Writtle University College and ARU have merged. Writtle’s full range of college, degree, postgraduate and short courses will still be delivered on the Writtle campus. See our guide to finding Writtle information on this site.

Applied Ecology Research Group

woman taking notes sitting on a rock surrounded by the sea

Our Applied Ecology Research Group (AERG) undertakes world class research to understand and provide innovative solutions to a myriad of urgent and complex global issues facing natural ecosystems.

The primary focus of the AERG is to assess, understand and mitigate anthropogenic impacts such as plastic pollution, climate change, invasive species, agriculture and urbanisation, on biodiversity and ecosystem services in terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems.

Our cutting edge research uses a range of modern tools, including ecological network analysis, ecosystem modelling, citizen science, drones, remote sensing and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) along with interdisciplinary techniques, for example, combining the disciplines of biology and ecology with molecular biology, biogeochemistry, microbiology and social science.

Our research is used to engage and educate the general public and to enhance decision-making for natural resource management and sustainable development. We also engage in co-production, conducting research that prioritises the needs of local and indigenous communities.

Some of our research goals align with those of the Behavioural Ecology Research Group and the Global Sustainability Institute (GSI), promoting a good intellectual environment rich with collaborative opportunity. Members of our group include academics, postgraduate researchers and professional staff.

We welcome collaboration and enquiries from potential incoming Marie Sklodowska-Curie fellows under the European Union's new Horizon 2020 programme.

We offer our Biology PhD, and have identified a range of innovative research project opportunities for postgraduate researchers.

Academic staff

Dr Dannielle Green - Director of the AERG

Dr Dannielle Green is an ecologist passionate about understanding how human activities are affecting the natural world and how we can solve these problems. Since joining ARU, her research on plastics and microplastics has been used as evidence to inform national and international policy and she has been an expert advisor for a number of national (DEFRA, APPG events) and international (European Environmental Bureau, United Nations Environment Programme) policy platforms.

Dr Bas Boots

Dr Bas Boots is trained as a soil microbial ecologist interested in bio(geo)chemistry, biodiversity, effects of emerging pollutants on ecosystem functioning (both terrestrial and aquatic) and animal-microbe interactions.

Dr Peter Brown

Dr Peter Brown is an ecologist and entomologist whose research focuses on three main areas: insects (especially ladybirds), non-native species and citizen science. The three themes come together when studying the spread and effects of the harlequin ladybird Harmonia axyridis, an invasive non-native species in Europe. Peter jointly leads the UK Ladybird Survey.

Dr Helen Wheeler

Dr Helen Wheeler's research integrates three key themes: understanding the ecology of wildlife change, just and effective monitoring and synthesis, and human dimensions of wildlife change. She addresses these themes in primarily arctic, northern, mountain and semi-wilderness environments.

Helen has both ecological research projects and those that integrate social and ecological sciences, aimed at promoting ecosystem stewardship. Selected projects include Tsee (beaver in the language of the Gwich’in first nation) community-based monitoring in the Canadian Arctic, social and ecological impacts of restoration of ecosystem processes using wildlife and the use of Indigenous knowledge in research and decision-making

Dr Patricia Celis

Dr Patricia Celis's research interests revolve around the application of molecular tools for answering, behavioural, ecological and evolutionary questions. This includes, for example, the use of molecular tools to study breeding behaviours (for example, investigating breeding tactics: monogamy, polyandry, polygyny, parasitism, etc) and to determine the evolutionary history of hybridising species (population genetics).

Dr Alvin Helden

Dr Alvin Helden is an ecological entomologist, who is particularly interested in how human activity impacts invertebrate biodiversity. His interests encompass urban areas, agricultural systems and restored landscapes.

Dr Thomas Ings

Dr Thomas Ings is an ecologist/behavioural ecologist whose research interests include invertebrate community ecology, conservation, pollinator behaviour, and insect learning. One of his key aim is to develop an understanding of how community structure is influenced by individual traits, including behaviour.

Dr Philip Pugh

Dr Philip Pugh's Antarctic research initially focused on shoreline biology, particularly the ecology and taxonomy of shoreline mites, ecology of shoreline algae (seaweeds) and the impact of iceberg damage on shoreline ecology. Much of the material he collected at South Georgia proved challenging to identify and this prompted new work on technical developments in scanning-electron/scanning-ion microscopy as well as the broader biodiversity and origin of Antarctic and sub-Antarctic non-marine fauna.

Dr Sarah Hart

Dr Sarah Hart's PhD research, while studying at Imperial College, London, was in forest entomology and, in particular, xylophagous beetles and parasitoid wasps, with emphasis on insect behaviour and chemical ecology.

Canon Nigel Cooper

Canon Nigel Cooper's research is in the area of the philosophy of nature conservation and environmentalism. His current focus is on the valuation of ecosystem services.

Read more about academic staff.

Research assistants

Brigitta Kovacs

Brigitta Kovacs is a research assistant working with Dannielle and Bas conducting experiments to understand the impacts of conventional single-use plastics versus alternatives (including biodegradable plastics) as litter in the environment. Brigitta recently graduated from Anglia Ruskin University with a degree in Marine Biology with Biodiversity and Conservation.

Dr Katarzyna Mikolajczak

Kasia is working with Helen to understand stakeholder perspectives in light of rewilding in the UK.

PhD students

  • Stephanie Akarator (supervisors: Bas Boots, Dannielle Green, Thomas Ings)
  • Jennifer Ramsay (supervisors: Helen Wheeler, Thomas Ings)

Dr Helen Wheeler leads major study to examine beavers' Arctic impact

In May 2022, Dr Helen Wheeler has received £553K of funding to lead an important three year research project in Canada. This is a major new study to investigate the impact of beavers on local ecosystems as they spread northwards into the Arctic. The funding, received from UK Research and Innovation, will allow Helen and her team to work closely with the Inuvialuit Fisheries Joint Management Committee and members of the Inuvialuit community to address an important environmental change that is causing a great deal of concern in the area.

Dr Dannielle Green urges radical change to help tackle plastic pollution

Dr Dannielle Green is part of an international group of experts calling for the production of new plastics to be capped to help solve the problem of plastic pollution. Two months after the United Nations’ historic decision to adopt a global treaty to end plastic pollution, governmental negotiations on the agreement are set to begin on 30 May 2022. These will foster intense debates on what kind of measures will be needed to end the pollution of the air, soils, rivers and oceans with plastic debris and microplastics. In a letter to the journal Science, a group of scientists and experts, including Dr Dannielle Green, argue for tackling the issue at the source, by regulating, capping, and over the long term phasing out the production of new plastics.

Dr Alvin Helden discovers 'incredibly rare' insect

In January 2022, Dr Alvin Helden discovered a new species that belongs to a group of insects so rare that its closest relative was last seen in 1969. Dr Alvin Helden found the new species of leafhopper, which he has named Phlogis kibalensis, during field work with students in the rainforest of the Kibale National Park in western Uganda, and the discovery has been announced in the journal Zootaxa.

Dr Dannielle Green attends UNEP

In February 2020, Dr Dannielle Green attended the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) meeting in Nairobi where she helped to coordinate a number of workshops on understanding the biological and ecological impacts of marine litter and microplastics. She is a lead author on the upcoming UNEP assessment of marine litter and microplastics expected to be released in 2021.

AERG co-hosts symposium

In January 2020 the Applied Ecology Research Group co-hosted a symposium with the Cambridge Conservation Forum which facilitated Masters research projects that tackle applied ecological challenges that are faced by local and international conservation organisations, such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).