Ellwood Lab

Evolutionary Biology, Ecology, Biogeography, Entomology, Conservation

news from the group

What's new?

Back to the jungle

March 2018

PhD student Josie Phillips is heading back to Malaysia this month to complete her fieldwork. Josie will spend another three months working in the high canopy at Danum Valley and in the oil palm plantations around East Sabah. Her research questions focus on biodiversity in oil palm landscapes and we are excited to see what answers she will unearth on this final trip.  

Over and out

January 2018

After 3.5 years of hard work and dedication, PhD student Julian Donald has submitted his thesis to the UWE Bristol Graduate School. Whilst we will be sad to see him leave, we are excited for him as he takes up his first Post Doctoral research position at the University of Toulouse later this year. Julian is due to sit his PhD viva in early February. Best of luck to you Julian!

please load the paper tray

December 2017

2017 has been a busy year for the Ellwood Lab Group. We’ve been working hard with collaborators to produce a number of high quality journal articles based on our research. We are currently a small working group, so would just like to take a moment to reflect on our collection of new publications for 2017.

palm oil under the magnifying glass

December 2017

Farnon and Josie’s work on ferns in oil palm plantations was featured on the cover article of Geographical magazine this month. The article, written by the talented Chris Finch, tells an unbiased story of the palm oil industry  and its place in the modern world. Both Farnon and Josie are Fellows of the Royal Geographical Society, and have received funding from the society in the last few years. It was a pleasure and privilege for our work to be showcased in the Society’s magazine!

Volcanoes, mosquitos and palm oil

November 2017

This month Farnon travelled out to Bali for the RSPO’s Annual RT Conference. Although the conference was indeed an excellent opportunity to network and discuss exciting new avenues for our research. It was somewhat overshadowed by the angry Bali Volcano, Mt Agnung, which seemed determined to hamper proceedings of the conference. Farnon was eventually joined by Josie, who had travelled direct from fieldwork in Malaysia, and the two were able to attend the conference together. There never seems to be a dull day for the team at Ellwood Lab!

Students are doing it for themselves

November 2017

It's not all about the PhD students. This week, MSc Student, Holly Dillon, has successfully defended her thesis at UWE Bristol. After two months at our field site in Danum Valley earlier this year, Holly has evaluated the change in soil-microbial dynamics from rainforest into a range of secondary forest types.

Jay Ilott, an undergraduate in Environmental Sciences at UWE Bristol, has also been working with our group towards his final year project. His dedication is such that he spent most of his summer break sorting through our vast collection of invertebrate samples. However, this month he sent off his samples for carbon isotope analysis. Now we just have to wait eagerly for the results! Well done guys!

not all about the bugs

October 2017

PhD student Josie is back in the jungles of Borneo, but she had quite an amazing surprise one day when she was out hunting for large bird’s nest ferns to remove from the high canopy. She was lucky enough to spot a mother, and baby, orangutan ‘hanging out’ in a large fern at the top of a Parashorea spp. tree. Whilst it is known, it is incredibly rare for orangutans to spend time using the ferns and I have never seen it for myself. Josie was fast on her feet and managed to capture a few shots using her smart phone and binoculars. Steady hands there young Phillips!

Exhibit reaches completion

August 2017

After over a year of working through ideas, designs and splinters, the brainchild of our Eden/UWE collaboration has been completed. This month our joint Oil Palm Exhibit has been officially unveiled at the Eden Project. We would like to take this opportunity to say a big thank you for all the man hours that went into the project, especially to Eden’s Head of Interpretation, Dr Jo Elworthy and to Designer, Dan  Johnson. Dan and Josie spent hours and hours bouncing ideas between Bristol and Cornwall over the last year. The final product was well worth wait. Head down to Eden to learn about our research, and hear Eden tell the palm oil story in an interactive and innovative way.

Double trouble

June 2017

PhD students, Julian and Josie presented their research at the UWE Bristol PGR Conference in June with tremendous success. Their work was very well received by attendees, with both Julian’s talk and Josie’s posters winning ‘Best in Conference’. Talk about a general sweep!

the big canopy campout 2017

June 2017

The entire team were lucky enough to participate in the Big Canopy Campout 2017 which was held in The Eden Project’s Rainforest Biome. Sleeping platforms were suspended from the biome roof, and campers clipped themselves into their climbing harnesses and spent the night suspended under the stars. The aim of the event was to raise awareness of the state of the world’s forest, and engage participants in a fun and unique event with the aim of getting back to nature. What a way to spend a Saturday night!

Cambridge to Cornwall in a week

April 2017

The Ellwood Lab Group have been busy bees this week, travelling from Bristol to Cambridge to attend a general meeting with other SEARRP (Southeast Asian Rainforest Research Partnership) members. The meeting was held in Cambridge University’s David Attenborough building and featured a series of discussions and workshops on the future of research in Southeast Asia. Once the meeting was finished, the team hopped in the car and drove down to Cornwall to undertake an abseil from The Eden Project’s iconic rainforest biomes. We did also have some fieldwork to do, it’s not just fun and games here!

team 'uweden' returns from the jungle

January 2017

We have just returned from our joint expedition to Danum Valley. The team which featured members of the Ellwood Lab Group and the Eden Project’s Science and Rainforest Team spent several weeks at the Danum Valley Field Centre collecting data about the canopy environment, rainforest soils and of course bird’s nest ferns. For the Eden Team, it was an opportunity to see how representative their rainforest collection, and Malaysian ‘home garden’ are of real rainforest and modern life in Malaysia. For the UWE team, it was a chance to show the Eden Team exactly why we needed to test our equipment, techniques and why we love working in their biome. No giant centipedes in Cornwall!

Lights, action camera!

November 2016

PhD student, Josie and her long time research assistant Rosie Wade, from the Eden Project made an exciting trip to London to visit Go Pro’s London HQ. The girls visited the office and spent a day receiving a masterclass in GoPro’s newest HERO 5 and HERO 5 SESSION action cameras. Go Pro have decided to support out research in the rainforest canopies and at the Eden Project in the form of a box of cameras and equipment. Needless to say we are excited to show you some footage from our new toys as soon as possible!


November 2016

Next month Julian will be heading to Liverpool to the British Ecological Society's (BES) Annual Meeting. At the conference, Julian will present a poster describing research he has undertaken at the Eden Project and at Danum Valley. This work has highlighted the importance of invertebrates and microbes in canopy soils. Julian is very much looking forward to sharing his work with, and learning from the 1,200 delegates expected to attend. Good luck Julian!

Fernarium II

November 2016

The group has been back at the Eden Project this week to oversee the installation of our brand new fern platforms, which we refer to as 'fernariums'. The new fernariums will sit in two of the Eden Project's large oil palm trees (Elaeis spp.) and be used by PhD student, Josie, in some of her project experiments. Josie is investigating the conditions that bird's nest ferns experience in different environments. The ferns (shown below) have spent three long months in quarantine, but have now finally made the journey into the rainforest biome.  We'd like to extent a special thank-you to Luke Fox, who built and installed the platforms, Jamie Davies who did the rope work (watch him abseil from Eden's roof to the ground here) and Hetty Ninnis who ensured the operation ran so smoothly.

Advocates for adventure

November 2016

Farnon and Josie are both Fellows of the Royal Geographical Society (FRGS), and have just this month attended Explore 2016. Explore is the Society’s annual fieldwork and expedition planning weekend at their headquarters in London. This year was the event's 40th Anniversary celebration and along with many leading field scientists and adventure advocates, the pair shared stories and findings from their own field research and gave tips on expedition in tropical forests. 

November 2016

The team are busy gearing up for a big research trip in January 2017. Farnon, PhD students Julian and Josie and Master’s student Holly Dillon will travel to Danum Valley in Borneo to continue with research into the ecology of bird’s nest ferns as well as launch several new lines of enquiry. Through the generous support of the RGS and the Gilchrist Educational Trust, Farnon has been able to invite members of the Eden Project, Hetty Ninnis and Michael Cutler, to join the team on the trip to Danum Valley. Rosie Wade, a horticultural apprentice at the Eden Project, will also join the team as a research assistant to Josie’s work in oil palm plantations. The group will also be joined by Professor Harald Schneider to assess the feasibility of an exciting new collaboration project. More on this to follow…


October 2016

Julian has just become an Ambassador for the British Ecological Society’s (BES) Ecological Ambassador Scheme. Through the scheme, Julian will develop outreach activities tailored to the curriculum of local schools and hopefully encourage young people to consider further study in ecological sciences. The scheme provides school pupils with an inspiring and engaging opportunity to learn about real research being conducted by somebody who is not much older than them. Julian is very excited about the opportunity to take his research into schools!


October 2016

Josie is busy raising an army of Australian cockroaches (Peripleneta australasiae) for use in her Eden Project experiments. Josie is testing the response of insects to environmental disturbance. She hopes her experiments will help us to predict the fate of terrestrial arthropods under climate change. It will be exciting to see what information her results yield!


September 2016

Farnon has just had his first book review published in The Times Literary Supplement (p26, TLS, September 30th, 2016).  The Sting of the Wild by Justin O. Schmidt offers a glimpse into the private mind of an entomologist who  compared the impacts of stinging insects on humans, using himself as the gauge. The Sting of the Wild includes the complete Schmidt Sting Pain Index with colourful descriptions of the sensation of each sting, many of which Farnon can himself relate to having experienced his share of stinging insects.

new player

September 2016

We would like to extent a warm welcome to our newest team member, Holly Dillon. Holly is a student at UWE, Bristol working towards her MSc. in Integrated Wildlife Conservation. Her project will focus on secondary forest, and ecological flow issues in degraded habitats.  Tropical fieldwork is not easy. The hours are long, the work is physically exhausting and the field sites are isolated. However, we are certain Holly will triumph, very best of luck Holly! You can follow Holly on Twitter.


September 2016

Josie is celebrating the news that she has passed her first year progression viva.  All research degree students must complete such an exam, comprising of a written report and viva in order to progress with their studies. Josie has made excellent progress since starting her PhD and we look forward to seeing what she will achieve in the next year. 


September 2016

Julian returned from three months of fieldwork at the Danum Valley Field Centre in Sabah. During his time in the field, Julian has been busy climbing trees to check up on his field experiments exploring the role of invertebrates and microbes in the cycling of carbon in canopy epiphytes at the top of trees. He has also been working with collaborators from the Sabah Forestry Department where they have taken important steps to develope our understanding of the functional role of the inhabitants of the birds nest fern. 


August 2016

PhD student Josie has been busy working on an exciting new project with the Eden Project’s design and interpretation team this summer. Both the Eden Project and Josie share a passion for sustainability, and on this basis they have decided to join forces to communicate the issue of oil palm expansion. Palm oil is a major and controversial development issue, but information is often confusing and facts are difficult to access. Josie is thrilled to have been invited to advise on the design of the Eden Project’s new palm oil exhibit. The exhibit, which is to be funded through Higher Education Impact Funding (HEIF) from UWE Bristol, will engage visitors in the issues surrounding palm oil and provide up to date information on the progress of the groups research.


July 2016

Julian has hopefully inspired a future generation of scientists by sharing his time in the field with students. He coordinated and ran a week long tropical field course for students from Sir Roger Manwood’s School, discussing rainforest ecology and leading practicals in scientific survey methods. He also presented to students from the Jagiellonian University, Poland, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia and Oxford University UK, giving them an insight into his research. He was inspired himself, by having five undergraduate students from University of Sabah, Malaysia, assist with data collection in the field. The dedication and interest displayed by these groups of students from a range of backgrounds made him optimistic for the future of rainforest research.

July 2016

The team is celebrating news of funding success across the board. Both Farnon and Josie have received grants from the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) to support their fieldwork in Southeast Asia. Farnon has received the biannual Gilchrist Fieldwork Award of £15,000 from the Gilchrist Education Trust (£15,000) which supports  original and challenging overseas fieldwork.  Josie has received the Slawson Award, a £2000 grant awarded by the kind generosity of Paul and Mary Slawson to support her research into the consequences of oil palm expansion. Meanwhile Julian, Farnon and Dr Pete Maxfield have received £23,000 from the Natural Environmental Research Council (NERC) to fund carbon isotope analysis in canopy soils.

Back to his roots

June 2016

Farnon has been back at ProCam this week for their annual summer gathering. ProCam is a specialist agronomy company and Farnon has collaborated with them to develop 4Cast. 4Cast is a unique system for collecting, analysing and communicating real world crop production and agronomy data to help agronomists predict outcomes of different management approaches on individual farms. Farnon has a background in agriculture and thoroughly enjoys the opportunity to engage with farmers using the 4Cast system.

What goes up...

June 2016

Farnon and Josie have just returned from a week on the North York Moors where they attained their BCAP (Basic Canopy Access Proficiency) qualifications. The course was run at the Yorkshire Arboretum from 1st - 5th June 2016, taught by Waldo Etherington and assessed by James Alred. Both of whom have extensive experience climbing trees in Danum Valley where our group conducts fieldwork. The team are very excited to return to Danum to climb some giant tropical trees. With the rainforest canopy 50m above the forest floor, climbing trees in Borneo is certainly not for the faint-hearted!

on the road again

June 2016

Julian presented to members of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC) at their 53rd Annual meeting. The conference took place in Montpellier in the south of France, and so when not attending the wide range of talks, he made the most of local food and wine! His talk described the functioning of soil microbes in the soils associated with the bird’s nest fern microcosm, and highlighted how his work at the Eden Project provided the stepping stones required for his subsequent fieldwork in Danum Valley.

Heading east

May 2016

Farnon has been invited by collaborators, Professor Chengjin Chu and Dr Dexiecuo Ai, to visit them in China. Farnon will be giving several talks on theoretical ecology at a summer conference in Sun Yat-Sen University in the city of Guangzhou. He will also get to visit the Tibetan Plateau (shown below)which is the field study site of their collaborative research. How exciting!


May 2016

Farnon has had his latest paper accepted by the journal Acta Oecologica. The paper entitled "Competition can lead to unexpected patterns in tropical ant communities" introduces a novel approach to the study of interspecific competition, revealing that competition can lead to unexpected patterns in tropical ant communities.

A PDF of the paper can now be downloaded here.

Hoteliers Evening

April 2016

The team were recently invited to a hospitality evening at the Eden Project in Cornwall where they presented their rainforest research to Eden stakeholders and hoteliers from across the South-west. Attendees were especially interested to learn that we use Eden’s rainforest as stepping stone, from focused experiments in the labs at UWE, to fieldwork in the forests of Borneo.

Not so lost in translation

April 2016

PhD student Josie, has just returned from Tokyo, Japan where she presented a poster at IsoEcol 2016. IsoEcol is an international conference on the applications of Stable Isotope Techniques to Ecological Studies. It brings together researchers from universities, industry and government to discuss the development of stable isotope techniques. Josie's poster entitled 'Predicting the fate of terrestrial arthropods under environment disturbance' was well received by delegates and she has returned with a wealth of new ideas for her research. We are excited to see how her project develops as a result! 

Ecological Jenga

March 2015

Farnon has been speaking at the Eden Project this week about the importance of understanding the dynamics of ecological communities especially with regard to environmental disturbance. In the video below, Farnon explains how he and his group are working to develop the bird's nest fern, a tropical canopy epiphyte, into the perfect model ecosystem for exploring complex questions.

Using Eden's rainforest as a lab

March 2016

Our work was recently featured in UWE Bristol's Centre for Research in Biosciences (CRIB) magazine. In the article published, we discuss the aims for our research at the Eden Project and how this research will inform our fieldwork in the jungles of Borneo. It focuses on the ability of the Eden project to provide a stepping stone between laboratory experiments and those which are far more difficult to control, at the top of a tropical rainforest tree. You can read the article for yourself here.

going global

March 2016

Welcome to Ellwoodlab.com, the brand new online home of our research group. We have designed this website with a view of sharing with you our research ideas (past, present and future), our findings, our news and endeavors. This website also provides viewers with an opportunity to engage with us. You can find contact details for myself (Farnon) on the contact page, and social media feeds from my students on the team page. We are an active and dynamic group, and I am always interested to hear from potential collaborators, post- docs and students.