Restoring Kenya’s most threatened forests

Lindsay Biermann (LEAF)

Across the world, natural ecosystems are becoming increasingly degraded and fragmented. As a consequence, preservation of remaining intact habitats is likely to be insufficient for many species. Instead, the United Nations has identified restoring wild places as a global priority in its upcoming decade on ecosystem restoration.

In response to this, former Bournemouth Life and Environmental Sciences alumnus, Lindsay Biermann, has helped found the Little Environmental Action Foundation (LEAF for short) alongside thirteen fellow young conservationists. LEAF’s mission is to restore some of the most threatened ecosystems across the tropics, whilst using research-driven approaches and 100% native species.

LEAF’s first project is focused on cultivating and planting indigenous trees in coastal Kenya. Situated in the East African Coastal Forest Biodiversity hotspot, this project aims to save the region’s endemic trees that are all predicted to go extinct by 2050 without intervening action. LEAF is working in partnership with Pwani University to recover seeds, grow seedlings and plant out these threatened endemic species around fragments of ancient forest sites called relics. These relics are incredibly important to the future of this region, as currently 96% of native trees have been lost to monoculture plantations and farming.

Using research and expertise, LEAF has begun by employing local graduates and implementing ex situ conservation on the university grounds. From here, we plan to expand our efforts to plant trees close to pre-existing relict sites, educate local people on how to protect these forests and show why their ecosystem services are invaluable. By focusing on native tree species, we aim to increase the survival rates of planted trees and also the long-term recovery of these forests. Collaborative research with university students is also helping to maximise survival rates by studying salt and drought tolerance, as well as optimal planting times.

LEAF is set to officially launch in National Tree week running from 28th November to 6th December. As part of the launch, LEAF is aiming to raise funds to build a new seedling nursery that can propagate and grow rare and endangered tree species. From these donations, LEAF hope to transform the nursery to provide sufficient capacity for future forest restoration projects.

The LEAF charity is remains in its infancy but has ambitious plans to expand its restoration work into ten countries by 2030. Potential projects in Rwanda and India have already been identified, whilst a UK-based school outreach programme is being developed. If you would like to learn more about LEAF’s work, visit their website – www.theleafcharity.com – or follow them on social media @wearetheleaf.

First trees planted in Pwani University

Global bacterial diversity is 44% greater than previously thought

Bacteria and Archaea, collectively known as prokaryotes, are the oldest forms of life on the planet, they’ve been around for over 3500 million years and are ubiquitous, meaning they are found all across the earth in every environment, some of which are adapted to living in extreme environments such as hot springs, hydrothermal vents and glacial environments.

Although some bacteria cause a variety of diseases in plants and animals, including humans, bacteria and archaea are key for a variety of environmental processes, including aquatic photosynthesis by cyanobacteria and nutrient cycling in terrestrial and aquatic environments. As well as this, some prokaryotes form key partnerships with animals and plants, such as nitrogen fixing species in plant roots and gut bacteria which help break down food.

Some heat loving (thermophilic) bacteria aggregate and form colourful mats at the Yellowstone national park (© S. Scully)

For these reasons, studying bacteria and archaea is particularly important, to understand their use in medicine and combatting disease, their role in the environment and potential to buffer habitat against environmental change, and their importance in biotechnology. Bacteria and archaea are notoriously difficult to study in the lab, as their tiny size and immense diversity in metabolism and optimal requirements make it difficult to culture them. As a result of this, researchers have turned to genome sequencing as a way of studying these organisms.

Collaboration between researchers across the world has led to the ‘Genomes from the Earth’s Microbiomes (GEM) catalogue’, a database which contains over 52, 000 draft genomes, encompassing a large spread of samples collected from all across the world, including agricultural and natural soils, oceanic and freshwater samples, and sample collected from associated human/animal hosts and symbiotes.

Organisms such as these cyanobacteria leave traces of DNA in their environment, which can be detected using metagenomics (© J.Dazley)

The GEM catalogue has been possible despite the difficulty of bacterial culturing due to a revolutionary technique known as metagenomics. Essentially, organisms leave traces of DNA in their environment, such as lakes, soils, etc., which can be picked up in sampling, meaning that growing the species in the lab is not required to study it’s molecular biology. Through this, samples are sequenced and the DNA of various organisms can be detected, which also gives an idea of the biodiversity of the habitat.


The development of the GEM catalogue has provided researchers with an invaluable resource for studying bacteria, from their ecology, molecular genetics to help tackle disease and understand more about their place in the environment. The database has also shown that these microbes are far more diverse and numerous then we once thought, providing a wealth of information for researchers .

New dinosaur species related to T. Rex discovered on Isle of Wight

A new species of carnivorous dinosaur has been discovered from fossilised remains found by members of the public at Shanklin, Isle of Wight last year. The four bones were examined by researchers at the University of Southampton who believe they belong to a new species of theropod dinosaur (a group of carnivorous which also include modern birds and their famous Tyrannosaurus rex).

The carcass of the dinosaur likely washed into the sea. (Copyright: T. Wilson)

The dinosaur has been named Vectaerovenator inopinatus which means ‘unexpected air-filled hunter’. The name refers to the curious air-filled sacs in many of the bones of the creature, in the neck, back and tail. Indeed, these structures are also found in many other theropod dinosaurs, helping scientists to identify it.

These air sacs, which act as extensions of the lungs, are also found in modern birds, which not only make the skeletons much lighter, but also ensure much more efficient breathing.

The bones were found to contain many air holes, which helped to identify the fossils as a theropod dinosaur (Copyright: University of Southampton)

Living around 115 million years ago during the cretaceous period, Vectaerovenator was around 4 metres long, a relatively small size for Dinosaurs of this group, and although likely it would not have been the top predator, it would certainly have been an efficient carnivore, probably feeding on reptiles and small, herbivorous dinosaurs such as Hypsilophodon which was a common species at the time.


This exciting find is another example of how our understanding of prehistoric biodiversity is constantly changing with the discovery of many new prehistoric species.

Atlantic Salmon Activity Sheet Answers

Here are the answers for the our ‘World Ocean Day 2020’ colouring sheet:

The figure has been adapted from:

Kryvi, H., Rusten, I., Fjelldal, P.G., Nordvik, K., Totland, G.K., Karlsen, T., Wiig, H. and Long Jr, J.H., 2017. The notochord in Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar L.) undergoes profound morphological and mechanical changes during development. Journal of anatomy, 231(5), pp.639-654.

Isle of Wight Pterosaur fossil hailed as UK first

A fossil recently discovered on the Isle of Wight has been revealed as a first of its kind to be found in the UK. The fossil belonged to an ancient flying reptile which would have soared through the skies of southern England 100 million years ago.


The fossilised jaw fragment was found by an amateur fossil hunter on Sandown beach, Isle of Wight. The delicate fossil was identified as a tapejarid (a type of medium-sized crested pterosaur) by scientists at the university of Portsmouth, recognisable by the characteristic shape of the jaw and minute holes in the jaw, which experts think were used to detect prey. The fossil has been donated to the IoW dinosaur museum for future display.

The fossilised jawbone of this animal was discovered on Sandown beach, IoW (credit: Portsmouth University)

So, what did this animal look like? These pterosaurs were small to medium sized and lived around 100 million years ago, during the cretaceous period. With more curved wings than other species, they are well known for the large bony crests on their heads. It is very likely that these crests would have been highly colourful in real life, almost twice the size of the skull, and probably used to communicate and attract partners, much like many bird species such as pheasants and birds of paradise. There has been much debate concerning the diet of these animals, but it is thought that they fed on plant material, especially considering that flowering plants were diversifying around the time these creatures appeared.

The crest of Tapejarids was likely very colourful and used in courtship (credit: national geographic society)

The fossil is a key finding for our understanding of these creatures; before the discovery of this specimen, the tapejarids were only known from Brazil, Morocco and China, and this find not only demonstrates a very wide distribution of these pterosaurs, but also showcases the diversity of mesozoic species on the island and surrounding area.

Ben Parker

PhD student at Bournemouth University, Faculty of Science and Technology, Department of Life and Environmental Sciences

Microplastics, particles 1 µm-5 mm, are a relatively recent global stressor instigated by rapid human population growth and a consequent reliance on plastics. Particles originate from cosmetic products and the gradual breakdown of larger plastics and eventually reach water courses through surface runoff, wind dispersal and waste outflows. Microplastics are known to impact a range of aquatic organisms, impairing feeding, physiological and reproductive functions, with potentially detrimental consequences for biodiversity and conservation. Whilst many plastics pass through freshwaters, and then pass on to marine systems, the dynamics and consequences of freshwater microplastic are currently poorly understood. This FSBI funded project will therefore address existing knowledge gaps by quantifying the impacts of microplastics on focal freshwater fish and invertebrate taxa. Using novel field research (year 1) and laboratory experiments (years 2-3), I will investigate the individual and community impacts of microplastics on fish, including their disruptions to host-parasite systems. 

Supervisors: Demetra Andreou, Robert Britton, Iain Green

Research Links: LinkedIn, Twitter

Lucile Crété

PhD student at Bournemouth University, Faculty of Science and Technology, Department of Life and Environmental Sciences

The Omo-Turkana basin (Kenya/ Ethiopia) is a key reference region for human evolutionary studies, and provides a detailed record of vertebrate evolutionary patterns. Several aspects of hominins’ ecology and habitats can be investigated using fossils preserved here, as well as global climate and regional environmental processes that drove our evolution.

My research project aims at reconstructing prevailing vegetation conditions through time in the Omo-Turkana basin between 3.5 and 1.6 million years ago, by examining the dietary evidence of the fossil impala (genus Aepyceros) and springbok (genus Antidorcas), through stable isotopes, mesowear and microwear evidence. Changes in the diets of the studied species are expected to be informative about larger-scale habitat and vegetation changes, due to the high dietary adaptability of these abundant mixed-feeding antelopes. A key part of this project will also be to assess the links between modern antelope diets and vegetation cover of the present landscapes, which will be quantified via remote sensing techniques

Research links: Researchgate, Academia, Linkedin

Supervisors: Sally Reynolds, Ross Hill, Philip Hopley

Lindsay Biermann

PhD student at Bournemouth University, Faculty of Science and Technology, Department of Life and Environmental Sciences

My project is researching human disturbance and its effects on wildlife populations. The majority of my study is concentrated on migratory wintering waterfowl, brent geese (Branta bernicla) ​and wigeon (Anas penelope), on the Exe Estuary in Devon and their responses to various human related activities that take place on the Estuary. The aim is to identify how different types of human disturbance effect these waterfowl and whether human disturbance in general is affecting waterfowl survival. This research is being conducted through the combination of field observations of disturbance events and through the use of individual based modeling. With the combination of these factors the hope is to be able to identify thresholds for human disturbance that waterfowl are capable of experiencing before there is a population level effect. Results from this can then help to inform management as well as provide insight into understanding the effects of human disturbance on other animals. 

Research links: Linkedin

Supervisor: Professor Richard Stillman

Jack Dazley

BSc graduate from Bournemouth University, Faculty of Science and Technology, Department of Life and Environmental Sciences 

Jack Dazley is a former Bournemouth University student that has been involved with the Wessex Portal since February 2017.  Jack has an interest in wildlife writing and contributes regularly to social media posts and blogs

Research Links: LinkedIn, ResearchGate, Twitter

Hunter N. Hines

PhD student at Bournemouth University, Faculty of Science and Technology, Department of Life and Environmental Sciences 

Hunter N. Hines is a Ph.D. student working on microbial ecology, focusing on the biogeography and biodiversity of ciliates, a large and diverse group of single-celled eukaryotic organisms.  He is conducting research into ciliate communities found in the tropical aquatic ecosystems present in Florida, USA, such as freshwater ponds. His research to date has included the identification of several novel flagship species; some being first records out of Africa, and/or first records for the Americas.

The recent discoveries of ‘flagship’ ciliates in new locations and also several species of ciliates which are perhaps new to science are the current focus of his research which will include intensive sampling leading to detailed ecological and morphological investigations, with molecular work also ongoing.

Research links: @microbialecology, Researchgate

Supervisor: Professor Genoveva Esteban