Welcome to Nicky Stanek

Sunday, October 15th, 2017. Posted by Owen Lewis.

Nicky is a new DPhil student co-supervised by Owen Lewis. She’ll be using Positive Deviance as a tool to understand why some farms have much higher biodiversity than others. You can find out more on her ‘People’ page.

Predicting the effects of habitat modification on networks of interacting species

Tuesday, October 10th, 2017. Posted by Owen Lewis.

When humans modify natural ecosystems, how do interactions among species change? New research from our group has found that mathematical models can predict complex changes in insect behaviour using simple descriptions of their feeding preferences.

The research, published in the journal Nature Communications, was able to predict parasitism rates after deforestation without the need for extensive field data.

“Collecting field data is necessary but expensive, so it’s great to show we can use mathematical models to help focus efforts and make data collection more efficient,” commented Dr Phillip Staniczenko, lead author and research fellow at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Centre at the University of Maryland, USA.

“Faced with all the complicated relationships among species, and between species and the environment, it’s amazing we can identify simple patterns that, although not perfect, describe how humans might be affecting parasitism in the same way at different places all over the world.”

The international team of researchers set out to see if recorded changes in interactions between parasitic insects and their hosts shared similarities between data sets from different countries. They used data from field sites located in a diverse range of ecosystems in Ecuador, Indonesia, and Switzerland.

The team found that when interaction preferences changed, they did so in the same way in each country. This meant they could design models that captured systematic shifts in interaction preferences to make predictions at new locations, without needing to collect lots of new interaction data.

Co-author Professor Owen Lewis, of Oxford’s Department of Zoology, added, “It would be very difficult and time consuming to study the feeding behaviour of all these species in the field – particularly in high diversity ecosystems like tropical rainforests. Fortunately, it turns out that using interaction preferences might allow us to skip that step.”

Whilst this study focused on deforestation, this new mathematical approach will be valuable for understanding the consequences of many types of human-driven environmental change.

You can read the full paper for free on the Nature Communications web site, or take a look at the press release.


The image depicts a trap nest containing a mason wasp (Antherhynchium flavomarginatum) pupa, left; and a mason wasp larva, right, that has been parasitized by the larva of the wasp parasitoid Lycogaster violaceipennis.
Credit: Felix Fornoff, University of Freiburg

Welcome to new DPhil student Mark Wong who joins the research group this week

Friday, October 6th, 2017. Posted by Owen Lewis.

Welcome to new DPhil student Mark Wong who joins the research group this week. Mark is an ant expert from Singapore. You can find out more on his ‘People’ page.

Visiting para-ecologists from Papua New Guinea

Monday, September 18th, 2017. Posted by Becky Morris.

We were pleased to welcome para-ecologists Nancy Lebun and Gibson Maiya from the New Guinea Binatang Research Center to Oxford last week to talk about our research. Thanks to all who helped host them.

Welcome to Mirjam Hazenbosch!

Wednesday, September 13th, 2017. Posted by Becky Morris.

Mirjam has joined our group as a DPhil student to work on sustainable agriculture in Papua New Guinea. Mirjam is also working with EJ Milner Gulland in ICCS and Emilie Beauchamp in IIED.

Dr Chris Jeffs on Gardener’s World

Tuesday, June 27th, 2017. Posted by Owen Lewis.

Check out CERO’s own Chris Jeffs discussing parasitoids on the latest episode of BBC2’s Gardener’s World;

Major new grant to predict the food web consequences of eradicating the mosquitos that transmit malaria

Monday, June 26th, 2017. Posted by Owen Lewis.

The Open Philanthropy Project recently announced the award of a $17M grant to the Target Malaria consortium to assist it develop and prepare for the potential deployment of gene drive technologies in mosquitoes to help eliminate malaria in Sub-Saharan Africa.

About $3M of the Open Philanthropy award has been allocated to understanding the community-ecology consequences of reducing in density, or eliminating, the particular mosquito species that transmit malaria to humans. Fieldwork in Ghana will seek to understand the ecology of these mosquitoes and use modern molecular techniques (such as DNA “barcoding” and metagenomics) to analyse their position in local ecological food webs.

This part of the four-year award will be led by Professor Charles Godfray assisted by Dr Fred Aboagye-Antwi (Accra), CERO’s Professor Owen Lewis (Oxford) and Professor Frédéric Tripet (Keele).

Read more:

Open Philanthropy ( and their announcement of this award (…).

The Target Malaria project ( and Imperial College’s announcement of the award (…).

DPhil opportunity: Using Positive Deviance to identify and understand UK farmland biodiversity successes

Tuesday, June 13th, 2017. Posted by Owen Lewis.


Lindsay Turnbull (Plant Sciences, University of Oxford); EJ Milner-Gulland (Interdisciplinary Centre for Conservation Science, Zoology Department, University of Oxford); Barbara Smith (Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience, Coventry University); Alfred Gathorne-Hardy (Oxford India Centre for Sustainable Development, Somerville College, University of Oxford) and Owen Lewis (Community Ecology Research Group, Zoology Department, University of Oxford)

Project description:

Present efforts to reduce the rate of loss of UK farmland biodiversity are by and large failing. A new approach is needed. This interdisciplinary PhD uses Positive Deviance (PD) to identify the social and environmental factors associated with higher levels of farmland biodiversity than would be expected, based on the characteristics of the farm (e.g. which part of the country it is in, or whether the farmer is a member of a higher level stewardship scheme). Through understanding why some farms seem to exceed expectations, you will identify 1) the land management strategies implemented by PD farmers and 2) the social and behavioural factors that underlie these strategies. A country-wide assessment of PD in existing large-scale datasets will lead to a more detailed analysis of PD within a region based on existing data and field assessments, and then to a more qualitative understanding of the factors underlying PD in individual cases. This hierarchical approach will give a nuanced understanding of the factors underpinning PD at a range of scales.
The PD approach has not been previously used in ecology, and is just starting to be applied in conservation (e.g. Cinner et al, 2016 Nature). Hence this is an exciting early application of a methodology that takes a positive approach to understanding and scaling up conservation success.

This project will give the student skills which are highly applicable to a wide range of interdisciplinary questions in conservation (including ecological and social fieldwork, statistical modelling, GIS and analysis of big datasets) and will produce a novel and high profile study with relevance to policymakers in the UK and worldwide.

Student profile:

We are seeking a student with a strong background in ecology, conservation science or related disciplines, i.e. a student with a good undergraduate degree and preferably a good Master’s degree. The project would particularly suit someone who has experience of ecological and/or social fieldwork, a keen interest in natural history, and who wants to apply their knowledge to real-world situations. Strong statistical skills are also desirable. You will work closely with farmers and conservation groups, and engage with landowners and regulatory bodies, so good communication skills are essential. Experience with outreach or conservation practice would be helpful. The student must be ready to start in October 2017.


More information and how to apply

Fake caterpillar study reveals global pattern in predation

Thursday, May 18th, 2017. Posted by Owen Lewis.

A study led by Eleanor Slade has investigated whether higher diversity in the tropics translates into differences in interaction rates among species. A large team of collaborators deployed dummy caterpillars, made from plasticine modelling clay, across six continents. We found that predator attack rates were higher toward the equator, but only for arthropod predators. Read the full article in Science or Oxford University’s press release.

The joys of fieldwork

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017. Posted by Owen Lewis.

Chris Jeffs and Joel Brown have been busy setting up our rainforest insect foodweb experiment in Australia. Our main study organisms are tiny Drosophila flies and the even smaller parasitoid wasps that attack them, but fieldwork often leads to wonderful encounters with some larger insects. Here, Chris is enchanted by a passing Cairns Birdwing, Ornithoptera euphorion, one of the world’s largest butterflies. Photo (c) Joel Brown, 2017.