UCL Faculty of Life Sciences


Meet the Expert: Jim Labisko

23 April 2024

Dr Jim Labisko specialises in biodiversity, focusing on adaptation, speciation, and responses to environmental change. His research aims to understand the evolutionary dynamics of these ecosystems. We met up with him recently to talk about his research. Here's what he told us.

Jim standing
What attracted you to the area of Ecology and Data Science?

Answer: As a conservation scientist and ecologist by training, I was already working in that field, but since 2017 have incorporated some of the latest technology for my research. I’m especially interested in adaptation, speciation, and responses to environmental change in insular taxa, and I work extensively on one of the world’s least known but highly evolutionarily significant frog families, the Sooglossidae. A big part of this work incorporates long-term bioacoustic monitoring to detect behaviour and responses to environmental conditions. 

What area of your work most excites you and why? 

Answer: I get excited by all of it, even the rubbish bits like the hours spent uploading data to store on servers. That said, there will never be a substitution for fieldwork, and I very much look forward to each time I get to do it. I also really enjoy meeting and talking to people about frogs!

What is the driving force behind your passion? 

Answer: I think it’s the opportunity to contribute to knowledge, and hopefully a little bit of change—if everyone does a little, then a whole lot can happen.

What do you most look forward to as a new term starts and you begin teaching your students?

Answer: I always look forward to meeting new and different people, finding out what they’re interested in, and telling them that they are wrong and frogs are the best (unless they’re already interested in frogs).

What's your next big challenge in terms of your research? 

Answer: Funding!

What motivates you at the start of each day? 

Answer: Generally, coffee. And frogs. Seriously though, it’s knowing that I am able to contribute in some way, and that I get to work with a fantastic bunch of people. My job is great!

As both a researcher and a lecturer, how do you balance the demands of conducting high-quality research while also providing a meaningful educational experience for your students?

Answer: Research-led teaching is both a fundamental approach to education for UCL, and a crucially important aspect of theoretical and applied learning in how I like to teach. Pretty much all themes of my research are either woven within my teaching, or form the primary component of research projects that I make available for collaborative work with students… usually both!

Can you discuss any collaborations or partnerships you've formed with other researchers or institutions to advance your work?

Answer: This would be a long list, but I’ll keep it brief! My main collaborators are colleagues at the Natural History Museum, Seychelles Islands Foundation, Island Conservation Society, Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology, UCL’s Grant Museum of Zoology, University of Newcastle, Institute of Zoology. The focus of my collaborations stretches from specimen work for morphological systematics and taxonomy, to genomic analyses, field data-collection, conservation action plans, policy, and legislation.

How do you stay updated with the latest developments and advancements in your field, and how do these inform your own research?

Answer: This is always tricky as there is so much great science being published all the time, and this is always increasing. The benefit of being an active resesarcher though, means that you are regularly writing, reviewing, or sourcing new material for your own work, so this in and of itself, helps to keep me up-to-date. In addition, individual and group research meetings usually produce at least one new paper that I’ve not heard about but someone else has, and our department also has a weekly journal club.


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