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International Day for Biological Diversity: How Queen Mary research is helping to conserve species worldwide

Biodiversity is used to describe the wide variety of plants, animals and microorganisms found in the world, and the interactions between them.

22 May 2020


The earth’s biodiversity is important for human health, but sadly it is now under threat due to activities such as agriculture, pollution and climate change. 

On the International Day for Biological Diversity, we’re taking a look at how our scientists are helping to conserve biodiversity all over the world.  

Finding resistance genes in ash trees

Ash dieback is a deadly fungal disease, which has spread throughout Europe’s ash populations. It’s a major threat to the UK landscape, and it is predicted it will kill over half of ash trees across the UK. As ash trees are home to almost 1,000 other species including birds, insects, mosses, fungi and lichen, the ash dieback epidemic also puts many other species at risk.  

Last year, research from Queen Mary scientists Professor Richard Buggs and Professor Richard Nichols identified the genetic basis of resistance to ash dieback in UK trees, opening up new avenues for ash tree conservation. It’s hoped their findings could be used to restore diseased woodlands and in turn, help protect other species that depend on ash trees for their survival.

Using virtual reality for sea turtle conservation

Subtropical marine areas represent biodiversity hotspots, but they are currently under pressure from human impact. One of the biggest threats is the global decline of large marine vertebrates such as sea turtles, which are key for maintaining the structure and function of these habitats.  

Dr Christophe Eizaguirre and his research group support sea turtle conservation in Cabo Verde by collaborating with local organisations such as Project Biodiversity, and providing them with the tools and knowledge they need to help build a sustainable future for both sea turtles and local communities.  

In 2018, the researchers worked with Guillaume Couche from design agency and consultancy Wolf in Motion to develop Atlantis, a novel tool based on virtual reality that allows us to visualise the real movements and behaviours of a Loggerhead turtle.  In Cabo Verde, Atlantis is being used in three different islands to engage the public in turtle conservation and encourage them to protect turtles and their habitats.  

Tackling plastic pollution

Queen Mary researcher Dr J Iwan Jones is leading a €14m European project to understand and reduce the impacts of plastic pollution in the marine environment.   

Working in partnership with 18 organisations from across France and England, Preventing Plastic Pollution will identify and target hotspots for plastic, embed behaviour change in local communities and businesses, and implement effective solutions and alternatives to reduce plastic pollution and protect marine biodiversity and ecosystems. 

Improved regulation of pesticides

The loss of the world’s insect populations is a major concern for conservationists, and intensive agriculture methods, such as the heavy use of pesticides, have been suggested as a major cause for these declines.  

In an article published earlier this year in the journal Trends in Ecology and EvolutionQueen Mary researchers proposed that sequencing techniques, routinely used to assess the risks of new drugs, could be used to evaluate pesticides and improve the sustainability of current agricultural practices. Dr Yannick Wurm’s laboratory are now performing experiments to understand the genes and molecules involved in pesticide responses, how these vary between pollinator species, and how their efficacy differs between pesticides to bring this idea closer to application and help protect pollinator populations.