Photo of Fiona Mathews

Fiona Mathews
Professor of Environmental Biology
E:
T: +44 (0)1273 877135

Research

Research interests

I work on the responses of mammals to modern environmental challenges. In the context of our evolutionary history, there has been a rapid increase in the intensity, nature and range of many exposures since the industrial revolution: human population increases and associated changes in social organisation and nutritional profiles, not only affect the health and well-being of people, but also influence the status of wild mammals. In addition, novel exposures, such as the use of mobile telephones or the generation of wind energy, may have unintended consequences. My work integrates epidemiological and ecological approaches to quantify the effects of environmental challenges on individuals and populations, and seeks to find sustainable solutions.

 

Habitat fragmentation is one of the most widespread challenges faced by wild mammals in the UK. It is likely to affect not only the nutritional status of animals, but their social structure and disease transmission patterns. Applying new techniques to quantify both landscape structure and social interactions is a key component of my work in this field. For example, my team is currently using molecular approaches to assess how the endangered Bechstein’s bat is affected by the fragmentation of woodlands; and stable isotope analyses have shown that some Nathusius’ pipistrelle bats in the UK have migrated from continental Europe, placing them at potential risk from offshore wind turbines (http://www.bats.org.uk/news.php/291/on_the_bats_wing_do_i_fly_a_a_remarkable_journey). I have shown that the risk of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in cattle varies according to habitat structure, with ‘wildlife friendly’ farms with higher hedgerow densities having lower risks. This research continues, with a post-doctoral project on the effects of herd and landscape management the risk of not only bTB but also liver fluke – an parasite that is currently on the increase in the UK.

Much of my work is on species of conservation concern, where I try to find evidence-based sustainable solutions for practical problems. Currently I have major research initiatives which investigate the ecological impacts of wind energy generation on bats, the effects of artificial lighting on biodiversity, and the effectiveness of mitigation for bats. Working closely with local conservation organizations, Local Planning Authorities, and statutory authorities, I have a particular interest on the effects of habitat fragmentation on rare species, such as greater horseshoe (http://devonbatproject.org/focussed-surveys/) and Grey long-eared bats (UK‘s rarest bat found in East Devon and Isles of Scilly Brown long-eared bat discovery), and advise on strategies to minimise the impacts of development on wildlife (e.g. Teignbridge Action Plan for Bats http://www.teignbridge.gov.uk/media/pdf/t/4/Part_2_T3_Bats_Action_Plan.pdf). I am currently leading, for the Statutory Nature Conservation Organisations, the first review for 25 years of the conservation and population status of British Mammals with the Mammal Society.

Like wildlife, humans are profoundly affected by their environment.  For example, I have demonstrated the link between the diet of mothers before conception and infant gender and shown that male foetuses are much more at risk of stillbirth than females.  With Prof Tamara Galloway I am currently working on the relationship between sperm quality and exposures including mobile telephone use, and exploring whether biodiversity can benefit human well-being.

Research projects

  • Assesment of the effectiveness of mitigation for bats during development (Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management)
  • Understanding habitat use by greater horseshoe bats Devon Greater Horseshoe Bat Project, Heritage Lottery)
  • Gender inequalities in early life health outcomes (The Wellcome Trust)
  • Novel approaches to assessing human sperm quality in relation to environmental exposures (NERC)
  • Effects of artificial lighting on biodiversity (Defra)
  • Effect of wind turbines on bat populations in the UK (Defra, Scottish Natural Heritage, Countryside Council for Wales, RenewableUK)
  • Small wind turbines and bat populations in areas of high bat biodiversity (NERC, Countryside Council for Wales, Devon County Council)
  • Effects of habitat fragmentation on wild mammals (NERC)
  • Risks of bovine tuberculosis in cattle in relation to herd- and landscape-management (Dorothy Jackson Trust and BBSRC)

Research networks

  • Prof Richard Shore, CEH Lancaster, Prof Robbie Macdonald, University of Exeter, Prof John Gurnell Queen Mary, University of London. Review of the Conservation and Population Status of British Mammals
  • Prof Kevin Gaston, University of Exeter. Biodiversity impacts of artificial night lighting
  • Prof David Hosken, University of Exeter. Impacts of wind energy generation on bats
  • Dr Christian Voigt, Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research. Investigation of migration using stable isotopes
  • Prof David Macdonald, University of Exeter. Bovine tuberculosis in badgers and other wildlife
  • Prof Tamara Galloway, University of Exeter. Sex differences in early life health outcomes, and impacts of wifi exposure on human reproductive health.