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

‘Signs of hope for the environment’ – Sir David Attenborough

Sir David Attenborough has stated that he is more encouraged about the future health of the Earth. This is due to a “worldwide shift” in attitudes about concern for the natural world and the damage humans are causing.

He states “The effect human beings are having on the natural world is profound. We are having a great damaging effect. Because we are out of touch with the natural world in a way that we weren’t 2oo years ago that means most of us don’t see the effect we are having. What is more, we don’t understand the processes of the natural world, which makes natural history broadcasting of crucial importance to the future of humanity.”

Saving Europe’s Crickets and Grasshoppers From Extinction

A recent assessment of cricket and grasshopper species in Europe has shown that up to 25% are facing extinction. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the group Orthoptera, which includes Grasshoppers, Crickets and Bush Crickets, is the most threatened group assessed so far. An estimated 1000 species of Crickets and Grasshoppers are found in Europe. They play a vital role in grassland ecosystems; many species of birds and reptiles feed on them. The main factor contributing to decline is habitat loss due to wildfires, tourism and intensive farming. Many species are confined to small areas due to the break up of their natural habitats; for example the Crau Plain Grasshopper has been confined to the steppes on Southern France.

So what can be done in order to protect these insects? According to research from the IUCN Global Species Programme, more effort must be put into restoring the habitats of these insects in order to increase population size. This can be achieved using sustainable grassland management by employing traditional agricultural practices. It is imperative that these insects are saved from extinction, not only because they are very important biodiversity indicators, but also they are an integral part of grassland ecosystems.

Image Credit: Axel Hochkirch

Bittern Numbers Booming In The UK

The Common Bittern, Botaurus stellaris, a shy, secretive relative of the heron, was once extinct in the UK, however the bird has made a massive comeback over the years. Bittern numbers are now at their highest recorded numbers in the UK.

The bittern lives mostly in reed beds and is rarely seen due to the superbly camouflaged streaked plumage, which blends perfectly with the environment. However, the male’s booming call can be used to identify the presence of bitterns, and so researchers have been able to count these birds.

This year, the breeding population has been at it’s highest since the 1800s, with 140 singing males seen, compared to 11 in 1997. Somerset has the largest bittern population, with 20 males located at Ham Wall nature reserve,

According to the RSPB, one factor contributing to UK population increase in bitterns is due to restoration of quarries, which has helped bitterns to thrive. The bittern is still on the RSPB’s red list, but the development of these restored quarries is expected to increase the UK’S bittern population in the future.

Image credit: Helen Briggs