Xavier BalXavier Bal (Edinburgh, Post-graduate research assistant)

I have been involved in the field work with the St Kilda Soay Sheep Project since 2014 and I am now Research Assistant for the Ecology Within project. My main role is to collect the faecal samples on St Kilda and to co-ordinate with the core data collection in the field. When I’m not on island I work in the lab at Edinburgh University helping with the preparation of the faecal samples for various types of sequencing.


Dylan Childs (Sheffield, Investigator)

I am a quantitative ecologist with interests at both the pure and applied ends of the spectrum. I follow an interdisciplinary approach, developing data-driven models to understand population dynamics and natural selection in laboratory and free-living populations. I am particularly keen to understand how demographic, environmental and ecological processes interact to determine population dynamics and natural selection on life histories. I am also interested in developing theory and applications for modelling structured populations. My role in the project will be to help develop empirically-derived models to understand how gut bacteria and parasite populations impact on host demography and population dynamics.


YolandaYolanda Corripio-Miyar (Moredun, Post-doctoral researcher)

Having completed my PhD in 2006, and after 10 years working on various aspects of fish immunology and fish health at the Scottish Fish Immunology Research Centre in Aberdeen, I moved to the wonderful world of ruminant immunology 7 years ago. Initially at the Roslin Institute for my first 3 years and then at the Moredun Research Institute, my main research interest has always been in animal health and understanding the host-pathogen interactions with a focus on the host’s immune responses. More recently I have been trying to tease out how both parasite burdens and parasite populations affect immune responses in sheep. I feel extremely lucky to be part of the St. Kilda’s Soay sheep family and cannot wait to start working with all the partners to try and understand how gut bacteria and parasite populations affect fitness in the Soays.

Andy Fenton (Liverpool, Investigator)

I am a theoretical ecologist with a primary interest in understanding the dynamics of infectious diseases within wildlife hosts.In general I seek to gain this understanding through the coupling of simple mathematical models with data from wild systems.In particular I am interested in how the complexity of natural ecological communities –comprising both multiple host species and multiple interacting parasite species –affect parasite transmission, maintenance and impact.My role in this project will be to help develop a series of coinfection epidemiological models to predict how differences among individuals (in terms of age, sex, diet, immune status etc) affect the spread and levels of the various parasite species in the system.


Mariecia Fraser (Aberystwyth, Investigator) 

I’m a grazing ecologist based at Aberystwyth University’s Pwllpeiran Upland Research Centre.  As part of this project we will be developing a new approach to estimating which plants the sheep have been selecting from the range of different grasses, forbs and dwarf shrubs available, based on identifying plant DNA in their faeces.  Linking to the work profiling the vegetation across the study site we plan to define the extent to which the diets of different types of sheep (pregnant ewes, lactating ewes, barren ewes, growing lambs, rams) alter across the season as plant chemistry and availability changes.  The information gained will also be used to explore relationships between diet and the diversity of parasites and micro-organisms found in the gastro-intestinal tract. 


Andrew Free (Edinburgh, Investigator) 

Microorganisms constitute the vast majority of the diversity of life on planet Earth, and are an integral part of the bodies of mammalian hosts, in particular the gastrointestinal tract, where they contribute to metabolic function, immune system development and resistance to pathogens. My lab is contributing to the characterisation of the gut microbiota of the sheep studied by the St. Kilda Soay Sheep Project using molecular meta-taxonomics and metagenomics, bioinformatics and statistical methods. We are interested in the basic ecological processes which determine the diversity, functionality and variability of such natural microbial communities. 


Emanuel Heitinger (Humboldt University Berlin, Project Partner) 

My group is developing meta-barcoding markers for the assessment of intestinal eukaryotes. We are currently comparing the resolution of universal (18S, 28S) markers with more targeted genotyping approaches for monitored diversity and dynamics of Coccidia (Eimeria) infections. We aim to develop methods that allow to us diagnose and disentangle infections with multiple closely related species of Eimeria. My role in the project centres on developing meta-barcoding and bioinformatics methods using faecal samples collected on St Kilda to quantify the diversity of infections with the 11 known morphologically distinguishable species of Eimeria which infect the Soay sheep. 

Helen Hipperson (Sheffield, Investigator) 

I am a molecular ecologist with a general interest in using molecular techniques to answer questions in ecology, evolution and conservation. I support the generation and analysis of genomic data from a wide range of sample types and projects. Recently this has included developing protocols and pipelines to generate and analyse metabarcoding data for vertebrate diet analyses, and I am working as part of the Ecology Within team to implement these methods to investigate diet in the sheep. 



Adam Hayward (Moredun, Investigator) 

I’ve worked on the Soay sheep project since 2007 on a variety of questions related to life-history evolution, ageing and host-parasite interactions. My main research interest is in quantifying variation between animals in their defence against infection and in determining the drivers underpinning this. Recent work has focused on the trade-off between defence against infection and reproduction, which theory predicts can explain variation in immune, sexual and other life-history traits, but which is difficult to study without the sort of in-depth data collected from the Soays. I occasionally venture into the lab (under close supervision!) but mainly apply multivariate statistical analyses to the incredible Soay sheep data in order to address my research questions. 


Fiona Kenyon (Moredun, Investigator) 

I am a parasitologist, based at the Moredun Research Institute, interested in sustainable control of roundworms in livestock.  My research interests are focussed on worm (gastrointestinal nematode) parasites of ruminants.  These infections, which are commonly made up of simultaneous infection with a number of worm species, caused reduced growth rates in animals. They can be controlled by wormers (anthelmintics) but regular use of these products has led to the worm population becoming resistant to the compounds that are used to control them.  We need to be able to determine the species present and drug resistance status, in order to effectively treat the infection. Novel control methods are also required to optimise wormer use and slow the development of resistance; this can be achieved by identifying markers of infection such as monitoring weight gain. 


Hannah Lemon (Edinburgh, Lab manager) 

I have worked at Edinburgh University on various projects within the Institute of Evolutionary Biology since 2016 doing both field and lab work.  I am Lab Manger for the Ecology Within project and have been in this role since March 2019. I am in the process of setting up the lab for meta-barcoding work as well as developing protocols and optimising molecular lab techniques. I manage the day to day running of the lab and prepare all faecal samples collected on St Kilda for the various types of sequencing (bacterial, plant and protozoans). My role covers many aspects of the project, I am lucky enough to also be involved with the fieldwork on St Kilda. I will also help with the computational and statistical analysis to examine the microbial and parasitic gut community dynamics.  



Luke McNally (Edinburgh, Investigator) 

My lab study the ecology and evolution of microbes using a combination of mathematics, statistics, bioinformatics and experiments, with the goal of using these evolutionary insights to better inform public health policy and biomedical research. Work in the lab is focused on two main topics – the evolution of antimicrobial resistance and the link between the microbiome and health. In the Ecology Within project my lab will develop statistical models to assess the relative importance of the host and environment in determining gut microbiota composition, and to assess the effects of the microbiota on host fitness. 




Tom McNeilly (Moredun, Investigator) 

I am Head of Disease Control at the Moredun Research Institute. My major interests are in mucosal immunology in ruminants, specifically the nature of host-pathogen interactions at mucosal surfaces, and how this knowledge may inform future disease control strategies such as vaccination. More recently, I have established a number of projects exploring the health and fitness consequences of immune variation in both domestic and wild ruminants, and have pioneered high throughput methodologies to characterise the immune response at a population level. In this project, these methods will be used to quantify immune variation in the Soay sheep to determine how gut microenvironments interact with the immune system, and the impact this has on host survival and fitness. 


Dan Nussey (Edinburgh, Investigator) 

I am an evolutionary ecologist interested in understanding the role of the ageing process in the ecological and evolutionary dynamics of natural populations. I have been involved in the St Kilda Soay sheep project since 2007, and in that time have sought to develop and implement new techniques to better understand the physiological drivers of variation in health and fitness in this remarkable study system. My role in the Ecology Within project is to co-ordinate the ongoing work in the field and lab with informatics and analytical activities, to support the integration and collaboration among our broad, multi-disciplinary research team and to ensure the project ultimately meets its aims.  




Robin Pakeman (James Hutton, Investigator) 

I am a plant ecologist at the James Hutton Institute. My role in the project is to measure the quantity and quality of the food available for the sheep. This involves a combination of monitoring vegetation composition, height structure and biomass, as well as measuring biomass and taking samples for quiet quality analysis. I am also responsible for measuring vegetation productivity using a series of exclosure cages around Village Bay and helping out with the summer catch. 



Amy Pedersen (Edinburgh, Investigator) 

I am a disease ecologist with a primary interest inthe role that parasites and pathogens play in the wild. The central aim of my research is to better understand how parasites and pathogens impact the fitness and dynamics of their wild hosts, specifically by recognising and understanding the complexities that are inherent in natural systems. My research approach integrates an array of methodologies (experiments, modelling, statistical methods, meta-analysis, lab and field studies) to maximise the potential of ecological and evolutionary studies to address key questions about host-parasite interactions, including how to improve host health and develop effective disease control strategies. My role in this project will be to help link and interpret the complex gut ecosystem – specifically in understanding interactions between helminths, coccidial protozoans, the microbiota and the hosts’ immune response and then translating how these interactions impact host fitness and parasite transmission. 


Josephine Pemberton (Edinburgh, Investigator) 

I have been associated with the Soay Sheep Project since 1985. My main research interest is in the evolutionary genetics of the sheep, but I have also managed the field side of the project for many years. My role in the Ecology Within project is to ensure that the core long-term life history data on individual sheep continues to be collected and to keep the pedigree information up-to-date. This will enable us to look at the quantitative genetics of the new traits being measured in the project and also the impact of inbreeding on the traits. 


Jill Pilkington (Edinburgh, Field researcher) 

Jill has worked as the field assistant on the Soay Sheep Project since 1990, collecting data on thousands of individuals and teaching hundreds of volunteers how to collect data and handle the sheep. Jill was awarded an MBE for her professional and personal commitment to the project.




Amy Sweeny (Edinburgh, Post-doctoral researcher) 

I am a wildlife disease ecologist interested in how variable environments shape the relationship between host and their parasites. I am particularly interested in all things contained within the guts of wild animals. My PhD combined field and lab work with statistical analysis of long-term studies and investigated the role of nutrition quality and spatiotemporal environmental variation in driving nematode infection dynamics in wild wood mouse populations of Scotland and England. In my role as postdoctoral research associate with The Ecology Within Project I will be working with Luke McNally to develop and implement statistical pipelines for assessing host and environmental determinants of the microbiome and the complex relationships between gut parasites, microbiota, and host fitness. I will also be working with lab and field teams to help coordinate data and collaboration across the entire EW team.

Hannah Vallin (Aberystwyth, Post-graduate researcher /PhD Student) 

I am a research assistant at Pwllpeiran Upland Research centre, Aberystwyth University.  I have worked for the past six years on a variety of projects focusing on the rumen microbial ecosystem, ruminal lipid metabolism and diet composition manipulation. Over the years, this has involved many long-term field trials and animal trials with both livestock and poultry. My current role on the Ecology Within project is to develop methods to quantify and study diet composition.  I will be responsible for running diet trials held at Pwllpeiran with domesticated Soay sheep and then developing and applying meta-barcoding methods to quantify diet composition from faecal samples collected from Soay sheep on St Kilda. The application of this approach will be integrated with new vegetation survey work, and Soay sample collection on St Kilda to compare a natural population.