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Prof William O.C. Symondson  -  PhD

Photo of earthworm

My interest is in the dynamics of predator-prey interactions involving generalist predators (and recently) herbivores. The choices made by such predators are complex and the result of interactions between a range of spatial and temporal biotic and abiotic factors. Given the limitations of laboratory-based prey choice experiments we concentrate instead on developing techniques for measuring the strengths of trophic interactions directly in the field. We were amongst the first to realise the potential of PCR to amplify prey DNA from field-caught predators and are at the forefront of developments in this field.  Initially we developed multiplex systems to analyse each predator for multiple prey targets in a single PCR step. More recently we have been using next generation sequencing (NGS - 454 and Ion Torrent) to look at complete diets. 

Current and recent projects include (amongst many others):

- A phylogenetic analysis of common earthworm species revealing extraordinary levels of cryptic diversity, plus development of molecular markers for different lineages/species of earthworm to track predation on them by invertebrate and vertebrate predators.

Photo of planthopper

- Analysis of interception by predators of vibrational sexual communication signals between planthoppers and confirmation of predation in the field using molecular diagnostics (with the National Institute of Biology, Ljubljana).

- Analysis of intraguild predation in arable crops, including a range of predators feeding or parasitoids, carabids feeding of spiders and spider-spider interaction.

Photo of Skink
Photo taken by Nik Cole, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust

- Competition between the alien Asian Musk Shrew and the rare Telfair's Skink on a Mauritian island analysed using NGS (with Durrell Wildlife and the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation).

- Analysis of herbivory by giant tortoises introduced as an analogue species to restore ecosystem function on a Mauritian island.

- Analysis of the diets of seabirds during migration and nesting (petrels and albatross).

- Analysis of the diets of bats in European and tropical habitats using NGS (e.g. comparing diets of bats in rainforest vs. oil palm plantations).

- Analysis of food webs in farmland: a) in rivers running through intensive vs. extensive farming systems; b) exploitation of patchy landscapes by farmland birds (with BTO).

Photo of Smooth Snake

- Analysis of the diets of British reptiles.

I have a particular interest in slugs and their natural enemies. Advice on slug control in the garden.

Current Staff


  • Dr Victoria San Andres (Spanish Government Fellowship, working on intraguild predation - she has left but still writing papers)
  • Dr Meta Virant-Doberlet (from the National Institute of Biology, Ljubljana, working on interception and exploitation of intraspecific vibrational communication between insects by generalist predators and on possible hybrid speciation in Aphrodes leafhoppers)
  • Prof Josep Pinol (on sabbatical from the University of Barcelona, working here on analysis of predation by spiders and carabids in cereal fields using next generation sequencing - recently left but papers being completed)
  • Dr Elizabeth Clare now at Queen Mary College, a visitor to my lab while developing next generation sequencing of prey DNA in bat faeces.

PhD students

  • Ms Azniza Mahyudin (“Analysis of the population genetics and diets of cave-roosting bats in Sabah”)
  • Ms Caitlin Pearson (“Impacts of agricultural land use or river ecosystem functioning, as mediated through trophic interactions”)
  • Ms Silke Waap (“DNA barcoding in a remote marine environment”, analysing the diets of sea birds using next generation sequencing)
  • Ms Jennifer Stockdale (Using environmental genomics to track habitat use by birds exploiting heterogeneous landscapes)
  • Ms Lenka Petrakova (Czech student visitor developing NGS to analyse the diets of termite-eating spiders)

Grant Awarding Bodies

Current funding:

Natural Environment Research Council

Malaysian Government

Portuguese Government

British Trust for Ornithology

Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust

Funding for other recent research:

Croatian Government

Environment Agency

Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Countryside Council for Wales

Current and Recent Collaborations

Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust

Mauritian Wildlife Foundation

Bristol Zoological Gardens

Centre for Genomics Research, Liverpool University

National Institute of Biology, Ljubljana, Slovenia

University of Bergen, Norway

University of Barcelona, Spain

University of Kentucky

United States Department of Agriculture

National Museum of Wales, Cardiff

University of Bristol

Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust

Institute of Arable Crops Research, Rothamsted

Masaryk University, Brno, Czech Republic