Conservation of life

Conservation research in physiology is essential to all future sustainable management of the planet and its inhabitants.

Human activity continues to impact ecosystems and their living organisms. To reverse species decline, we need to fully understand their physiology. With the right knowledge being used in ecological models, we can better predict better how species will respond to environmental change and how we can improve their chances of survival. Moreover, the research can inform better policy decisions for the health of the planet.

In other words, conservation physiology is a very integrated science and ideal for those that are interested in various branches of biology and environmental studies.

Conservation physiologists use physiological knowledge to build a better understanding of species to aid conservation and management. Their work also draws parallels with human medical conditions to inform better treatments.

A few years ago, scientists discovered the extreme life span of the Greenland shark, which may be as long as 500 years. This remarkable longevity inspired a team of physiologists from different research labs across the world to travel to the ocean off the coast of Greenland to find out more. They spent several weeks on a ship collecting a huge variety of data on the shark’s growth, movement and reproduction. Back in their labs, they are now trying to understand how the shark responds to stress and changing environmental conditions. See their video below.

Get inspired!

This work could be invaluable in aiding effective management and conservation of sharks, and also offer useful comparisons with human physiology. For example, understanding how the shark heart beats for nearly half a millennium without developing heart disease could provide answers about the ageing process of the human heart.

Conservation physiology is a fascinating field and one with huge potential as there is still so much left to learn about the living organisms we share the planet with.

How do I get involved in conservation physiology research?

An undergraduate degree in any life science subject (including physiology, biomedicine, medicine, sports science, neuroscience, genetics etc.) will open the door to a career in physiology research.

Following this, you will have to apply for a PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) if you wish to pursue a research career in a university. This involves a substantial research project, typically 3-4 years in length, and training in scientific as well as transferable skills. These are usually fully funded by Research Councils, charities or increasingly industry.

Graduates often complete a Master’s degree before undertaking a PhD. Master’s degrees like a MSc (Master of Science), MRes (Master of Research) and, increasingly, integrated Master’s degrees (e.g. M.Biol or Master of Biology) help to develop a greater understanding of a particular scientific area. This will give graduates a better grounding and make them more competitive for PhD positions.

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