Ecology and conservation
Ecology is the study of how organisms interact with one another and with their physical environment. It provides essential insights into the distribution and dynamics of biological populations and communities, their immediate response to anthropogenic change, and their long-term evolution. Furthermore, ecologists draw on approaches ranging from molecular genetics, to field biology, to mathematical modelling. Ecology thus lies at the interface of several key biological disciplines, from which it cannot be divorced. Ecological research has links with the evolutionary biology, infection and immunity and plant biology themes.
Conservation biology has been very successful in attracting funding from external conservation organisations. There is particular interest in quantifying the effects of agricultural management, biological invasion, climate change, disturbance, illegal killing, and conservation measures on the demography of animal and plant populations. The insights provided by this research play a significant role in developing effective plans for the preservation of species and ecosystems. Collaboration with international, non-governmental organisations is facilitated by regular meetings of the Cambridge Conservation Forum, and the Department of Zoology sponsors and hosts a student conservation conference that attracts more than 200 students each year.
Population biology deals with the numerical and spatial dynamics of biological populations. Our researchers in this field are at the forefront of efforts to develop and test quantitative models of population dynamics using detailed observational and experimental data collected from natural or captive populations. This extends to epidemiological studies, which have led to rapid advances in our understanding of the invasion, persistence and control of infectious diseases.
The dynamics of populations reflect the behaviour of individuals. Cambridge is a leading centre for the study of behavioural ecology, and our researchers are studying the consequences of behavioural and life history diversity at the population level, as well as the impact of population structure on behavioural adaptation.
Finally, an area of recent expansion that draws on both botanical and zoological expertise is the study of rain forest ecology and management, with approaches including biodiversity, physiology, and ecosystem processes, and the background context primarily in terms of the impact of anthropogenic climate change.
We also have links with the physical and social sciences, and with the cross-school Cambridge Computational Biology Institute.