Current Research

Ecosystem functioning

The stocks of natural resources (e.g. carbon, water, nutrients), their processing and transfer between biotic and abiotic components of ecosystems are pivotal to life on earth. However, our understanding of how freshwater ecosystems function, the actors and influences (e.g. land-use, non-native species) is still lacking. With a particular focus on ponds (urban and rural) and tropical streams (Dominica) my research has focused upon leaf litter breakdown rates as a proxy for ecosystem functioning and consideration of response diversity; the traits available to a community to respond to environmental change.

Selected publications:
Thornhill, I., Biggs, J., Hill, M., Briers, R., Gledhill, D., P, W., Gee, J.H.R., Ledger, M.E., Hassall, C. The functional response and resilience in small waterbodies along land-use and environmental gradients. Glob. Chang. Biol. (In review) 

Thornhill, I., Batty, L., Thamia, V., Friberg, N. R. and Ledger, M. E. Abundance of a non-native invertebrate (Crangonyx pseudogracilis) is more critical than shredder diversity in urban ponds for ecosystem functioning. (In prep)

Urban ecology

More than 50% of the global population now lives in towns and cities. These urban areas are expanding resulting in habitat loss and fragmentation, non-native species introductions, biotic homogenisation and novel ecosystems. The ecological communities within urban areas must therefore adapt or species will be lost or replaced. My urban ecology research has therefore considered how stressors from the urban environment has shaped ecological communities (specifically urban ponds) and influenced species adaptation.

Selected publications:
Thornhill, I., Batty, L., Death, R.G., Friberg, N.R., Ledger, M.E. 2017. Local and landscape scale determinants of macroinvertebrate assemblages and their conservation value in ponds across an urban land-use gradient. Biodivers. Conserv. 26, 1065–1086. doi:10.1007/s10531-016-1286-4

Thornhill, I., Batty, L., Hewitt, M., Friberg, N.R., Ledger, M.E. 2017. The application of graph theory and percolation analysis for assessing change in the spatial configuration of pond networks. Urban Ecosyst. 1–13. doi:10.1007/s11252-017-0724-8

Public engagement

Science is present in all aspects of our daily life, yet the science-society relationship is complex, not as strong as it could be and is equally constructive as it can be controversial. Therefore, interaction between the scientific community and members of the public is critical to establishing common ground on issues that affect us all. The involvement of members of the public in scientific research (i.e. citizen science), is one method that is being widely used to help bridge the science-society divide and generate meaningful science over wide spatial and temporal scales. At the Earthwatch Institute I was fortunate to be involved in the FreshWater Watch global water quality monitoring project which has resulted in a suite of publications and local impacts. Also see Events.

Selected publications:
Hadj-Hammou, J., Loiselle, S., Ophof, D., Thornhill, I., 2017. Getting the full picture: Assessing the complementarity of citizen science and agency monitoring data. PLoS One 12, e0188507. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.018850

Earthwatch Institute, 2017. Water: Our precious resource. A report on the impact of five years of FreshWater Watch. Oxford.

Loiselle, S.A., Frost, P.C., Turak, E., Thornhill, I., 2017. Citizen scientists supporting environmental research priorities. Sci. Total Environ. 598, 937. doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2017.03.142

Thornhill, I., Loiselle, S., Lind, K., Ophof, D., 2016. The citizen science opportunity for researchers and agencies. Bioscience 66, 720–721. doi:10.1093/biosci/biw089


Sustainable development meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. The environment, therefore, is a critical component of sustainable development. However, the extent to which local to international policies and decisions truly integrate the environment is often questioned when biodiversity declines are globally observed. In particular, I am keen to explore a) the extent to which biodiversity mitigation and/or compensation is realised in developments, and b) how citizen science can contribute towards the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals.