Dr Ian Vaughan

Dr Ian Vaughan


School of Biosciences

Research overview

My research focuses primarily upon how rivers respond to environmental change, considering the physico-chemical environment, species' distributions and ecological processes. Such work is multidisciplinary and involves a combination of field surveys and experiments, large data sets and modelling techniques. Current research topics include: long term ecological changes in British river systems; the effects of catchment land use on river organisms and ecological processes; the relationships between physical habitat and hydrology ('hydromorphology'), and river organisms; and the analysis of trophic interactions in aquatic and terrestrial systems.

I read Biology at Bristol University (1997–2000) before making the trip over the Severn bridge to Cardiff to undertake a PhD (2000–4) with Prof. Steve Ormerod. The PhD focused on the methods used to predict animal and plant distribution patterns, with river birds as a model system. Two years of post-doctoral work in Cardiff followed, contributing to the understanding of how ecology interacts with physical habitat in rivers.

In September 2006, I was awarded a Research Councils UK fellowship allowing me to pursue my research interests in river systems and quantitative methods, before moving onto a lectureship in September 2011.

My major research interests centre on how rivers respond to natural and anthropogenic change.

Current projects

Long term changes in British rivers

UK rivers have changed substantially since the mid-twentieth century, and continue to be highly dynamic. A range of factors has been implicated, including improved water quality, short-term climate variability and longer-term climate change, with evidence for large scale recovery from industrial/organic pollution. Focusing on the last 20–30 years, this work aims to quantify the ecological changes that have taken place and to separate short-term sources of variation from long-term, directional changes.

The effects of land use upon organisms, ecological processes and ecological services

There is a long history of investigating the intimate relationships between rivers and the land that they drain in their catchments. As part of the NERC-funded DURESS project, I am looking at how land use affects biodiversity and ecosystem service provision in upland catchments, and trying to predict how future land use scenarios may affect biodiversity and ecosystem services. At a smaller spatial scale, my research group is looking at how specific changes in land use and to riparian zone management affect energy flow through stream communities.

The relationship between river channel morphology, hydrology and organisms

Recent years have seen a renewed interest in understanding the links between hydromorphology and river organisms, in part due to the emphasis placed on this by the EU Water Framework Directive. In England and Wales, an important contribution to this area was the River Habitat Survey Baseline (2007–8), providing a national overview of channel morphology. Understanding how organisms interact with channel morphology and how this might change under different land use or climate scenarios are important in both basic and applied research.

Current students

  • Jo James: 'Impacts of invasive crayfish in aquatic ecosystems' (Environment Agency/Natural Resources Wales and Cardiff University)
  • Caitlin Pearson: 'Impacts of intensifying pastoral agriculture on stream ecosystem functioning' (BBSRC)
  • Marian Pye: 'Catchment and riparian subsidy effects on upland stream ecosystems' (Cardiff University)
  • Danica Stark: 'Ranging behaviour of Proboscis Monkeys in the Kinabatangan Floodplain, Sabah' (Margot Marsh Biodiversity Foundation)
  • Rhodri Thomas: 'Predictions of river habitat response to climate change across the United Kingdom' (Cardiff University – President's Research Scholarship)
  • James Vafidis: 'The effect of climate change on wetland ecosystems' (Knowledge Economy Skills Scholarship)


Funding for current or recent research has come from a range of organisations, including:

  • Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)
  • Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
  • Research Councils UK (RCUK)
  • The Environment Agency
  • The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)


  • Prof. Steve Ormerod (Cardiff School of Biosciences) – long term changes in British rivers
  • Prof. Bill Symondson (Cardiff School of Biosciences) – analysis of trophic interactions
  • The Diversity of Upland Rivers for Ecosystem Service Sustainability (DURESS) – 28 researchers across nine universities and research institutions
  • Dr José Constantine (Cardiff School of Earth and Ocean Sciences) – river habitat response to climate change
  • Gwent Wildlife Trust, the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales, and Drs Rob Thomas and Hefin Jones (Cardiff School of Biosciences) – long-term monitoring of wetland birds and their potential response to climate change