forum (2014-15). The overall objective of the project is to draw on research skills from South Africa, UK, US and the Netherlands to build an international community of researchers closely linked to a range of stakeholders across southern Africa’s public and private organisations. This community will then be able to co-design and jointly undertake research on (i) the effectiveness and adaptiveness of food system governance arrangements for food security; and (ii) food systems governance as driver of land use change and implications for associated ecosystem services.

Funding - summary awarded grants

2018 1 Million Euros to Newcastle University from H2020 project on sustainable grassland management. 

2017 £230,000 funded by Ministry of Iraq to work on environmental management and climate change in Iraq.

2017 £50,000 funded by charities aid foundation to work on "Impact of moorland grouse management on birds". 

2016 c£159,000 GCRF Resilience Foundation Award "DRIER-China: Drought Resilience In Ecosystem services and Rural communities in China". 2016-2017.

2016 c£400,000 Valuing Nature Network grant "Peatland Tipping Points" 2016-2019 (funded by NERC, BBSRC, AHRC, ESRC & DEFRA) (see http://lecmsr.wixsite.com/peatlandtippingpoint for further details). 

2015 £240,000 - FORMAS mobility grant for Dr Matt Hiron to work in my group for two years and then continue working on the project for a further year back at SLU, Uppsala, Sweden. 

2014 £250,000 - Belmont Forum funded one year grant for capacity building to address Food Security in Southern Africa (co-I).

2013 c£230,000 EU Marie Curie outgoing Fellowship (2014-2016) for Dr Johan Oldekop to work in my group.

2013 c£30,000 ESRC Interdisciplinary Exchanges: Natural Resource Management in the 21st Century (2013-2015).

2012 Funding for two PhDs to study the impacts of climate change on wildlife in the Middle East.

2012  £25,000 from Wildlife Acoustics to investigate the use of audio recorders to survey birds.

2012 £60,000 from Langholm Demonstration Project for PhD on the impacts of buzzards on red grouse. 

2011 "Effects of wind turbines on birds" (PhD part funded by WPA).   

2011-13 £136,000 (PI) "MAPISCO - developing a method for species prioritisation".

2010 RELU grant "Collaboration in agri-environment schemes" (£140k) joint with Dr Jeremy Franks.

2010 NERC studentship "Galliforme conservation in the Himalayas" in collaboration with World Pheasant Association.

2009 4 year DEFRA grant (£700,000 - £176k to Newcastle) to investigate the extent of soil compaction in England and Wales and how it can be potentially be remediated to benefit birds and soil invertebrates.

2009 NERC grant entitled "Estimating the independent effects of different components of organic farming on biodiversity". (£82,000).

2008 NERC studentship departmental quota award - Climate change and bird demography started 1st October 2008 (funded for 3.5 years).

2008 £40,000 from Natural England towards PhD project on kestrels.

2007 £4752 - Catherine Cookson Foundation Grant 'Why do birds prefer organic food?'.

2006 £5000 - Award from BSG for work on windfarms and farmland birds.

2006 £10,000 - Award from English Nature for pilot project on kestrels.

2005 £2200 – Awarded by RSPB for pilot project on stubble management.

2005 NERC CASE studentship with BTO.

2004 £361,000 - Awarded a 5-year BBSRC David Phillips Fellowship. This paid my salary for 5 years (£204,000) and came with a tied grant of £157,000.

2001-4 Jointly awarded 3 DPhil studentships (1 from NERC and 2 from BBSRC) with Sir John Krebs, two from October 2001-2004 and one from October 2003-2006.

2000-3 Involved with two PhD projects and the setting up of a research institute in Nigeria in collaboration with Dr Will Cresswell.

2001 £230,000 awarded by BBSRC in for three-year project entitled “Testing the trans-situationality of bird-habitat models in agricultural landscapes” (I wrote the proposal and Sir John Krebs was Principal Investigator).

1999 £6000 from English Nature for project entitled “The effect of field margin management on foraging by breeding yellowhammers”.

1999 £750 from the Royal Society to attend a conference in Utah, USA.

1998 £35,000 from the European Commission for EU database work.

1996 £1500 from English Nature for project entitled “Population dynamics of golden plover”.

1991 Awarded £400 travel scholarship by the University of East Anglia for Mexico expedition.



Undergraduate Teaching

BIO2003 - Field Identification Skills (Module Leader)

BIO1022 - Ecology and Conservation (Module Leader)

MST1204 - Academic and Professional Skills for the Biosciences (Contributor)

BIO 3097-9. Research, information and review projects (Contributor).

Postgraduate Teaching

BIO8196 and BIO8197 (MBiol Research Projects) (Module Leader)

BIO8006 - Field Identification Skills (Module Leader)

SPG8013: Environmental Impact Assessment (Contributor).

BIO8096: Ecological Consultancy Masters projects (Contributor).

Research projects

Current PhD and MPhil students:

PhD - Danielle Robinson (https://www.ncl.ac.uk/nes/research/biology/ecology/#students)

PhD - Maire Kirkland (http://www.conservationecology.org/maire-kirkland.html)

PhD - Mark Titler (http://www.conservationecology.org/mark-titley.html)

PhD - Eleri Kent  

PhD - Sammy Mason (http://www.conservationecology.org/samantha-mason.html)

PhD - Sian Green (http://www.conservationecology.org/sian-green.html)

PhD - Nick Brodin (https://www.ncl.ac.uk/nes/research/biology/ecology/simpleprofiles/ecologyresearchstudents/nickbrodin.html)

MPhil - Fern Lyne-Temple