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R Senior

We are delighted to announce that Dr Rebecca Senior from our Department of Biosciences has been awarded the Founders' Prize by the British Ecological Society.

The Prize commemorates the enthusiasm and vision of Dr Senior’s research and recognises the significant contribution of her work to the science of ecology.

Pioneering research

The Founders' prize distinguishes Dr Senior’s instrumental work in developing the novel research area of microclimate ecology.

Microclimate is the climate at a fine spatiotemporal scale (centimetres to metres and seconds to minutes), which typically deviates from the average, ‘ambient’ conditions that cover a larger scale, like a weather forecast.

Much of our understanding of species’ climate preferences is based on these ambient conditions, as measured by weather stations. But with these data, one pixel on the map could represent a species’ entire distribution.

Worse still, that one value is an average of air temperature at 1.5m in a flat open space with no vegetation overhead.

Most of the world’s living things don’t live suspended 1.5m above the ground, and a lot of the terrestrial world has at least some topography or tall vegetation.

Discovering what is going on in the microenvironment and when the resolution matters is what microclimate ecology is all about.

Impact of climate change on species

Crucially, microclimate helps researchers to improve our understanding of how climate change impacts species.

Just as people move into the shade to avoid the heat of the day, so the small creatures of Earth will, for example, find piles of leaves if they like it cool, or sun flecks on a leaf surface if they like it hot.

Researchers now have the technology and tools to explore climate at scales never before seen, and this could lead to some really fascinating and important insights when it comes to helping species – including humans – cope with climate change.

Find out more

Our Department of Biosciences is a leading centre for this increasingly important area of study and is ranked 5th in The Complete University Guide 2023. Students develop a wide range of analytical and practical skills that prepare them to meet these challenges we face across the globe including food security, sustainability and the impact of climate change.

Feeling inspired? Visit our Biosciences webpages to learn more about our postgraduate and undergraduate programmes.