A Fascination with Flamingos; a Reflection on Roses and a Renaissance for Rivers

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Mar 11, 2014
from 05:30 PM to 06:30 PM


Ken Edwards Building, Lecture Theatre 1

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0116 252 2320

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Professor David Harper 

Department of Biology

Lecture Summary

My scientific career in Leicester as an aquatic ecologist has followed three paths, not obviously related, other than through their medium. I shall explain each one, up to the present day, showing how they are linked by the single, overwhelming driver of my professional life.

“A Reflection of Roses” starts with my PhD; a study of eutrophication (enrichment) in Scottish lochs. This interest in lakes then led me to a long-term study of a Kenyan lake, when appointed to Leicester as a Lecturer in Adult Education, initially through adult study tours, that turned into 20 years of research supported by the Earthwatch Institute with its members as field research assistants. This lake now has global importance, because its waters irrigate 75% of the cut flowers sold in European supermarkets.  Its ecology has changed over the past 30 years but its future prospects are bright.

“Renaissance for Rivers” comes from my first employment, between PhD and Leicester, with the Water Authority, where I learnt river ecology from an applied perspective. Practical methods, which I developed with colleagues for enhancing river conservation, have evolved into tools for guiding the restoration of the many degraded rivers that now criss-cross our lowland landscape. These tools now provide me with exciting opportunities for restoration of the Welland, throughout south and east Leicestershire.

“A Fascination with Flamingos” started with wonder at some of the most extreme aquatic environments on earth – inland soda lakes – where flamingos are the dominant form of life higher than a microbe. The famous ornithologist Lesley Brown wrote a book in 1959 called “The Mystery of the Flamingos”, which he had just solved, almost killing himself in the process.  Watching a million flamingos on a lake one day, to find they have disappeared the next, shows us that there are many mysteries still left to solve.


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