Faculty of Biological Sciences

Prof John Altringham

BA (York) PhD 1981 (St. Andrews)
Emeritus Professor, Animal Ecology and Conservation
School of Biology

Background: Professor of Biomechanics (Leeds, 1999-)
Lecturer, Sr. Lecturer and Reader (Leeds, 1989-1999)

I studied Biology at the University of York before going on to St Andrews University to carry out a PhD on the physiology and mechanics of fish swimming muscle. I was awarded a NATO Fellowship to work at the University of Washington in Seattle, testing some controversial theories about how muscle worked at the molecular level. I returned to St Andrews to study how muscle has evolved to power locomotion in different animals and different environments, including fish as diverse and fascinating as high-speed tuna and Antarctic ice-fish. A long-standing interest in the biology and conservation of bats led to a major change in the direction of my research and teaching. To help my teaching I wrote Bats: Biology and Behaviour, published in 1996 by OUP, which I'm currently rewriting and expanding. In 2003 my British Bats was published in the long-running New Naturalist series.

Contact:  Off Campus, email address for  

You can read more about Prof Altringham's interests here:

Research Interests

The biology and conservation of bats (and animal mechanics)

graphFor many years I studied how evolution shapes the form and physiology of animals for locomotion, in particular for swimming and flying. To catch food, avoid becoming food, to find a mate or to migrate, animals must be able to move effectively and efficiently if they are to be successful in the evolutionary race. Integrating studies on muscle function with whole animal movement was the major theme of my research.

I then became increasingly interested in bats, with the aim of relating their ability to fly and echolocate to their behaviour, ecology and ultimately, population biology. Despite their small size, bats have a life history strategy of low fecundity and longevity and through their ability to fly, they utilise the landscape on a large scale. Given these factors, and bats' enormous diversity, they have considerable potential as a model group for studying mammalian ecology. Much of my work on bats is driven by a concern for their conservation: the very features which make them interesting also make them vulnerable in an ever more fragmented landscape.

Our research is multi-faceted, using a variety of field and lab-based techniques. In field studies, the foraging and social behaviour of bats is related to the distribution of their resources (e.g. food, roosts, mating and hibernation sites) and to the mating systems that have evolved within the constraints of the system. In the lab, in collaboration with Prof. Roger Butlin at Sheffield University, molecular genetics approaches are used to probe mating systems and to study the effects social structure migration and mating patterns have on population structure. With Prof. Stuart Bearhop at Exeter University and Dr Jason Newton at SUERC (Glasgow) we are using stable isotope analysis to study the migration of swarming bats and trophic niche space.

Some of our research has more immediate practical goals, for example we are currently investigating new techniques for identifying bats in the field from their echolocation calls, surveying and monitoring mating and hibernation sites in need of protection, building GIS-based habitat suitability maps and studying the effects of roads on bats.

Funding for our work currently comes from NERC, DEFRA, The Leverhulme Trust, several conservation charities, including the People's Trust for Endangered Species, and government conservation organisations including Natural England, the Countryside Council for Wales and the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors National Park Authorities.

Current Projects

  • Swarming ecology of bats
  • Applications of stable isotope analysis to bat ecology
  • Habitat suitability modelling of bats and the application of GIS
  • The effects of roads on bats
  • Automated identification of bats from their calls
  • Survey techniques for woodland bat species
  • The effects of forest fragmentation in the Western Ghats, India

Faculty Research and Innovation

Studentship information

Postgraduate studentship areas:

  • Biology and conservation of bats

See also: