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Queens Anniversary Prizes 2015

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Dr Don R Reynolds

BSc (Special), ARCS, PhD, FRES, C.Biol.
Agriculture, Health and Environment Department
Natural Resources Institute


Dr Don Reynolds is an ecological entomologist specialising in insect migration and movement. He has particular experience (over about 40 years) in the use of radar and aerial sampling techniques to study the migration of insect pests and beneficials in both developing countries and in the UK. From 1973 to 1996, Dr Reynolds worked with Professor Joe Riley and Alan Smith at the Natural Resources Institute, carrying out studies which significantly advanced our understanding of the migration of economically-important agricultural pests in Africa and Asia. The pest species included: Sahelian grasshoppers in West Africa, African armyworm in East Africa, Old World bollworm in India; and brown planthopper in the Philippines and China. The various projects involved collaborations with, among others, the UNDP, Kenya Agriculture Research Organisation (KARI), the Desert Locust Control Organisation for Eastern Africa (DLCOEA), International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), and Nanjing Agricultural University in China.

Since 1996, Dr Reynolds has been based at University of Greenwich, and his work has had a more UK and European focus. The main collaboration has been with Dr Jason Chapman at Rothamsted Research on the long-term automatic monitoring of high-altitude insect migration over the UK by means of a novel vertical-looking radar (VLR) system and by aerial netting. These studies have elucidated the migration strategies of pests such as the diamondback moth, and natural enemies such as green lacewings and carabid beetles. Progress has also been made in determining the effects of meteorological variables on the flight-altitudes of long-distance insect migrants. Recently, Don Reynolds has participated in some ground-breaking research on the orientation mechanisms that migrant Lepidoptera use to maintain their seasonal migration directions, and on the benefits underlying the seasonal migrations to the UK.

Don Reynolds' other main research topic has been the use of harmonic scanning radar technology for research into bee and lepidoperan low-altitude navigation mechanisms and foraging strategies. Current research centres on optimal search (Lévy-flight) patterns in honeybees and bumble-bees in collaboration with Dr Andrew Reynolds and others.

Since 1996 Dr Reynolds has participated in collaborations with, among others, University of Illinois, Free University of Berlin, the University of Oldenburg (Germany), Institute of Animal Health (Pirbright), the Met Office and, latterly, the Departments of Biology or Zoology at the Universities of Lund (Sweden), York, and Oxford.

Dr Reynolds has about 85 scientific publications on insect movement, including co-authored papers in Nature, Science, PNAS and Current Biology. He has recently produced, in collaboration with Dr Alistair Drake of the University of New South Wales (Canberra), the first definitive monograph on the discipline of Radar Entomology

Research/Scholarly Interests

Many insect species engage in long-range migrations, and the movements of vast numbers of individuals has implications for pest management, conservation, and environmental change. However, most of these migrations take place high in air, and often at night, and so observation and data collection is intrinsically problematic. This apparently intractable problem can be addressed by a combination of remote-sensing systems, particularly entomological radar, and aerial sampling, and Dr Reynolds has been fortunate enough to devote virtually most of his scientific career to this area of research. As with any new sensing system, the application of radar to insect migration and movement revealed a series of hitherto-unseen (and rather marvellous phenomena), leading to numerous behavioural, ecological or biometeorological insights, and improvements in our understanding of the migration ecology of a range of agricultural pests. More recent academic studies of the silver-Y moth in the UK, using vertical-looking radar, have revealed surprisingly sophisticated flight behaviours in these migrants; the findings have led to fundamental changes in our understanding of insect migration.

Dr Reynolds has also participated in research using scanning harmonic radar, which allows tagged insects to be tracked over distances of several hundred metres. This technology was originally developed by the Natural Resources Institute, and its use has led to significant advances in bee neuroethology (the interface between behaviour under natural conditions and neurological mechanisms), the ecology of pollinators, odour-mediated anemotactic flights in moths, and optimal searching strategies. To mention one specific example, harmonic radar tracking helped resolve a long-standing scientific dispute concerning the honeybee "waggle dance".

Current and Previous Funded Research Projects

Quantifying long-range migration in Lepidoptera: integrating population dynamics and flight behaviour.

BBSRC research grant BB/D01932X/1 awarded to Rothamsted Research (Ian Woiwod and Jason Chapman). Project period: 2006–2009.

Don Reynolds was associated with this project which used the two Rothamsted vertical-looking radars to characterise the migration of selected long-range migrant Lepidoptera (particularly Autographa gamma – the silver-Y moth). Lepidoptera like A. gamma have evolved continental-scale migrations to northern temperate latitudes in order to exploit temporary breeding habitats in which they are unable to over-winter. Given that such movements will become more frequent under climate warming, it was desirable to obtain a better understanding of the mechanisms that underpin these migrations, as this is certain to be needed for integrated pest management strategies in the future. Very little was known about how the species influenced their displacement directions by means of their flight timing and their flight altitude and orientation.

A complex suit of behaviours influencing flight trajectories of A. gamma were discovered, including: (a) selection of seasonally-favourable tailwinds; (b) migratory flight at the altitudes of the fastest winds; (c) adoption of flight headings that partially counteracted crosswind drift; and (d) the seasonal reversal of preferred directions between spring and autumn. Monitoring the migration flux of moths into the UK in spring in comparison with the outgoing migration flux in autumn revealed that summer breeding produced a fourfold increase in abundance. This demonstrated unequivocally the reproductive benefits of this type of migration system.

European Network for the Radar surveillance of Animal Movement (ENRAM), COST (European Cooperation in Science and Technology), ESSEM COST Action ES1305

This newly-starting (October 2013) Europe-wide programme will "foster an essential international and multi-disciplinary approach by establishing a European network of radar biologists, meteorologists and engineers, which will coordinate existing monitoring efforts and prediction of animal movement patterns, extend these to a continental scale, and improve weather radar products for meteorological applications."

The rationale is that the migration of birds, bats and insects is of scientific and practical importance, and wide public appeal. The aerial movement of billions of organisms through Europe brings enormous benefits in terms of ecosystem services, but also poses great risks through air-traffic collisions, invasions of crop pests, and spread of disease. In our changing world it is vitally important that the timing, intensity and spatial distribution of these movements are monitored and the factors that drive these patterns understood.

Selected Publications

External Recognition

  • Rothamsted Research Fellow.
  • Member of Management Committee of the "European Network for the Radar surveillance of Animal Movement (ENRAM)".

Contact Information

Dr Don R Reynolds

Natural Resources Institute

University of Greenwich

Central Avenue, Chatham Maritime, Kent ME4 4TB, United Kingdom.

Tel: +44 (0)1634 883223

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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