1. Effects of pesticide exposure on social bees
Social bees represent a crucial group of insect pollinators. We have been focusing on how pesticide exposure affects specific components of bee physiology, behaviour and foraging performance and how this translates to impacts on colony development and fitness. This has included investigating at the individual level how exposure impedes development of individuals inside the colony, alters flight performance and impairs foraging efficiency (for example using RFID technology). In addition, we have looked at how chronic exposure can affect overall colony development and fitness, and in combination with other factors, such as nutrition.
2. How does emergent agricultural land-use change affect and shape insect pollinator populations & communities?
A longer term research goal has been to better understand how insect pollinator populations have responded to high rates of land-use change. This has involved a molecular and morphological approach to investigate how populations might have been selectively shaped by specific factors.
To do this we are starting to study: i) selective signatures in bumblebee genomes, and signs of past demographic change; ii) this has been accompanied with carefully controlled experiments to look at the transcriptomes of bumblebee individuals after simulated stress; iii) we are further looking at trait evolution in insect pollinators by taking morphological measurements; iv) and also looking at both the spatial and temporal patterns of risk to bumblebees across agriculturally dominated landscapes
Learning from these results we can start to map how such potential risks are distributed to better understand 'stress exposure landscapes' and thus provide valuable information for ecological applications.
3. the SCIE:NCE project (Soneva Conservation of Island Ecosystems : Nurturing Collaborative Endeavours)
Small island ecosystems are increasingly under threat, with isolated island systems considered to be in a state of delicate ecological balance and susceptible to anthropogenic activities and extreme climate change. Phase I of the SCIE:NCE project has been to investigate the impact and damage caused by insect pest control. To date this has primarily involved the heavy, spatially non-targeted and prophylactic use of insecticides. The inadvertent effect this has on local wildlife is not fully understood and rarely monitored, but there is concern that pesticide residues filter through the terrestrial ecological network, as well as leaching or running-off into the surrounding marine environment. Our aim has been to understand how we can more effectively control pest populations in a more targeted way that limits inadvertent perturbation to the ecological network, in order to ecologically and economically benefit all involved.
Our current work involves studying the population dynamics, spatial distribution and life-histories of the Aedes mosquito and Lepidopteran pest species, and looking at the inadvertent effect of pesticide applications on invertebrate community and the functional processes they provide in these ‘enclosed’ ecosystems.
4. Plant-pollinator responses to climate and environmental change in the Arctic
The effect of climate change on ecosystem processes is a key research priority, and understanding how species and communities respond to this change is crucial if we are to predict and mitigate potential harmful effects. There is growing evidence to show that distribution and the phenologies of many species are able to respond to changes in climate and the consequent alterations to the environment. However, it is less well known how species involved in intricate mutualistic relationships are affected, and how changes to one functional group are reflected in another. An international collaboration has just started (2017) to study the relationship between bee communities and the flowering plants they visit along an historic transect spanning an altitudinal cline located in the Arctic region of northern Sweden.
5. Effects of environmental disturbance on ant community dynamics
Understanding how anthropogenic disturbance influences patterns of species community composition is important if we are to mitigate threats to biodiversity. This requires not only understanding of which species are more susceptible to change, but also how alteration to composition has cascading effects on the interactive processes between species constituting the community. In collaboration with Prof Rob Ewers and supervising a recent Masters student, Ross Gray, I have become interested in how disturbance of lowland dipterocarp rainforest forest in Borneo alters the community composition of ants, and whether we detect alterations in the competitive interactions between ant groups.
6. Evolution of social strategies and the cooperation and conflict involved
The variety of social strategies adopted across the animal kingdom is fascinating. My previous work looked to understand what cooperative behaviours are required for successful group living (specifically cooperative breeding), to investigate the consequent conflicts involved and the resolving behavioural mechanisms that maintain group cohesion, and to understand what ecological and genetic factors determine variation in social organisation. This including looking at: i) polymorphic social organisation in a multiple queen ant; ii) conflict and its resolution over reproduction in eusocial insects with multiple queen colonies; iii) intra-specific tests of selfishness and enforced altruism in social insects
INTERACT Transnational Access Grant - £2,000 awarded to Richard Gill
National Geographic Research & Exploration Award of $47,592 in support of Cross Polli:Nation awarded to Poppy Lakeman-Fraser which leads a team including collaborator / advisor Richard Gill
Sainsbury’s Farming Scholars Creativity Event - £30,000 awarded to the team Oliver Windram, Oscar Ces, Richard Gill, Paul French, Lily Peck, James Brown, Chris Dunsby and Sarah Blansford
NERC standard grant on bees response to a century of land use change. £381,457 FEC awarded to Richard Gill (in collaboration with Prof Ian Barnes, NHM London, with total grant ~£790,000 FEC) (2017-2020)
British Ecological Society large grant (£17,000) awarded to Andres Arce in collaboration with Richard Gill (2017)
Grantham Pump Priming grant (£25,000) - sustainable solutions for controlling pest species in small island ecosystems - hired Dr Kirsty Yule (2017)
NERC standard (new investigator) grant on Behavioural and molecular responses to pesticide exposure in bumblebees. £503,980 FEC awarded to Richard Gill (in collaboration with Dr Yannick Wurm, QMUL, with total grant ~£1.1million FEC) (2014-2018)
Royal Society Research Grant (£14,051): Pesticide impairment to bee foraging behaviour (2014).
Named as hosting and helped develop the following awarded fellowships:
Dr Peter Graystock - Imperial College Research Fellowship
Dr Jacob Johansson - Visiting researcher at Imperial College and research fellow at Lund University, supported by an International Career Grant from the Swedish Research Council and Marie Sklodowska Curie Actions Cofund.