Professor Alison M. Dunn

Professor Alison M. Dunn


My first degree was in Zoology at Pembroke College Oxford. After working as a Nature Research Warden, a Lab Technician and a Violin Teacher, I returned to academia to undertake a PhD in Parasitic Sex Ratio Distorters (parasites that alter the sex of their hosts) at the University of Leeds. My post doctoral research was at the NERC Centre for Population Biology, Imperial College. I came to the University of Leeds as a NERC Research Fellow, then as a University Research Fellow, before joining the academic staff. Currently I am Professor of Ecology and the Director of Student Education in the School of Biology


  • Director of Student Education, School of Biology

Research interests

Invasive Species, Parasitic Disease and Novel Ecosystems

Invasive Alien Species lead to novel trophic and competitive interactions. These novel interactions can lead to population extinctions, changes in community structure and in ecosystem function.  Our lab studies the impact of invasive predators on native species. Parasites are also important players in these novel interactions. Invasive species can bring parasites with them; novel weapons that can infect native species. Parasites can themselves be biological invaders with the potential to lead to emerging infectious diseases. We are interested in the outcome of these novel interactions, in predicting and reducing the risk of disease emergence, and in the potential for harnessing diseases for biocontrol. 

In collaboration with Queen's University Belfast

Parasites and host behaviour. Parasitic diseases are ubiquitous in wildlife. Interactions between competitors, predators and their prey have long been viewed as the foundation of community structure. But parasites – long ignored in community ecology- are now recognised as playing an important part in influencing species interactions. Parasites reduce the fitness and survival of their hosts. But we are particularly interested in how parasites drive changes in host behaviour and life history (trait mediated effects), how this in turn affects competitive, predator-prey and other consumer-resource interactions, and the outcome for community structure and ecosystem function.

Slowing the Spread of Invasive Non Native Species

We collaborative with environment managers to translate research evidence into on the ground solutions. Invasive Alien Species (IAS) are a leading cause of biodiversity loss, and threaten ecosystem services with spiralling economic costs. For example, zebra mussels block water pipes, crayfish plague threatens our native crayfish, floating pennywort can lead to flooding. Freshwaters ecosystems are particularly vulnerable to the spread of IAS through trade, transport, recreation and environmental management. Once IAS become established it is often difficult and expensive to manage them. Biosecurity is a critical first line of defence to prevent their introduction and spread. We are researching effective, practical biosecurity practices for application in a range of field conditions. We work with stakeholders to identify barriers to biosecurity, increase awareness and uptake of biosecurity across diverse sectors.

In collaboration with the Sustainability Research Institute, University of Leeds,  the Centre for Environment Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, The Environment Agency, Yorkshire Water, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Natural England, Forestry Commission, National Trust, Yorkshire Dales Rivers Trust, Ribble Rivers Trust, Dales to Vale River Network, Yorkshire Invasive Species Forum (YSIP), Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA)

Working with industry to slow the spread of invasive species

Water companies provide a constant supply of safe drinking water to homes and businesses, and transfer of water (eg between lakes or reservoirs) is essential to ensuring water supplies. Accidental translocation of animals or plant fragments during water transfers can lead to the spread of Invasive species. In collaboration with Civil Engineering, and with Yorkshire Water, we are bringing multidisciplinary approaches to develop and test new mitigation practices to reduce the spread of invasive non native species during the large scale transfers needed to secure water supplies, focussing on key aquatic animal and plant INNS identified by the EA and the UK water industry.

In collaboration with Yorkshire Water and with the School of Civil Engineering, University of Leeds

Extinction, Invasions and Parasites

Extinction is one of the great challenges of our times. Invasive alien species (IAS) and the diseases they carry are one of the top global causes of extinction. Ecologists and managers work to protect native species from extinction through biosecurity to prevent the introduction of invasive species and their parasites. 

Emerging diseases such as covid present global, scientific and social challenges. The aim of governments and science is the extinction of this virus locally, nationally and globally. Biosecurity is a key weapon in slowing the spread of Covid-19. Debates and discourse around biosecurity (masks) and prevention (vaccines) highlight the importance of the interface between scientific evidence and public perceptions of disease and biosecurity.    

At the same time, popular discourse relating to ‘native’ versus ‘alien’ species has taken on xenophobic features, especially when such language, carrying over from biology to culture, is transferred onto migrants and other ‘unwelcome’ social groups. The science around invasive species is much needed to combat species loss, which is a huge challenge, but equally needed is critical attention to the protectionist discourse of ‘foreign threat’.

We are currently advertising an interdisciplinary studentship to explore these challenges  

PhD opportunity  

<h4>Research projects</h4> <p>Any research projects I'm currently working on will be listed below. Our list of all <a href="">research projects</a> allows you to view and search the full list of projects in the faculty.</p>


  • Zoology BA Hons, Oxford
  • PhD, University of Leeds

Professional memberships

  • British Ecological Society
  • British Society for Parasitology

Student education

I am the Director for Student Education in the School of Biology . I teach in a range of areas including Behavioural Ecology, Emerging Infectious Diseases, Animal and Human Behaviour, Sexual Selection, Marine Zoology, Upland Ecology and Conservation, Invasive Species, Evolutionary Biology, Ecology.  I supervise undergraduate and masters projects in behavioural ecology, host-parasite interactions, sexual selection, ecology, conservation, invasive species and biosecurity .  

Studentship information

Postgraduate studentship areas:

  • Invasive Alien Species and novel ecosystems
  • Slowing the spread of Invasive Alien Species
  • Wildlife Diseases
  • Aquatic Ecology
  • Sexual selection

See also:

Modules managed

BLGY2321 - Marine Zoology Field Course
BLGY3135 - Advanced Topics in Behaviour: from sex to death

Modules taught

BLGY1128 - Living Planet
BLGY1300 - Coastal and Upland Habitats Field Course
BLGY1304 - Research Experience and Skills Level 1
BLGY2301 - Research Experience and Skills Level 2
BLGY2321 - Marine Zoology Field Course
BLGY3135 - Advanced Topics in Behaviour: from sex to death
BLGY3245 - Advanced Topics in Evolution
BLGY3345 - Biology Integrated Research Projects
BLGY3395 - Advanced Research Skills and Experience
BLGY3396 - Research Literature Review
BLGY5107M - Biodiversity and Conservation Skills I
BLGY5108M - Biodiversity and Conservation Skills II
BLGY5108M/5111M - MSc/MRes Bio & Cons Skills II
BLGY5191M - Biodiversity and Conservation MSc and MRes Summer Project

Academic roles

Director of Student Education


Member of Undergraduate School Taught Student Education Committee, School of Biology Management Committee, Student Education Strategy Group, Programme Approval Group, Faculty Taught Student Education Committee: Biological Science, School of Biology Student-Staff Partnership Forum 

Research groups and institutes

  • Ecology and Evolution

Current postgraduate researchers

<h4>Postgraduate research opportunities</h4> <p>We welcome enquiries from motivated and qualified applicants from all around the world who are interested in PhD study. Our <a href="">research opportunities</a> allow you to search for projects and scholarships.</p>