Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Kent
Unit of AssessmentAnthropology and Development Studies
Summary Impact TypeEnvironmental
Research Subject Area(s)
Environmental Sciences: Environmental Science and Management
Biological Sciences: Ecology, Genetics
Summary of the impact
Molecular and evolutionary research by Dr Jim Groombridge at the
University of Kent, (2003 onwards, lecturer 2003-2008, Senior Lecturer
2008-2012, Reader 2012-), undertaken in partnership with the Mauritius
Wildlife Foundation, the Seychelles Islands Foundation and Government
Ministries of both states, has identified unexpected evolutionary
distinctiveness and established high conservation priority for rare
populations of birds and frogs on Mauritius and Seychelles. Subsequent
studies have led to the recovery of three critically-endangered species
and to the alleviation of problems with wildlife disease. Groombridge's
research has led to renewed investment of international conservation
resources across the Indian Ocean. His work on island species conservation
is particularly important because islands host a high proportion of global
biodiversity and help define our understanding of evolutionary science;
these `living laboratories' also host many of the World's rarest species
making them a global conservation priority.
Groombridge's research interests lie primarily in population restoration,
population ecology, conservation genetics and evolutionary studies
involving phylogeny reconstruction. A central focus of his research is the
theoretical and practical aspects of endangered species conservation and
the application of population, genetic, morphological and phylogenetic
studies to enhance understanding of the biological processes that guide
the conservation trajectory of endangered species. Since 2006 Groombridge
has focused his research on conservation of island biodiversity, with an
emphasis on the Indian Ocean islands of Mauritius and Seychelles. His work
in this area combines the practice of field monitoring and population
recovery techniques with the more theoretical approaches of evolutionary
phylogenetics and conservation genetics at the population level. This work
has had two key outcomes: (i) it has revealed avian biodiversity to be
much more evolutionarily ancient (and therefore of heightened conservation
value) than previously thought, and (ii) it has successfully tackled
challenging conservation problems, such as island-to-island
reintroductions and studies of genetics and infectious disease. This
resulted in important changes in approaches to conservation. Groombridge
led three research initiatives which have had particularly significant
impact on conservation policy and practice in the region:
(i) Molecular work from 2011-2012 on a newly-discovered
population of Seychelles' sooglossid frog. Groombridge's research
ruled out the possibility of it being a recent human- mediated
introduction and instead confirmed it to be evolutionarily distinct and
therefore worthy of conservation investment. This research galvanised
efforts to save this species (see section 3, publication iii).
(ii) Evolutionary research from 2009-2013 on biogeography,
morphology and population genetics confirmed the Seychelles paradise
flycatcher to be one of the most evolutionarily distinct species; this
finding then justified an ambitious translocation initiative by
Groombridge that produced a sustainable `safety net' population for the
species. This reintroduced population established successfully and
produced second-generation offspring within two years, along with
sustained population growth. This paved the way for a study of the genetic
effects of reintroduction that demonstrates how genetic diversity can
still be lost even from severely-bottlenecked species. This research led
to the recovery of this species (see section 3, publication v).
(iii) Molecular studies from 2009-2012 involving sequencing
DNA from 200-year-old specimens of extinct species of parrots from
Reunion Island and Seychelles. These studies led to a new understanding of
the evolutionary distinctiveness of an endangered species of parakeet on
Mauritius. Population-level genetic work on the Mauritius parakeet
described how long-term intensive population management had genetically
benefitted the recovered population; simultaneous work on a severe disease
outbreak amongst those parakeets identified how a novel mutation in the
virus most likely led to the outbreak. This was important because it
provided field biologists with guidance on how best to manage the parakeet
population. The underpinning research led to better management of the
parakeet population (see section 3, publications ii & iv).
Between 2009 and 2013 Groombridge secured a total of £1.1 million of
external funding for research and assistance in implementing conservation
actions for island biodiversity. The awards include a £234,000 grant from
the Darwin Initiative (DEFRA, UK, grant number 15-009) to support a
translocation of Seychelles paradise flycatchers; £216,000 from the
Leverhulme Trust to support research into the disease outbreak amongst
Mauritius parakeets; and two NERC CASE PhD studentships (ref #
NER/S/A/2006/14144 and F01290X/1) to support conservation genetic and
immunological research on endemic and invasive parakeets on Mauritius
(details in section 3, points a, b, c, d).
References to the research
i. Bristol, R., R. Tucker, D. A. Dawson, G. Horsburgh, R. Prys-Jones, A.
Frantz, A. Krupa, N. Shah, T. Burke and J. J. Groombridge (2013).
Comparison of historical bottleneck effects and genetic consequences of
reintroduction in a critically-endangered island passerine. Molecular
Ecology 22: 4644-62. doi: 10.1111/mec.12429.
ii. Kundu, S., C. G. Faulkes, A. G. Greenwood, C. G. Jones, P. Kaiser, O.
D. Lyne, S. A. Black, A. Chowrimootoo and J. J. Groombridge
(2012). Tracking viral evolution during a disease outbreak: the rapid and
complete selective sweep of a circovirus in the endangered echo parakeet.
Journal of Virology 86: 5221-9. doi: 10.1128/JVI.06504-11.
iii. Taylor, M. L., N. Bunbury, L. Chong-Seng, N. Doak, S. Kundu, R. A.
Griffiths and J. J. Groombridge (2012). Evidence for evolutionary
distinctiveness of a newly discovered population of sooglossid frogs on
Praslin Island, Seychelles. Conservation Genetics 13: 557-566.
iv. Kundu, S., C.G. Jones, R.P. Prys-Jones and J. J. Groombridge
(2012). The Evolution of the Indian Ocean parrots (family:
Psittaciformes): Extinction, eustacy and tectonism. Molecular
Phylogenetics and Evolution 62: 296-305. doi:
v. Bristol, R. M., P-h Fabre, M. Irestedt, K. A. Jønsson, B. Warren
and J. J. Groombridge (2012). Molecular phylogeny of the
Indian Ocean Terpsiphone paradise flycatchers: previously
undetected evolutionary diversity revealed amongst island populations. Molecular
Phylogenetics & Evolution 67: 336-47. doi:
a. Darwin Initiative/DEFRA: 2012-2015 Round 18 Project 19-002: A
cutting-EDGE approach to saving Seychelles' evolutionarily distinct
biodiversity (£256,000). Jim Groombridge, Principal Investigator; partner
organisations: EDGE of Existence Programme, Zoological Society of London,
Natural History Museum/University College London, University of Exeter,
Government of Seychelles Ministry of Environment and Energy, Seychelles
Islands Foundation, Seychelles National Parks Authority, Natural History
Museum of Seychelles, Wildlife Clubs of Seychelles, Nature Protection
Trust of Seychelles.
b. Darwin Initiative/DEFRA: 2006-2009 Project 15-009: `Investing in
island biodiversity: restoring the Seychelles Paradise Flycatcher'
(£234,000). Principal Investigator Jim Groombridge; project is in
partnership with Nature Seychelles, The Government of Seychelles Ministry
of Environment and Natural Resources, RARE, RSPB, Wildlife Vets
International and Kent Business School. Led to publication v above.
c. Leverhulme Trust: 2008-2011 (£216,000) `MHC Diversity and Emerging
Infectious Disease in Parakeet Populations on Mauritius'. Principal
Investigator Jim Groombridge; project is in partnership with Queen Mary
University of London, International Zoo Veterinary Group, Mauritian
Wildlife Foundation. Led to publications ii and iv above.
d. Two NERC CASE PhD studentships (ref # NER/S/A/2006/14144 (£60,000) and
F01290X/1 (£72,117) 1/10/2008-31/9/2011).
e. European Science Foundation: 2013-2017 (ES1304) `ParrotNet' €400,000
(£342,500) COST Action ES-1304 to establish a research network on
predicting impacts of invasive parakeets.
Details of the impact
Groombridge's research has improved the long-term conservation prospects
for two critically- endangered bird species and one of the world's most
endangered frogs in Mauritius and the Seychelles. The impact is
particularly significant because island biodiversity forms an important
portion of global evolutionary heritage and these isolated systems also
host some of the world's most endangered species.
Impact on practice (see section 5, points A, B, C, D)
Groombridge's approach has galvanised conservation action for specific
endangered species and their populations in Mauritius and Seychelles.
On Seychelles, Groombridge negotiated with local and regional government
bodies and brokered support for translocation and establishment of a
new population of Seychelles paradise flycatchers, one of the rarest
flycatchers in the world. This was a major political and logistical
landmark in the conservation management of this species, as lack of
agreement had stalled progress towards translocation since 2001, when the
Species Action Plan advocated reintroduction to Denis Island (detailed in
section 5, point B). In doing so, Groombridge informed the Government
of Seychelles National Species Action Plan for the flycatcher and
provided a framework for how to successfully carry out reintroductions.
This work by Groombridge also paved the way for population genetic work on
this species and this has helped to define the emerging field of
`reintroduction genetics' with a significant impact on conservation
practice. Moreover, phylogenetic work by Groombridge (2009-13) has
revealed the Seychelles paradise flycatcher to be one of the most
distinctive Indian Ocean species, which not only justifies the field
conservation and translocation/reintroduction efforts by the Government of
Seychelles, but also highlights a threatened flycatcher population on
Mauritius as sufficiently distinct to warrant conservation (see
letter from Mauritius Wildlife Foundation, section 5, point D).
On Mauritius, conservation efforts for the Mauritius parakeet benefitted
from DNA work undertaken by Groombridge et al (2009-2012) on museum
specimens of other endangered and extinct parrots in the Indian Ocean by
revealing in an evolutionary context the conservation `value' of the
endemic parakeet. Research using different molecular tools revealed how
the intensive conservation management of the Mauritius parakeets by the
Mauritius Wildlife Foundation has had a beneficial effect on genetic
diversity in this species. The Executive Director of the Mauritius
Wildlife Foundation states that Groombridge's research has `made a
substantial difference to our outlook' (detailed in section 5, point
D). This brought long-term benefits by slowing the gradual erosion of
genetic diversity and improving the evolutionary viability of the
species, a benefit acknowledged by the Mauritius conservation NGO.
Groombridge has also tackled problems of infectious disease in this
species. Genetic work on a high-profile disease outbreak of Psittacine
Beak and Feather disease virus in this species served as a leading
case-study worldwide for other parrot conservation programmes to
follow where endangered populations have become infected with PBFD virus,
for example see Massaro, M., Ortiz-Catedral, L., Julian, L., Galbraith, J.
A., Kurenbach, B., Kearvell, J., & Varsani, A. (2012). Molecular
characterisation of beak and feather disease virus (BFDV) in New Zealand
and its implications for managing an infectious disease. Archives of
Virology, 157(9), 1651-1663, Groombridge's work is
referenced in relation to New Zealand, and see section 5, point C.
Groombridge has galvanised amphibian conservation on Seychelles through
field and laboratory- based research on the rare Seychelles sooglossid
frogs, known to be one of the most ancient groups of frogs. Genetic work
by Groombridge has identified a recently-discovered frog population on
Praslin island as evolutionarily distinct (section 5, point D). This
clarified the need for surveys on additional Seychelles islands, for
example Dr Frauke Fleischer-Dogley, Chief Executive Office, Seychelles
Island Foundation states `this confirmation has provided much needed
clarity and enabled SIF to orientate its conservation activities to
focus on conserving this population' (see section 5, point E). The
research also attracted additional conservation funds by local NGOs
(notably the Mauritius Wildlife Foundation and the Seychelles Islands
Foundation) and developed a 3-year PhD project (by Jim Labisko) on the
evolutionary conservation genetics and restoration of sooglossid frogs.
Impact on public awareness and understanding (see section 5, point E)
Groombridge has improved awareness and understanding of his field amongst
the public and the policy community through the showcasing of his projects
as examples of best practice in UK Government documents (DEFRA and
the annual report of the Darwin Initiative, section 5 point E) and in
books targeted at a wide practitioner audience. A published book on
Reintroduction Biology illustrates the work by Groombridge and defines the
`gold standard' for genetic management of reintroductions for conservation
(700 copies sold, third highest seller for Wiley in this area).
Impact on policy (see section 5, points A, B, D, E)
Groombridge's work has led to increased investment by the UK to
improve training and capacity-building in conservation across the
Indian Ocean. Darwin Initiative/DEFRA recently provided £256,000 for
2012-2015 to support the work (to train 5 local biologists from
Seychelles, with interisland training involving Mauritius), and this
re-affirms the UK's commitment to conserving island biodiversity (see
section 3, `funding'). This funding will be used to unite local
conservation NGOs with UK-based expertise to develop the skills and
capacity of local biologists. Groombridge's leadership of this project has
resulted in the additional award of a €400,000 (£342,500) European Science
Foundation grant to establish a four-year research network (`ParrotNet':
COST Action ES- 1304) to coordinate European and international research
into the environmental, agricultural and societal issues surrounding
invasive parrots. Therefore an important aspect of the impact of Jim
Groombridge's work is that he has persuaded a range of organisations to
extend and increase funding for conservation work for endangered species
in Seychelles and Mauritius.
Sources to corroborate the impact
A. The Government of Seychelles, La Digue Development Board and other
local authorities signed agreements pledging support for a translocation
of flycatchers (source: Darwin Initiative Final Report).
B. The National Species Action Plan for the flycatcher states the need
for establishment of 3-4 additional reintroduced populations on other
islands (source: Seychelles Paradise Flycatcher Species Conservation
Assessment and Action Plan). The initial translocation by Groombridge
paved the way forward for achieving the SAP target.
C. The population genetic work is used as a case study in a key planning
text to illustrate how timely use of genetic data can inform
reintroduction strategy: Groombridge, J. J., C. Raisin, R. M.
Bristol & D. S. Richardson (2011). Genetic consequences of
reintroductions and insights from population history. In: Reintroduction
biology: integrating science and management (Ewen, J.G., Armstrong,
D.P., Parker, K.A. & Seddon, P.J., Editors). Wiley- Blackwell, Oxford.
D. A letter from Mauritius NGO (Mauritius Wildlife Foundation, (source:
signed letter from Executive Director of the MWF) confirms their renewed
interest in working with the endemic population of Mascarene paradise
flycatcher on Mauritius following Groombridge's research, stating that it
has made a genuine difference to their approach to conservation.
E. The local conservation NGO in Seychelles, the Seychelles Islands
Foundation, has targeted resources and conservation efforts at these frog
populations (see letter from Seychelles Islands Foundation).
The showcasing of this project by DEFRA can be viewed in the DEFRA 13th
Annual Report (p.8-9). http://www.darwin.gov.uk/annual/13thAnnualDarwinReport.pdf