Ken is fascinated by the interactions between parasites and their hosts, be they insects, birds, mammals or humans. He is particularly interested in how hosts and parasites evolve strategies to out-compete each other, and the impact of the environment on the ecology of the host-parasite interaction.
He has spent much of the last 20 years working in Africa, studying aspects of insect crop pest control and especially the use of parasites, such as baculoviruses, as biological pest control agents.
Ken has published over 100 papers and book chapters (see link above), including papers in leading journals such as Nature and Science.
His most recent work is trying to understand the role of nutrition in determining who ‘wins’ when parasites infect hosts, using insects and their bacteria or viruses as model systems. This work was highlighted as part of the BBSRC’s 20th anniversary celebrations. He is also trying to develop the theory underpinning these interactions and exploring the influence that the gut ‘microbiome’ has on them – for a recent review, click here.
Ken’s work is also seeking to apply this work to problems of applied relevance, especially the biological control of insect crop pests in Africa. In particular, he is working with collaborators in the UK and Tanzania to use a natural and safe baculovirus for the biocontrol of the African armyworm, a major caterpillar pest of staple cereal crops in Africa.
Ken has received funding for his work from:
the Natural Environmental Research Council (NERC),
the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
the Department for International Development (DFID)
the Royal Society (RS)
Ken’s current research projects include:
A BBSRC-funded project exploring the role of nutrition in determining the outcome of bacterial infections in insects
A BBSRC-funded China Partnering Award exploring ‘agri-bioscience for sustainable food security’
An ARC Discovery Project integrating aspects of nutrition, parasitism and gut microbiome on immunity in Drosophila flies in collaboration with Prof Steve Simpson and Dr Fleur Ponton at the University of Sydney, Australia.
He is a member of the Ecology and Conservation research group.
His PhD students study a diverse range of topics that broadly fall under the themes of host-pathogen interactions and/or agro-ecology. Current projects include: the interactions between parasitism and migration in insect crop pests; the importance of micronutrients to crop pest resistance to biopesticides; effects of a novel nematocide on plant growth and non-target organisms; the nutritional, floral and microbial composition of bee bread in honey bee hives; beekeepers and beekeeping; the microbial community of blue tits.
Ken is currently:
Executive Editor of the British Ecological Society’s Journal of Animal Ecology
Core panel member for NERC
Member of the Society of Biology’s Research Dissemination Committee
Chair of the British Ecological Society’s Parasites & Pathogens: Ecology & Evolution Special Interest Group Funding Advisory Board
Ken’s teaching includes:
Lecturing population biology to undergraduate students as part of the LEC BSc degree schemes in Biology and Ecology
Lecturing to Master’s level students studying Wildlife Population Ecology on LEC’s MSc in Ecology and Conservation
Contributing to a Massive Open Online course in Food Security
Fellow of the Society of Biology; Fellow of the Royal Entomological Society