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Rob went to the then new University of York in the late 1960s where he majored in Biology and minored in flower power (briefly), revolutionary politics (a little longer) and the other fun things that 1960s students did after they left home (ongoing). At York, he was a contemporary of politician Harriet Harman (whom he never knew but whose name he continues to drop). Rob graduated with a BA in Biology and then moved south to the University of Reading to study statistics for one year in order to get a proper job. The plan did not work because the scarcity of quantitative biologists led to him being offered a temporary lectureship in Applied Zoology that became permanent. He obtained his MSc in Biometry, registered for a part-time PhD in Applied Statistics and was awarded his PhD in 1978. After his PhD, he moved from computer simulation to real animals and worked on various topics in ecology and evolution, including deer genetics, insect pests of stored seeds and then rats.
He was appointed Professor of Biology at the University of Leicester in 1992 where he became in turn Sub-Dean (Graduate Studies) in Biological Sciences and Medicine, Head of the Department of Zoology, Head of the newly formed Department of Biology and eventually Head of the School of Biological Sciences. He was a member of various grants committees of the NERC and was appointed as an independent member of the government Advisory Committee on Pesticides (ACP) for three consecutive terms between 1999 and 2006 and was reappointed in 2010. He served as deputy chair of the ACP and chaired the Environmental Panel from 2003. During this period, his research was supported by the NERC and Defra. He was also awarded competitive visiting fellowships to work for short periods at the NCEAS (Santa Barbara, USA), CSIRO Entomology (Perth, W. Australia) and St John's College, Oxford.
Rob moved from Leicester to become Dean of Applied Sciences at the University of Huddersfield in 2005 and was awarded the title of Visiting Professor at the University of Leeds in 2006. He has served as chair of the Yorkshire and Humber branch of the Society for Chemical Industry and as a member of an environmental advisory panel of the Yorkshire and Humber regional assembly and the executive committee of Heads of University Biological Sciences.
On retiring from the University in 2009 he was awarded the title of Emeritus Professor. Since his retirement, Rob has remained active in the scientific community and was appointed as a member of the Committee on Toxicology of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment, which advises the Government and the Chief Medical Officer, in January 2010. He was also a member of a Defra panel on bee health and the Insect Pollinators Initiative Panel, which allocated substantial funding to research projects that aim to understand, and to mitigate, factors that adversely affect bees and other insect pollinators, drawing on his expertise in ecological modelling and environmental effects of pesticides.
During his career, Rob supervised 35 PhD students, including several international students who carried out research in their own countries, which led to Rob travelling to a number of countries in Africa, Asia and Central America for supervisory visits. His most 'interesting' overseas visit was to Equatorial Guinea as a World Bank consultant, where he was briefly arrested on arrival and later had a machine gun pointed at him when he mistakenly tried to drive a landrover into the presidential palace.
Rob's international reputation led to his being appointed as an expert in environmental science to the PPR (i.e. pesticides) panel of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in 2012. He has chaired EFSA working groups on Good Modelling Practice, Non-Target Arthropods, Soil Organisms and BEEHAVE (honeybee modelling), each leading to publication of a scientific opinion to guide European policy. He is currently a member of the MUST-B working group (protection of honeybees) and chairs a working group on Amphibians and Reptiles. This activity means that he flies to Italy for meetings about twice a month from September to June – so much for retirement!
Rob works in population biology. This includes topics in ecology, evolution and behavioural ecology. Rob uses modelling, laboratory experiments and field studies, depending on which is most appropriate to answer a scientific question. In recent years, the main focus of his research has moved from insects to rodents although he still work with beetles and, more recently, mites. All of these are pests of agriculture or public health.
His research continues to mix theory with applications and has moved from stochastic population models through life-history evolution to chaos and complex dynamics, currently focusing on spatial dynamics.
Topping, C., Craig, P., de Jong, F., Klein, M., Laskowski, R., Manachini, B., Pieper, S., Smith, R., Sousa, J., Streissl, F., Swarowsky, K., Tiktak, A. and van der Linden, T. (2015) ‘Towards a landscape scale management of pesticides: ERA using changes in modelled occupancy and abundance to assess long-term population impacts of pesticides’ Science of The Total Environment , 537, pp. 159-169. ISSN 00489697
Topping, C., Craig, P., de Jong, F., Klein, M., Laskowski, R., Manachini, B., Pieper, S., Smith, R., Sousa, J., Streissl, F., Swarowsky, K., Tiktak, A. and van der Linden, T. (2015) ‘Towards a landscape scale management of pesticides: ERA using changes in modelled occupancy and abundance to assess long-term population impacts of pesticides’ Science of The Total Environment , 537, pp. 159-169. ISSN 0048-9697
Haniza, M., Adams, S., Jones, E., MacNicoll, A., Mallon, E., Smith, R. and Lambert, M. (2015) ‘Large-scale structure of brown rat (Rattus norvegicus) populations in England: effects on rodenticide resistance’ PeerJ , 3, p. e1458. ISSN 2167-8359
Smith, R. and McElwee, G. (2014) ‘Informal, Illegal and Criminal Entrepreneurship’. In: The Routledge Companion to Entrepreneurship. London, UK: Routledge. . ISBN 978-0-415-63176-1
Geudes, R. and Smith, R. (2008) ‘Competition strategies and correlated selection on responses to polyandry in the seed beetle Callosobruchus maculatus’ Physiological Entomology , 33 (4), pp. 372-381. ISSN 03076962
Lambert, M., Quy, R., Smith, R. and Cowan, D. (2008) ‘The effect of habitat management on home-range size and survival of rural Norway rat populations’ Journal of Applied Ecology , 45 (6), pp. 1753-1761. ISSN 0021-8901
Guedes, R., Guedes, N. and Smith, R. (2007) ‘Larval competition within seeds: From the behaviour process to the ecological outcome in the seed beetle Callosobruchus maculatus’ Austral Ecology , 32 (6), pp. 697-707. ISSN 14429985
Baker, S., Singleton, G. and Smith, R. (2006) ‘The nature of the beast: using biological processes in vertebrate pest managment’. In: Key Topics in Conservation Biology. London, UK: Blackwell. pp. 173-185. ISBN 9781405122498
Moe, S., Kristoffersen, A., Smith, R. and Stenseth, N. (2005) ‘From patterns to processes and back: analysing density-dependent responses to an abiotic stressor by statistical and mechanistic modelling’ Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Part B Biological Sciences , 272 (1577), pp. 2133-2142. ISSN 0962-8452
Brakes, C. and Smith, R. (2005) ‘Exposure of non-target small mammals to rodenticides: short-term effects, recovery and implications for secondary poisoning’ Journal of Applied Ecology , 42 (1), pp. 118-128. ISSN 0021-8901
Ellner, S., Seifu, Y. and Smith, R. (2002) ‘Fitting population dynamic models to time-series data by gradient matching’ Ecology , 83 (8), pp. 2256-2270. ISSN 0012-9658
Moe, S., Stenseth, N. and Smith, R. (2002) ‘Density-dependent compensations in experimental blowfly populations give indirectly positive effects of a toxicant’ Ecology , 83 (6), pp. 1597-1603. ISSN 0012-9658
Lingjaerde, O., Stenseth, N., Kristoffersen, A., Smith, R., Moe, J., Read, J., Daniels, S. and Simkiss, K. (2001) ‘Exploring the density-dependent structure of blowfly populations by nonparametric additive modeling’ Ecology , 82 (9), pp. 2645-2658. ISSN 0012-9658
Population Dynamics and Modelling
Analysis and modelling of long-term population data to help reveal what generates complex patterns of population change in time and space (blowflies, mites).
Behavioural Ecology and Evolution
1. Laboratory studies of beetles that infest stored seeds
2. Field studies of rats in the English agricultural landscape.