Global Challenges Academy

Staff Profile

Professor Mark Whittingham

Professor of Applied Ecology

Background

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).
  • 2010-2016) Senior Editor of Journal of Applied Ecology (with four previous years as an Associate Editor).
  • 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.

Teaching

Experience of university administrative roles:

1. Leader of  'Ecology' group (2017-2020) comprised 21 academics, 12 post-docs and 50 research students (PhD/MPhil) - see https://www.ncl.ac.uk/nes/research/biology/ecology/#background

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

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

4. N8 agri-tech grant steering group.

5. 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.

6. Co-wrote UoA7 submission for REF2014.

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


Undergraduate Teaching

BIO2003 - Field Identification Skills (Module Leader)

BIO1022 - Ecology and Conservation (Module Leader)

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


Postgraduate Teaching

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

BIO8006 - Field Identification Skills 

SPG8013: Environmental Impact Assessment (Contributor).

BIO8096: Ecological Consultancy Masters projects (Contributor).


Research projects

Current PhD students:

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

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

PhD - Eleri Kent  (https://www.iapetus2.ac.uk/student/eleri-kent/)

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

PhD - Peter Stewart (http://www.conservationecology.org/peter-stewart.html)

PhD - Federica Paradiso (https://researchportal.northumbria.ac.uk/en/persons/federica-paradiso)

PhD - Victoria Graves (https://pure.sruc.ac.uk/en/persons/victoria-graves)

PhD - Thomas Howells

PhD - Kristina Pascual







Research

Current Research group - 2 post-docs and 9 PhD students

My group currently includes two 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 (2018-2024) and the DEFRA funded mob grazing project (2021-24).  

I currently supervise 9 PhD (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

Ecosystem services, biodiversity, sustainable farming, agro-ecology, interdisciplinary research, birds, foraging ecology and behavioural ecology.

Current grants (as of November 2022) 

1. Horizon 2020 - SUPERG (see SUPERG) - 10 Million Euros total - c1 Million Euros to Newcastle University (2018-2024). Biodiversity Lead.

2. DEFRA - Mob Grazing (see Mob Grazing) £1 Million with £230k to Newcastle University (2021-2024 with likely additional 2 years add on). Newcastle PI.

3. Horizon Europe - HOLIFOOD  (website in prep.) 6 Million Euros - 500,000 Euros to Newcastle University (2022-2025). Co-I.

4. NERC Agro-Forestry Futures - c£600,000 (2022-2024). Co-I.

5. NERC Financial Rewards for Improved Biodiversity Outcomes (FRIBO) - c£150k (2023-24). Co-I. 


Examples of past grants

1. NERC 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. Co-I.

2. Natural England - £212,050. Role of agri-environment schemes for connecting the landscape (2021-22). Newcastle PI.

3. 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. PI.

3. Global Challenges Research Fund Resilience Foundation Award (c£159,000) "DRIER-China: Drought Resilience In Ecosystem services and Rural communities in China". 2016-2017.Co-I.

4. 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. Co-I.

5. 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. Co-I.

6. 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). Newcastle PI.

7. 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. Co-I.

8. 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. Co-I.

9. 2011-13 £136,000 (PI) "MAPISCO - developing a method for species prioritisation". PI.


Publications