Alastair Grant

Centre for Ecology, Evolution and Conservation (CEEC)


University of East Anglia

CEEC logo


I have been at the University of East Anglia (UEA) since 1989. Prior to that I worked in the Institute of Estuarine and Coastal Studies at Hull University, and Dove Marine Laboratory, Cullercoats (Newcastle University). I have a BSc in Marine Biology, and a PhD in Oceanography, both from the University of Wales (Swansea). More details are available on my CV.

In addition to the research and teaching activities detailed below, I was Deputy Head of School and Director of Finance for the School of Environmental Sciences from 2007-2010, overseeing the management of a 17M budget and am heavily involved with The Earth and Life System Alliance (ELSA), a strategic alliance between the University and the adjacent John Innes Centre. I have previously been director of the Centre for Ecology, Evolution and Conservation (CEEC), which brings together a large group of ecologists and evolutionary biologists spread across the Schools of Environmental Sciences and Biological Sciences..

Outside of work, I am married to Ruth, with two adult children, enjoy gardening, walking and kayaking/canoeing, and am a member of St Thomas's Church in Norwich.

Research Interests

The ultimate aim of my research in this are is to define the dose-effect relationships relating environmental concentrations of particular contaminants to predictions of their ecological effects. Within this, I have been particularly involved in the use of metal tolerant populations and communities as potential monitoring tools and as model systems to understand the cause-effect chain linking effects of contaminants on individual organisms to their ecological effects on populations and communities. This is increasingly involving me on work linking whole organism and population level effects with so called "biomarker" responses to pollutants. Other interests within this broad area include:

Environmental impacts of manufactured nanoparticles
Ecological risk assessment of drill cuttings piles and the likely environmental impacts of oil rig decommissioning in the Northern North Sea
Use of X-ray fluorescence in monitoring metal concentrations and use of metals as tracers of sediment transport.
Speciation and availability of metals bound to sediments.

For some additional internet based information see: 

Summary of our work on environmental impacts of drill cuttings piles and links to other internet sites on platform decommissioning

Risks to the environment from ivermectin use in marine fish farming.

Most of my work in this area uses matrix projection models and the mathematical tools developed by Tuljapurkar, Orzack, Caswell, Cohen and others to determine the circumstances in which stochastic variation in survival and/or reproductive success alter optimal life histories and the selection pressures on different parts of the life history. A recent paper (Grant, 1997) shows how elasticity analysis can be extended to any density dependent population model, including those which have chaotic dynamics or experience stochastic environmental variation. A subsequent paper (Grant, 1998) shows how these methods can be used to predict the consequences of chronic toxicity or other perturbation for field populations which experience density dependence. We have developed the theory in more detail in a paper published in a special issue of the journal Ecology on elasticity analysis (Grant and Benton, 2000) and have reviewed the whole field in an article in Trends in Ecology and Evolution (Benton and Grant, 1999). The most important result of this work is the conclusion that a density independent analysis is often a poor guide to the impact of changes in individual demographic parameters on density dependent populations. This means that density dependence cannot be ignored when using elasticity analysis in the management of populations (see my recent paper on Elasticity analysis of LPA model of Tribolium for a worked example that illustrates this). The implications for evolutionary studies are not quite so severe, as a density independent analysis often provides a reasonable approximation to the effects on individual fitness. This is, however, not always the case. However, when populations have density dependent growth and are subject to stochastic environmental variation or show non-equilibrium dynamics, one cannot guarantee that any of the standard fitness measures will give the same conclusions as the fully correct approach using invasibility (see Benton and Grant, 2000). This means that care should be exercised when using lifetime reproductive success as a fitness measure in behavioural ecology. Much of this work is in collaboration with Tim Benton, now at Leeds University. I am also involved in research on some other aspects of the life history biology of marine organisms.

In conjunction with Dr. Mark Rehfisch and Dr. Phil Atkinson of the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), Dr. Steve Crooks and myself carried out a review for English Nature of the success (or otherwise) of schemes to create or recreate intertidal habitats such as saltmarshes and mudflats. The final report of this work is available on the English Nature web site, and further information on the project is available via this web page. One of my researchers, Hannah Mossman, is continuing this work, jointly supervised by a plant ecologist colleague, Tony Davy.It is becoming increasingly clear that created saltmarshes are only a partial substitute for natural marshes.  Pioneer communities are relatively easy to create, but upper marsh communities are less common on created marshes than would be predicted from elevation in the tidal frame, and the two visually most attractive species, Sea Lavender (Limonium vulgare) and Sea Pink (Armeria maritima) are almost absent from created marshes, and this continues to be true even on areas that were reflooded accidentally more than a century ago.

In March 2011, there were over 2000 citations of my papers in Science Citation index.

List of publications since 2000  A list of older publications is available here.

PhD Students and Research Staff

Ali Albaggar. Microbial communities in rivers and groundwater (primary supervisor, Kevin Hiscock)

Jo Chitty. Ecological functions of created saltmarshes and mudflats.

Harri Condie. Discarding in marine fisheries (Jontly supervised by Tom Catchpole at Cefas Lowestoft))

Susan Duncan. Consequences of climate change for flowering time in Arabidopsis thaliana (based at John Innes Centre, with Caroline Dean as primary supervisor)

Widad Fadhullah. Impacts of low oxygen on marine ecosystem functions

Emmi Hall. Copper pollution and metal tolerant polychaetes: genomics and metabolomics

Asif Khattak. Effects of temperature on growth in Arabidopsis thaliana (co-supervised by Phil Wigge at the John Innes Centre)

Dr Hannah Mossman  Can we successfully create saltmarshes and mudflats?

Tom Turner. Meta-transcriptomic and population analysis of the community structure and metabolic response of microbes to different plant rhizospheres (based at John Innes Centre, supervised by Phil Poole)

Sandhya Sukumaran  Population consequences of genotoxicity


PhD Opportunities

The School of Environmental Sciences has a number of PhD studentships available each year, and I am always interested in hearing from potential PhD students with strong academic track records. For other research opportunities in Ecology, please look at the home page of the Centre for Ecology, Evolution and Conservation.


My main teaching responsibility is a 200 level course in Coastal and Marine Ecology (ENV 2A02), which focusses on developing student's skills and confidence in using the primary literature. I am also involved in teaching a course (ENV2A7Y) which seeks to develop student's skills in organism identification and to give training in the statistical analysis of ecological data.

I have been course director for our Ecology degree programme, and had a major involvement in planning our MSc in Applied Ecology and Conservation, both of which are run jointly with the School of Biological Sciences. The course units that I teach are also available as part of our BSc Environmental Sciences programme, and have been course director for BSc Environmental Sciences with a year in Europe.

Professor Alastair Grant
School of Environmental Sciences,
University of East Anglia,
Norwich, NR4 7TJ, U.K.

Tel +44 (0)1603 592537 FAX +44 (0)1603 507719 e-mail

 More general information on Ecology at UEA

This page was last updated on 18 July, 2013