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Biosciences researcher receives prestigious award

21 May 2014

Dr Donald A'Bear from the School of Biosciences has been awarded the 2014 Marsh Trust / Royal Entomological Society Early Career Award for his research work on invertebrate – fungus interactions.

Having recently successfully defended his PhD Don's research is focussed on the role of soil invertebrates in decomposition, in particular their effect on the growth and activity of woodland soil fungi. This subject first grabbed his attention as a Final Year Cardiff University undergraduate, conducting his Dissertation Research Project on the effects of oribatid mites on the growth patterns of fungal mycelium. The project revealed a potential anti-fungal effect of chemical secretions from the mites. This experience ignited his enthusiasm for scientific research and resulted in his first paper, published in Ecological Entomology. Keen to continue in this field of research, Don then undertook a NERC-funded PhD supervised by Dr Hefin Jones and Prof Lynne Boddy, at Cardiff University. His project investigated the role of grazing by soil invertebrates in moderating effects of climate change on the growth and activity of woodland decomposer fungi. His findings, published  in Global Change Biology and Oecologia resulted in considerable interest among the soil ecology community; the latter paper was recently endorsed by the Faculty of 1000 (F1000 Prime) as being of major significance in its field.

During his time as a PhD Student Don was awarded a Scholarship by the German Academic Exchange Service, enabling him to spend several months working in two internationally renowned German research groups. With Prof. Liliane Ruess (Humboldt Universität, Berlin), he used recently developed techniques for analysing animal dietary lipids to demonstrate that decomposer fungi were a significant component of the generalist diet of woodlice recovered from our field study. He then explored the effects of this fungal feeding on the production of soil enzymes by microbial communities that were dominated by different fungi, with Prof. Ellen Kandeler (Universität Hohenheim, Stuttgart).

Don says: "Although my research to date has focussed on interactions in the soil decomposer system, my ecological interests are broad. I have enjoyed attending and presenting at a range of international conferences. I have been very fortunate to work, and discuss my research, with international leaders in the various areas of specialism that my studies have linked with. To be the recipient of an award so prestigious as this is a great honour, and will act as a catalyst for me to continue my research on the effects of invertebrate fauna on ecosystem processes."

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