PREDICTS – Using data for Conservation – The Applied Ecologist


This month, The Applied Ecologist is amplifying the voice of early career ecologists from around the world working in the field of applied ecology to help inspire the next generation. In this post, Victoria Burton at the Natural History Museum, shares her story below.

My Background

Victoria, © Victoria Burton

I am a post-doctoral research assistant at the Natural History Museum and a trustee for the Amateur Entomologists’ Society. This year I am also helping organize a camp for young people interested in insects.

In my spare time, I keep a tropical aquarium, reptiles, exotic insects and grow cacti plants. I recently got a cocker spaniel puppy, so currently a lot of my spare time is spent looking after him!

Where am I now?

I have recently started working on the PREDICTs project in the  Biodiversity Futures Lab . PREDICTS gathers information from ecological studies from around the world to predict how biodiversity responds to human activities, especially land use change. The PREDICTS database is ideal for answering many research questions as it is relatively representative taxonomically and geographically, structured, and freely available for anyone to use.

The decline in species threatens human wellbeing, so it is vital we understand how human activities change our planet’s biodiversity. PREDICTS data feeds into the Biodiversity Intactness Index which estimates how much on average, a region’s biodiversity is left. We can also estimate what might happen to biodiversity in the future in different scenarios of wealth, population, and land use, which can help inform policy choices.

So far PREDICTS has not focused on urban biodiversity, but since this is where most people live it’s important to know what species are present and how they are affected by human activities. My work is filling this gap by searching for studies that compare biodiversity in urban areas with other land uses, or in sites with different intensities. PREDICTS uses raw data from authors rather than summary data extracted from the papers so my next task is to contact authors to ask them for data. All data contributors are offered authorship on the database, our first publication had over 500 authors!

What motivates you?

Example of Excalibur outreach at RHS show, © NHM.

I’ve always wanted to be a scientist and have been interested in natural history for as long as I can remember. Originally, I was motivated by learning and discovery but increasingly it’s the thought that my work could make a difference to how land is managed and improve biodiversity that motivates me.
My journey has been somewhat unconventional in part due to undiagnosed autism. I gained a BSc in Natural Sciences with the Open University, which was a great fit for me as I could fit study around my health and paid work as a medical administrator. At 30 I took the plunge to leave paid work for a scientific career and studied for a MSc at Imperial College London and the Natural History Museum. There I discovered the world of soil and leaf litter biodiversity and was captivated, there is just so much life hidden underground. This led me to do a PhD researching the effect of land use on soil life, a citizen science project I developed called Earthworm Watch. I greatly enjoyed it, especially working with scientists all over the world and doing public outreach on soils and earthworms.

One piece of advice for other ECRs

Joining committees, research interest groups or editorial panels are great ways to network and gain experience and skills.

More details about PREDICTS project

If you are interested in finding out more about the PREDICTS project or would like to get in touch, please visit the website:

You can also follow me on Twitter: @soilscholar

Discover more posts from our ECR Journeys blog series here

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