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Dr Julia Cooke

Profile summary

  • Central Academic Staff
  • Lecturer in Ecology
  • Faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics
  • School of Environment, Earth & Ecosystem Sciences
  • julia.cooke

Professional biography

I am a plant ecologist, particularly interested in using traits to explore plant ecological strategies.

My main interest, building on my PhD research, is the functional ecology of plant silicon, that is, how plants use silicon.  I examined the role of silicon in the leaf dry mass economics spectrum, patterns in responses of stressed plants to silicon fertiliser, trade-offs between carbon and silicon herbivore defences in a natural system and the effect of silicon on leaf biomechanics.  In 2016 I co-edited two journal special issues - in Functional Ecology and Frontiers in Plant Sciences, which review the state of play and exciting new research in plant silicon. Podcasts about my siliceous research are here and here.

Previously I taught at Macquarie Univeristy, Sydney, at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels.  I was a post-doc with Prof. Angela Moles in her Big Ecology Lab at the University of New South Wales.   Using a huge dataset, I tested hypotheses about the distribution of simple vs compound leaves, and how plant trait variation relates to habitat variation.  As a post-doc with Prof. David Ellsworth at the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment at the University of Western Sydney, I examined the effects of elevated CO2 on photosynthesis in trees and understorey plants at the EucFACE facility, phosphorus recycling in photorespiration and determinants of stomatal conductance in forest systems.  With Dr Ian Wright, I examined changes in relationships between leaf traits, biomass allocation and growth rates with ontogeny in savannah ecosystems.  

My earlier research on invasive species encompasses the introduction and spread and population dynamics of an Australian semi-arid weed, as well as carbon capture, growth and reproductive strategies of diverse weeds across the globe.  I have also worked on pitcher plants, Christmas trees and algal balls!

I am now a Lecturer in Ecology at The Open University where I contribute to modules across levels, postgraduate training and my reserach continues on plant silicon and ecological strategies spanning pollination, growth rates, responses to climate change, invasive species and plant-animal interactions.

Research interests

I am a plant functional ecologist, interested in the different roles species play in ecosystems. I use plant trait analysis as a powerful tool to compare the functions of different species and describe ecological strategies. 

In brief, my interests are:
  • Silicon functional ecology
  • Invasive plant biology
  • Plant-insect interactions
  • Plant trait analysis
  • Comparative ecology
  • Growth-trait relationships
  • Plant physiology and climate change

Teaching interests

S112 Science: concepts and practice

  • I am a module team member, involved in writing and developing this module
  • I developed Space-Time scales, Environmental Cycles, and Ecological Interactions.

S206/SXF206 Environmental Science

  • I contribute to field schools and fieldcasts (1, 2 and 3 from 2017)

SDT306 Environment: Response to Change

  • I'm co-writing the Biodiversity and Conservation block with Phil Wheeler
  • I'm developing a Dinner Plate Diversity interactive!

Impact and engagement

I'm involved in Soapbox Science Milton Keynes, an intiative which brings science to the streets and increases the visibility of women in science, as a speaker in 2016 and part of the organising committee in 2017. I regularly contribute to outreach activities including Science Uncovered at the Ulster Museum, Belfast and the In Situ Science podcast.  I am a committee member of the British Ecolgocial Society Teaching and Learning Special Interest Group, and an associate editor for Functional Ecology. 

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