My first studies in biology included bird-ringing and collecting insects in the UK and China. I completed my BSc at Bangor University in Wales, followed by MSc from Shinshu University in Japan where I looked among the beetles for environmental indicators of habitat disturbance. I also studied the local hornets which led onto my PhD where I developed my interests in social insects, which was furthered when I returned to Japan to conduct research into the population dynamics of hornets on a small sub-tropical island. On returning to the UK I worked for the National Bee Unit for seven years researching the pests and pathogens of honeybees, where a became internationally known for my work in the parasitic Varroa mite. I then returned to University and spent 12 years at Sheffield elucidation chemical recognition systems in social insects and continuing my work into honeybee pathogens mainly in Hawaii. In 2012 I moved over to the University of Salford in order to continue my research and help educate the next generation of scientists.
My teaching is in the area of zoology and animal behaviour. It is closely linked to and driven by my research. I see teaching is a two way process allowing for transfer of knowledge and expertise to the next generation from which the birth of new ideas and continually questioning current ideas is generated. I am very active during Science week talking to school children about bugs and work closely with beekeepers and other stakeholders in industry.
Invertebrates among most diverse and important group of animals. I have always had a deep interest in this group and their ecological importance in ecosystems. Of these, the social insects (bees, wasps, ants and termites) are the most biologically important due to numerical dominance. My research focuses on various aspects of their biology since social insects provide excellent model systems with which to test a wide range of behaviours from conflict to cooperation.
Currently there is a worldwide decline in pollinating insects and I am looking at the molecular changes associated with increased virulence of an emerging viral pathogen using the honeybee, Varroa mite and deformed wing virus as a model system. Recently we have shown in Hawaii that the new viral transmission route caused by the parasitic Varroa mite has selected for a viral strain that has led to the global death of millions of honeybee colonies. The impact of this study has helped stakeholders understand the problem and has influenced policy at the European Parliament.
I am also investigating the underlying mechanisms of phenotypic plasticity in chemical recognition systems in ants, using Formcia ants as the model system. Understanding how phenotypic variation is generated and then maintained is one of the major challenges currently facing biologists. We have developed over the past 8 yrs a detailed understanding of the chemical recognition system in the ant Formcia exsecta and are currently working out the molecular mechanisms that generate phenotypic variation using the latest ideas and tools in molecular biology.