Meet Your Lecturers: Prof. Anne Goodenough

This is the third of Tolga Aktas’s blog posts as Guest Editor…

Previously in the ‘Meet Your Lecturers’ blog series we focused on Dr. Matt Wood and Dr. Liz Hamilton. On this blog post on International Women’s Day #IWD2019, we focus on Prof. Anne Goodenough, who is a lecturer in applied ecology who focuses most of her teaching and research on practical and conservation ecology, field biology, avian biology and biogeography. I asked her a series of questions in an interview and this is what she had to say:

  • What inspired you to get into the field that you are in currently?

I have always loved wildlife. Anything that grows, flowers, flies, buzzes, squeaks or roars interests me greatly and anything with feathers especially fascinates me. I think this love of birds in particular initially stemmed from being taken to feed the ducks as a small child.  Rather than just feeding them, though, I always wanted to know that the different ducks were called, why some foraged by upending and others dived, and why some were bold enough to feed from my hand, but others were not. I don’t come from a family of naturalists (my father always says that his favourite bird is chicken or turkey preferably with stuffing), but they encouraged my interest and always tried to answer questions – in those days usually with a trip to the local library as “Googling it” didn’t yet exist.

Anne, aged 7, feeding the ducks with Grandma

Two other things definitely encouraged my interest. The first was being able to go along to a neighbour’s garden to watch birds being ringed. I now know this was a BTO Constant Effort Site – mainly for siskins in that case – but aged nine or so I was just fascinated by seeing birds in the hand and being able to study them at such close quarters. The second seminal moment was being fortunate enough to be given a good SLR camera when I was a young teenager by an elderly family friend who could no longer cope with its weight. From this, I not only gained my love of photography but also invaluable training as a scientist. Taking wildlife photos invariably involves luck and a good knowledge of camera settings and set-up, but it also involves watching animals to understand their behaviour, predicting what they will do next, and trying different ways of capturing that on film – effectively the scientific method of observation, hypothesis and experimentation.

Never happier than when out photographing the natural world

  • Was your current discipline/field what you always strived to get into, or did you happen to get there by chance?

A bit of both! As I say, I have always loved nature, but University lecturing was not really on my horizon. When I finished undergrad, though, I was working for the RSPB showing the public peregrine falcons at Symonds Yat on the English/Welsh border. When going to the RSPB office one day, I tripped over a box that was being used to hold the office door open. That box had records on nest box use at the nearby RSPB Nagshead reserve in the Forest of Dean. It turned out that there were weekly records for all 400 boxes going back to 1942. With RSPB support, I started an MSc by Research to analyze these data and that eventually morphed into becoming my PhD on the factors affecting nest box choice and breeding success in woodland birds. During my PhD, I started doing some guest lecturing and the rest, as they say, is history.

Weighing and measuring great tit chicks as part of PhD research.

  • What would you consider to be your most ground-breaking work to date?

That’s a tough one! Probably the work that I’ve done on the effects of climate change on bird breeding timing, migration timing, and distribution that has resulted in several key papers. That said, I’m incredibly proud of the papers that I have co-published with students on topics as diverse as the behaviour of red squirrels, effects of wormers on soil biota, the effectiveness of plant bioindicators for soil properties, grassland management on parasite loads, and optimal habitat management for butterflies. It’s great to see student projects develop to the point that they can be shared with the scientific community internationally and really make a difference to knowledge and management of the natural world.

  • Is there any advice that you would give fellow students/individuals looking to embark into the same field that you’re in?

Say “yes” to any opportunities that you are given even (or especially) if they push you outside your comfort zone. If you can’t find any opportunities, create them. Say yes to doing wildlife surveys, or volunteering to show school kids nature, or giving a talk, or going to try to find new species on your local patch, or getting involved with local groups. Seek out opportunities for going on training courses. Travel whenever you can, locally or otherwise, to experience new places, people, landscapes and wildlife. Challenge yourselves. Make it happen. Say yes.

Getting up close and personal with buttress roots in Costa Rica

  • What is the latest research project that you’re focusing on right now?

I always have a lot of research projects on the go! Currently, I am working on three multi-country studies of birds across Europe, one on adaptive responses of animals to climate change, one on competitive interactions between blue and great tits, and a third on modelling climate change vulnerability in different populations of the same species. Closer to home, I am working on a project with West Midlands on the effects of visitors on behaviour of ring-tailed lemurs in a walk-through enclosure, and a second project on optimizing methods of recording behaviour in captive populations of a range of taxa including rhino, penguins and tigers. Oh, and writing a large part of a brand-new biology textbook designed to replace “Life” …

“I am a Professor of Applied Ecology with broad teaching and research interests spanning from nesting ecology of birds to ecological impact assessment, mammal conservation and the role of citizen sciences in studying biology and ecology.” Prof. Anne Goodenough

Stay tuned for future posts giving you an insight to the lecturers that teach you, their backgrounds and what inspired them to stand at the front of the class and teach you all that they know.

Edited by Tolga Aktas, Second-year (BSc) in Animal Biology student

Twitter: @tolgaaktas_

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