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Stewart Leigh

Stewart Leigh

Stewart Leigh

Email: Stewart.Leigh@uea.ac.uk | ORCiD

Profile
My research interests lie primarily in ecology and evolution. I am particularly interested in the effect of human activity on ecosystems and how species evolve in response to this.

I completed my BSc in Biology at Bangor university from 2010 – 2013. I took my second year abroad to study in Oregon, a hotspot for wildlife due to the variety of ecosystems it contains in a relatively small area, from mountains and forests to deserts and coastal habitats. This piqued my interest in ecology and I completed my dissertation looking at the various methods of camouflage that spiders use in cloaking themselves from visual predators such as birds.

In 2013 – 2014 I undertook an MSc in evolutionary and population biology at the University of Bath. Here I combined my interest in ecology with evolution and genetics, leading me to complete a dissertation that encompassed them all. I investigated the evolutionary history behind the plant Cakile maritima and how it has managed to adapt and establish itself on coastlines around the world.

Now I am continuing with a NERC funded PhD at UEA entitled: Reproductive character displacement in insect control.

Current research
My research project will be looking at closely related insect vectors, their mating habits and the phenomenon known as “satyrization,” where hybrid mating results in reduced fitness for one of the species only.  Satyrization diminishes the population of the species by preventing females from mating again after hybrid mating has occurred and has the effect of culling the disease which it carries. This is of great interest for those looking to eradicate insect-borne disease as it offers an ecologically safe way of controlling vector populations. An adaptation to prevent this has been observed however, resulting in a more robust mate recognition system, creating a mating barrier between the two species. I will be specifically looking at the mechanisms underlying these fitness costs and how quickly the species can evolve resistance.

Secondly I will be looking at how underdominance can be used as a method of population control for disease vectors. This will involve constructing transgenic strains of vector species and investigating how quickly the underdominant transgene can replace the wild-type allele. It is once again predicted that mating barriers will evolve between wild-type and transgenic strains and I shall be looking at how quickly this develops.  

Supervisory team
Prof Tracey Chapman – University of East Anglia
Prof Luke Alphey – Institute of Animal Health