Earth and Environment Group photo

Before the start of the new academic term, the Earth and Environment team has a lovely get together, discussing the exciting plans for the year ahead.

left to right..

Dr Gillian Taylor (group lead), Dr Ernesto Saiz val, Dr Craig McBeth, Dr Haliza Hassan, Amy Burgess, Dr Rhys Williams, Dr Becki Scott, Dr Lisa Baldini, Dr Pablo Cubillas Gonzalez, Dr Ambroise Baker, Dr Caroline Orr, Dr Desire Dalton, Alison Reid, Dr Kerry Pettigrew, Dr Chris Ennis, Dr David Wright.


Guest talk at Sanger institute by Dr Jamie Bojko

Dr Jamie Bojko recently presented at the Sanger Institute (Cambridge) in their ‘Tree of Life’ series. His presentation included our current perspective on microsporidian taxonomy and how high-quality genomes and a greater understanding of microsporidian biology will help us to create a more accurate phylogeny for this strange group of obligate parasites.

Partnership update: East Durham College

An increasing global population and an increasing demand for animal protein has increased the pressure on commercial farming systems. Efficiency is therefore critical, ensuring appropriate growth, balanced with maintaining high standards of welfare. Animal feed represents a significant outgoing for farmers and many commercially purchased feeds also come at significant environmental cost. Growing crops at distance to the farm increases the carbon footprint and the use of imported soya is problematic. Adapting ways of working is crucial, ensuring a balance between optimum growth rates of livestock, ensuring the health and welfare of the animals is maintained, whilst sourcing feed sustainably and locally, potentially complementing farming practices such as crop rotation. For farmers to have confidence in changing feeding regimes, evidence is required demonstrating that pigs will consume locally grown food and reach weight targets in a timely manner. Furthermore, such a change in diet for the animals should be confirmed to result in no negative impact on consumer experience. 

Together with our industrial partner at East Durham College, we are undertaking a project which aims to showcase the potential benefits of producing animal feed on the same site as the animals are reared.

Any questions to Dr Amy Miller

Contact details and further information here:

New paper alert: Invasive species – Dr Jamie Bojko

Human travel and transport has resulted in the introduction of several ‘invasive’ species to new global locations. In one instance, trade routes across Europe have moved freshwater crustaceans from the Ponto-Caspian region (Ukraine/western Russia/etc.) to lakes and rivers across Poland, Germany, France and more. The “tank shrimp” Pontogammarus robustoides, is one such invasive species – it has significant impacts on the ecosystems that it invades. In this case, we conducted a parasitological screening study to look for diseases that this amphipod might carry. We found a huge range of new parasites, from viruses and bacteria to large worms and other parasites. Now that we know of these parasites, we can consider their potential risk to new ecosystems if this species makes it way to other sites, potentially including the invasion of the UK, following in the footsteps of the killer and demon shrimp.

Click here for link to read more:

Histopathological screening of Pontogammarus robustoides (Amphipoda), an invader on route to the United Kingdom – ScienceDirect

Pangolin: the most trafficked mammal in the world

One of nature’s most intriguing species is the pangolin. It is the size of a small dog, covered in scales with a tail like a dinosaur, powerful claws, a long snout, no teeth and a very long serpentine tongue. Pangolins eat ants, termites, and larvae that they pick up using their sticky tongues. To protect themselves from predators, they will curl into a tight ball and will use their sharp-scaled tails to defend themselves. Worldwide, there are eight species, four in Africa and four in Asia with some species living on the ground and others occurring in trees. Sadly, they are regarded as the most trafficked wild mammals in the world, as they are considered culturally significant in Africa and Asia due to their unique appearance and habits. In 2017, a ban on international commercial trade of all eight species took effect. However, despite this, nearly 70 countries and territories have been involved in the illegal pangolin trade in the last decade. A recent news article details how an undercover sting outwitted pangolin traffickers (

To learn more about these fascinating creatures check out some books that Dr Desiré Dalton (Lecturer, Teesside University) has contributed to ( and or have a look at her research ( and

New Publication: Assessment of genetic and morphological differentiation among populations of the Diederik Cuckoo Chrysococcyx caprius – Dr Desire Dalton

Migration strategies within the tropics are poorly understood as are the drivers of movement and the degree of connectivity between sites in migrant birds that have their global range and life cycle exclusively on a single continent (intra-continental migrants). Dr Desiré Lee Dalton (Lecturer, Teesside University), Dr Jamie Bojko (Senior Lecturer, Teesside University) and collaborators have conducted a study on Diederik Cuckoo, an African bird species that is widely distributed south of the Sahara which migrates seasonally between breeding and nonbreeding sites. The aim of the study was to determine if the species is a single panmictic population or if it is genetically structured. Assessment of five morphometric measures did not identify differences between locality or sex. We additionally identified a lack of phylogeographic structure between populations from the northern and southern ends of the distribution which may be attributed to high levels of contemporary gene flow. However, we detected two genetic lineages that occurred in sympatry at a single location in South Africa (Limpopo). The sympatric lineages in the Diederik Cuckoo could be linked to maternal divergence in host selection of these brood parasites — a hypothesis requiring additional data to be tested.

Access the publication through the publisher’s website with this link (

New Publication: Biological clocks as age estimation markers in animals: a systematic review and meta-analysis – Dr Desire Dalton

How do you determine how old an animal is? One way is to look at the teeth (tooth layer annulation and otolith layering). However, these methods are invasive and can generally only be used post-mortem, especially in wild animals as an age-at-death estimation. Two DNA based methods have been suggested as appropriate to determine age. Telomeres occur at the ends of chromosomal DNA and shorten as an animal ages. Aging is also correlated with changes in DNA methylation where a small molecule called a methyl group are added to the DNA. Louis-Stéphane IV Le Clercq a PhD student of Dr Desiré Lee Dalton (Lecturer in Forensic Science, Teesside University) has conducted a meta-analysis study that included 40 species and 60 age-estimation models. The study indicated that both methods can be used in studying age in animals and do not suffer significantly from variation due to differences in the lifespan of the species, genome size, karyotype, or tissue type but rather that quantitative method, patterns of inheritance, and environmental factors should be the main considerations. However, methylation may be superior to telomere length in terms of accuracy and cross-taxa portability; however, costs may be higher depending on the technique use to study methylation.

An animal cell indicating the mechanisms of cellular ageing at the molecular level that are currently used as molecular biomarkers for age.

Access the publication through the publisher’s website with this link (DOI:

Florida comes to Vindolanda

One of the highlights of research is being able to share your enthusiasm with visitors, and this week Dr Jamie Bojko and Dr Gillian Taylor hosted a group of students from University of Florida at Vindolanda and Magna.

The students were from diverse subject areas, but were fascinated by the talk from CEO Vindolanda Excavations – Dr Andrew Birley showing wooden structure from the earliest roman fort and (after a small hill and hot walk!) the stunning views that Hadrians Wall has to offer. The weather was hot but apparently cool in comparison to florida! The group from Behringer lab were travelling around the UK, as part of the studies, seeing amazing locations and experiencing a wide range of activities, such as snorkelling, rock climbing, hiking stunning coastlines.

The pictures are taken from some of the activities on the wall and UK.. simply stunning..

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