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Personal profile

Area of academic expertise - outline

I am interested in the conservation of biological diversity. To date the main theme of my research has been the protection of aquatic (freshwater) wildlife from contaminant hazards. This is focused on the effects of environmentally relevant toxicants on reproductive health (“Endocrine Disruption”), applying both in vivo and in vitro approaches. My expertise lies in endocrinology, cell biology, mixture toxicology and physiology – with a particular focus on amphibians. My research has been funded from various sources, including, DEFRA, European Commission and the Declining Amphibian Population Task Force, and has been featured in both local and national press as well as online. I am internationally recognised, and have regularly been invited to present my work and to advise on policy. I have > 600 citations and h-index of 10 (google scholar).

https://scholar.google.co.uk/citations?user=LVjqSKIAAAAJ&hl=en

https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Frances_Orton2

Current research activities

Reproductive Health of Amphibians

One of the most critical conservation issues today is the on-going, global amphibian decline. When last assessed (2004), 32% of amphibian species were reported to be threatened with extinction and at least 43% were experiencing decline, which is faster than any other vertebrate group. The number of declining populations may be even higher as for 30% of species there was insufficient data to determine population status. Furthermore, areas harbouring the richest amphibian faunas are disproportionately affected by one or multiple threats. An assessment by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) reported that habitat loss, disease, pollution, climate change and invasive species are the most important causes of species decline globally. My current work has been focused on the impacts of pollution on reproduction as chemicals exposure is a major contributing factor to declines and there is evidence the mode of action could be via interfering with reproductive processes. Estrogenic chemicals in the aquatic environment have long been known to cause feminisation in a range of aquatic organisms, including molluscs, alligators, fish and amphibians. More recently, a large number of chemicals that diminish the action of androgens (anti-androgenic) have been discovered and such chemicals have also been shown to cause reproductive dysfunction. In addition to investigating the impacts of anti-androgens on reproduction in amphibians, an important strand of my work is to develop non-destructive biomarkers of reproductive health, such as the male secondary sex characteristic the nuptial (“thumb”) pad. The nuptial pad is controlled by androgens, and exposure to anti-androgenic chemicals have been shown to affect its development and maintenance. I am investigating the relationship of the nuptial pad with molecular and histological responses as well as reproductive success in both model and wild amphibians. It is anticipated that findings from this study will provide a crucial step towards the development of ethical alternatives to destructive sampling for chemicals regulatory testing in amphibians. Furthermore, these markers would also have the potential for application to vulnerable wild amphibian populations, thereby reducing the requirements for destructive sampling.

Desired research direction

Multiple stressors

There is a global biodiversity crisis, which is predicted to increase in severity and scope. Historically, single causes were attributable to species extinctions (e.g. overhunting), however, current extinction events are suspected to be caused by multiple interacting factors. Environmental stressors which are known to be causing extinctions on a global scale include climate change, invasive species and pollution. Although data exist on the combined impacts of any two of these stressors on biota, the potential impacts of all three combined are not known. This is important as it is likely that the combination of these environmental stressors are ubiquitous in natural environments. Furthermore, pollutants are not present individually in the environment but potential impacts of mixtures in combination with other stressors have not been investigated. Therefore, I am interested in combining pollutant mixtures – an important topic in regulatory toxicology – with other environmentally relevant stressors, such as temperature (climate change) and predation stress (invasive species predator cues). I aim to test the impacts of multiple stressors on survival, growth and reproduction using a range of freshwater test species, including molluscs, amphibians and fish.

Target collaborative organisations

NERC

Royal Society

BBSRC

Carnegie

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