Christopher Beirne

Dr Christopher Beirne

Department: Centre for Ecology and Conservation
Discipline: Biosciences

Project Summary

Ageing and telomeres in a wild badger population: causes of individual variation

Ageing, despite its ubiquity in living organisms, remains something of a mystery as little is known about its underlying mechanisms and its evolutionary significance. Much of what we know has been gleaned from laboratory strains of animals which, while offering tractable models, have questionable ecological validity and relevance to wild organisms and humans. My PhD combines the analysis of long term life-history data with molecular techniques for quantifying telomere attrition rates, to investigate the mechanisms underlying ageing and its implications for wild populations. I am working in collaboration with the Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA), using their long-term field study of wild badgers in Woodchester Park as my model system.

Supervisory Team

Andy Young and Jon Blount (Exeter) and Dez Delahay (FERA); 2011-14

Wider Research Interests

Understanding conservation volunteers using a wildlife ecology toolkit

Masters; Supervised by Xavier Lambin (Aberdeen); 2010-11

Scientists and conservationists increasingly rely on contributions by volunteers recruited from the wider public in order to work over large and ecologically meaningful spatial scales. Understanding how a volunteer’s motives, the tasks which they perform and the way in which they are managed influences their decision to stay or leave a project is crucial for maximising project efficiency and effectiveness. Here I demonstrated that the capture-mark-recapture framework, more commonly used in ecological and evolutionary studies, can be used to lend novel insight into how volunteers interact with conservation projects and address interdisciplinary hypotheses relevant to both biological and social sciences.


Herpetofaunal responses to anthropogenic habitat change

With Andrew Whitworth; 2009-10

There is currently considerable controversy about the relative value of degraded, secondary forest types for the conservation of extant flora and fauna. Here I compared the herpetofaunal responses to habitat change within a small forest reserve in Eastern Ecuador. Using a highly motivated conservation volunteer workforce implementing a combination of pitfall trapping, visual encounter surveying and vegetation mapping, we demonstrated that responses are highly species specific, even within families. Generalist species with broad habitat requirements can increase in abundance with disturbance regimes, whereas more specialised species with exacting habitat requirements tended to lose out.

Authored Publications/Reports

Beirne and Lambin (2013) Understanding the determinants of volunteer retention through capture-recapture analysis: answering social science questions using a wildlife ecology toolkit, Conservation Letters

Beirne, Burdekin and Whitworth (2013) Herpetofaunal responses to anthropogenic habitat change within a small forest reserve in Eastern Ecuador, Herpetological Journal

Beirne and Whitworth (2011) Frogs of the Yachana Reserve

Whitworth and Beirne (2011) Reptiles of the Yachana Reserve

Christopher Beirne, Richard Delahay, Michelle Hares, Andrew Young (2014) Age-related declines and disease-associated variation in immune cell telomere length in a wild mammal, Plos One (In Press)