Ecological Sciences

Ecological Sciences (ES) is a multi-disciplinary collective of over 65 researchers with a unique breadth of scientific expertise, skills and knowledge in the ecology, physiology and systematics of microbes, lichens, fungi, plants, soils and invertebrates.

  • Our collective expertise and knowledge is deployed globally across a range of systems.
  • Our dynamic department maintains a large post-graduate student cohort affiliated with universities around the world.
  • Our science tackles spatial scales from soil microbial gene expression to biodiversity and landscape ecology and systems science.
  • Our research aims to improve the management, conservation and restoration of biodiversity and ecosystems in managed and native habitats around the world.
  • Our outreach engages with land managers, businesses, advisors and Governments in Scotland, across Europe, Africa, South America and Asia as well as international bodies including UNEP, UN-FAO and IPCC.

One of our big challenges is the integration of ecological and biological knowledge into decision-making around the joint nature and biodiversity crisis, balancing the sustainable use of natural capital and with societal demands for food, water and energy. To do this, we work closely with social scientists, economists and other natural scientists within the Hutton and beyond on sustainable management of ecosystems, biodiversity and ecosystem services and the value of biodiversity and ecosystems to society.

The Ecological Sciences department operate across scales and studies ecology at the resolution of populations, communities, ecosystems and their associated processes and functions. Increasingly we also explore how ecology and people interact, how these interactions impact sustainable land management and how this then affects wider processes such as sustainable supply chains.

Our work covers a wide range of above- and below-ground biodiversity and systems from microorganisms, fungi, plants and animals to landscape-scale processes covering multiple land uses, ranging from lowland arable and upland agriculture to arctic-alpine mountain tops. Our expertise in these different areas covers the spectrum of eco-physiological responses, using a wide range of methods (chemical, molecular, soil physics, remote sensing and “classic” field ecology approaches) to characterise the diversity and functional state of agricultural, semi-natural and natural systems. We also use mathematical modelling and numerical ecology and develop innovative techniques to deliver our high quality research. Underlying all our work is a desire to address the impacts and mitigate the drivers of the nature and climate crisis, increasing the overall long-term sustainability of global ecosystems.

Examines how plants, invertebrates and microbes interact with people and land management practices.
Uses molecular, chemical and a range of field methods to understand how the physical environment and biotic interactions structure communities.
Focusses on the mechanistic understanding of the interactions between plants, soils, and biota.
We care about making the results of our work available to all our stakeholders, and in formats which are accessible.

Head of Department

Head of Department
Based in Aberdeen
T: +44 (0)344 928 5428 (*)

Rob is Head of Ecological Sciences at The James Hutton Institute. He is a plant ecologist with over 25 years’ experience of ecological research. He has extensive experience of ecology in a wide range of environments, including arctic, montane, alpine, semi-arid and arable ecosystems, and currently undertakes research at sites across Scotland.

Meet the team