Dr Nicola White BSc PhD

Research Technician Evolution, Ecology and Behaviour

Research

Heat tolerance and climate change

The current research project I am working on investigates how extreme temperatures impact on fertility, using the model genus Drosophila. The thermal tolerance limits of species have often been used to predict how species may respond to increasing global temperatures. These thermal limits are typically based on the temperatures at which organisms die or lose mobility. However, in many organisms, sterility occurs at temperatures far less extreme than those required to kill the organism. We are looking at the links between fatal thermal limits and the temperatures at which flies become infertile, across a multiple Drosophila species to determine if sterility is a better predictor of population survival.

Biological control and food security

The world population is continually growing with an increasing food demand to match whilst pests represent a major loss to agricultural production. The potenital global loss in agriculture from pest activity has been estimated at about 50% loss in production for wheat and over 80% in cotton production. Pesticides allowed a great increase in crop productivity but at the cost of beneficial insects such as pollinators and predators. For example, use of pesticides gave spider mites an advantage over their natural predators, in being capable of rapidly gaining resistance to over 90 pesticides. The aim of my doctoral research was to assess the potential of three candidate biological control agents by looking at their thermal tolerance to determine population establishment potential in a non-native country.

Public understanding in science

The media has been described as the main, and for many people the exclusive, source of information with regards to science. As such, media coverage has a major contribution to the public’s image of science. Also, the public perceive issues that receive the most media coverage to be those of greatest importance. I am interested in the affect media has on public understanding in science and how that can be utilised. There is also a large push for those in science to undertake outreach and get involved with public engagement. But I am interested whether the public actual want this. Would the general public actively go to a free science event, or it is only those who already have an interest in science who would attend?