School of Biological and Chemical Sciences

Meet the PhD Student – David Hemprich-Bennett

David Hemprich-Bennett started his PhD in the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) in 2014 after working a summer at Bristol University on their Bats in Churches project. We spoke to David to learn more about his PhD experience at the University.

12 September 2018

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David Hemprich-Bennett, PhD student

Why did you choose to do your PhD at QMUL?

I’ve done some broad research in ecology, conservation and genetics and QMUL was the perfect combination of things I had done in the past – my work on bats, tropical biology and DNA barcoding. I saw the project advertised online by my supervisors Dr Elizabeth Clare and Steve Rossiter and it felt like a great fit.

What has your PhD experience been like?

It’s been really good but also quite intense in terms of workload. I’ve been here for about four years including a year working in South East Asia, which was really cool. It’s been a fantastic learning experience. I didn’t really know how to do any technical work with computers such as programming but now I’m quite adept at that so I’ve had an opportunity to really expand my skills in this area. Spending a year in the jungle too was quite full on with so much vibrancy and life all around you. It was very hot and there was some physical labour involved but you’re a biologist living in a place full of amazing wildlife so it was like I was living my dream.

Tell us a bit more about your research on bats

A lot of people’s perception of tropical deforestation and conservation issues is around areas of forest being chopped down completely and converted into different land use types. However, more common than this is selective logging, forests are selectively logged at 20 times the rate that they are actually converted. Not a lot is known about these selectively logged areas and whether they are still of value for conservation. I’ve been working in both selectively logged forests and untouched primary rainforests and comparing the ecology of bats in those different places.

I catch bats, collect their guano (bat poo) and bring it back to the UK where I do some DNA analyses on it. From this, I am able to generate large food webs of different bats, what they feed on and then compare how the structure of those networks differ between primary and logged rainforests to see how their feeding ecology is changing.

In general, it seems that there is less prey available to bats in the logged areas although this varies depending on the bat species. Some species experience little effects but they are the species that are most adaptable and do best in the logged areas. The other species that are less adaptable seem to be consuming less diversity of prey, which could potentially affect their viability in the future. 

What are your plans for the future?

I’ll be going out to Ghana to do some fieldwork in the autumn for my work at University of Oxford as a postdoctoral researcher. They are setting up a project with the Target Malaria consortium. There are plans in the next decade to do a gene drive to control pest species such as mosquitos. The aim of the consortium would be to potentially eradicate malarial mosquitos, which could effectively eradicate malaria. However, we also need to understand the possible ecological effects of doing this so we’ll be catching lots of mosquitos, their predators, and other insects in the area to develop food webs and predict what will happen if the malarial mosquito species was removed from the system.

What have you enjoyed most about your time at QMUL?

It’s been a great environment, which has exposed me to ideas I hadn’t thought about previously. I love that it’s one of the most diverse universities in the country and it’s been nice living and studying in London. There’s a thriving community of researchers here and there is a lot of collaboration between universities, which provides a lot of opportunities.

Check out some of the amazing photos of bats David has uploaded onto his Flickr page.

Interested in PhD opportunities at Queen Mary? View our current list of PhD projects here.

We also have funded PhD studentships available here.