Researcher Spotlight : Lucy Gilbert

Published: 29 April 2019

Welcome back to our latest round of Spotlight Articles – this time, focusing on Post-Docs and PIs! This week, Elle Lindsay puts Lucy Gilbert under the spotlight...

Welcome back to our latest round of Spotlight Articles – this time, focusing on Post-Docs and PIs! This week, Elle Lindsay puts Lucy Gilbert under the spotlight. Lucy has built up an impressive CV during her years as a researcher and is now a Senior Research Fellow. Here, she tells us a little more about her research and her life as an academic…

Tell us about your background.
I have a background in behavioural and evolutionary ecology, having been an undergraduate at Oxford. I then completed a PhD on “Sperm competition in the western gull” at Sheffield University, with Tim Birkhead as my supervisor (1996). I moved to Stirling University for my first post-doc, which identified the wildlife reservoir hosts of the tick-borne Louping ill virus (LIV), that kills grouse and sheep.
I returned to behavioural ecology in birds (and population genetics of seals!) across various fellowships at St Andrew’s, before spending 13 years focussing on ticks and Lyme disease again, this time at a research institute in Aberdeen.

Lucy Gilbert Duotone‌What is the focus of your current research?
I work on several topics, all related to multi-trophic (or multi-ecosystem) interactions. Most of my time is spent working on the ecology and control of ticks and tick-borne diseases. I also work on marine-terrestrial ecosystem interactions, specifically via nutrient input from seabirds. The IBAHCM seminar I gave (“Talking Plants”) described my work on underground networks of mycorrhizal fungi that attach to plant roots and can transfer signals between plants warning them of attack by pests such as aphids.

Why did you initially decide to come to IBACHM?
I have been here since September 2018. It is the best place to be for tick and disease research, and I was attracted by the vibrant and stimulating research and social atmospheres! Not to mention the West End of Glasgow being lovely.

What do you find most interesting about your work?
I love the variety of using very different systems to explore interactions between different trophic levels, different kingdoms and even different ecosystems. There is never a dull moment!

What has been the most positive aspect so far?
The greatest buzz was the discovery that plants can use fungi as underground telephone wires to warn each other of pest attack – a completely novel finding that swept fast through the media and is now “common knowledge” as part of wildlife TV documentaries, and even children’s science programs. I am also quite pleased with my work on zebra finches that showed that something as subtle as female psychology (how much the female fancies her male) has measurable, multi-generational impacts: females that fancy their males more change the content of their eggs, resulting in larger daughters that themselves go on to lay more and bigger eggs. 

What has been the most challenging aspect so far?
Moving around a lot, job insecurity, and living in a different country from my partner for 12 years.

Are you where you thought you would be a year ago?
No, it’s much, much better!

If you could tell your PhD-self one thing, what would it be?
Keep going, don’t give up, don’t let the b****rs get you down!

Tell us about your plans for the future.
Future? Just take one day at a time. Be in the present, man!

First published: 29 April 2019