UCL Division of Biosciences

Dr David Murrell

Dr David Murrell

Senior Lecturer

Genetics, Evolution & Environment

Div of Biosciences

Joined UCL
1st Nov 2008

Research summary

Research group activity concentrates on understanding the key biological processes that maintain biodiversity. In other words, what acts as the glue to hold ecosystems together? We are also interested in the factors that determine species abundance in space and time. There is a particular emphasis on diverse plant communities such as tropical forests, but we also study bacteria, protist and vertebrate communities. Key question answered include:

1. When can we infer biological processes from spatial and/or temporal snapshots of ecological communities? Long ecological time series are rare, except for a relatively few flagship species, and are even rarer for ecological assemblages (communities, food webs). For many years ecologists have taken spatial and/or temporal snapshots of the state of various ecosystems to try and infer the biological processes that regulate their dynamics. Key questions remain. For example, what are the spatial/temporal scales that allow a reliable inference of the key processes operating? What are the 'best' patterns to use to discriminate between competing hypotheses? Example projects include the development of spatial statistics and model fitting methods to apply to data from tropical rain forests where >200,000 individual trees may be mapped.

2. Population and community dynamics of threatened species and groups. We know there are many species currently at risk of extinction, and we have limited resources to monitor them and prevent their extinction. Recent/current examples include (i) understanding the importance of supplementary feeding and how feeding needs change over a season using the example of the (very) charismatic, and (very) rare Mauritius olive white eye; (ii) developing methods to understand and predict how much sampling is required to infer an accurate picture of ecological trends (ie changes population abundances) for large taxonomic groups (eg terrestrial vertebrates).

3. What are the effects of human disturbance on ecological communities? The human species is highly invasive and an excellent ecosystem engineer, but how is it affecting the other 50million+ species on planet earth, and more importantly how it is affecting the key ecosystem services on which it depends? We address these questions largely using field data on species presence/absence and abundance as well as taking into consideration functional diversity (ie what the species 'do') and phylogenetic diversity (evolutionary uniqueness). Recent and current examples include (i) developing theory on how multiple ecosystem stressors are expected to interact in freshwater systems; (ii) investigating the role of disturbance on cichlid communities in Lake Tanganyika; (iii) are taxonomic groups such as lichen good indicators of environmental pollution (run in part via undergraduate projects).

Applications to join the research team: We are always keen to hear from individuals who are interesting in helping us answer these questions (and more besides). Those interested should have excellent skills in at least one of the following: field skills and data collection; mathematical modelling; statistical modelling; computer programming.

Teaching summary

I have the following teaching responsibilities:

  • Coordinator of the Biosciences undergraduate course BIOL2012, Fundamentals in Ecology. (https://www.ucl.ac.uk/prospective-students/study-abroad-ucl/study-abroad-guide/modules/biol2012)

  • Co-director of the MRes CoMPLEX (http://www.ucl.ac.uk/complex/current-students/mres)
  • Chair of the Plant and Animal Teaching Focus Group
  • Undergraduate tutor for the Biodiversity and Conservation degree stream (http://www.ucl.ac.uk/prospective-students/undergraduate/degrees/biological-sciences-bsc/)


1992-1995 BSc Biology, University of Wales, Bangor.
1995-1996 MSc Biological Computation, University of York.
1997 Teaching Assistant, University of York.
1998-2001 DPhil Theoretical Ecology, University of York.
2001-2006 Postdoctoral Research Associate, NERC Centre for Population Biology, Imperial College London.
2006-2009 NERC Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Sheffield.
2008-2014 Lecturer in Ecology, Unviversity College London.

2014- Senior lecturer in Ecology, University College London