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Kimberley Simpson


Postdoctoral Researcher

Contact details



  • PhD – Dept of Animal & Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield, UK (2013-2018; Funded by NERC)
  • MBioSci -Dept of Animal & Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield, UK (2008-2012). 1st Class Honours.

Research interests

At a broad scale I’m interested in how processes (natural and artificial) create and maintain phenotypic diversity from population up to global scales.

Impacts of domestication and agronomic selection on plant defences (Masters thesis)

When humans domesticated wild plants thousands of years ago to produce the crops we rely upon today, they caused substantial changes in these plants. Some of these changes are obvious and desirable, such as increased yield and faster growth, but others are less noticeable and even unwanted, such as a possible reduction in plants’ defences against herbivores. I investigated the effect of domestication and modern agronomic selection on the main anti-herbivore defence in cereals – silicon (Simpson et al., 2017).

The influence of fire on grass functional traits (PhD thesis)

Fire is a disturbance that has shaped plant traits and floral communities for over 420 million years. The history and success of grasses is particularly linked to fire: grasses experience some of the highest fire frequencies on Earth, and fuel the majority (86%) of fires worldwide.

My PhD research focused on how fiIMG_5338re shapes grass traits, particularly those related to flammability and post-fire recovery. This meant I got to do lots of fieldwork in South Africa under the careful guidance of Prof Brad Ripley (Rhodes University)

In my work, I’ve shown that grass flammability varies considerably between coexisting species and is driven by specific plant traits (Simpson et al., 2016). I found that savanna grasses could use the experience of being burned to prepare themselves for future fires (Simpson et al., 2019). Grasses with experience of fire were different from those that had never been burned before. Fire-wise grasses invested more of their living tissue, or biomass, below the ground after surviving a fire – where it would be protected from the heat of any subsequent fires – and put more resources into reproducing by producing more flowers. These lingering physical differences can be thought of as memories of the fire in the wise plants which help them be better prepared the next time their surroundings burn.


Simpson KJ, Olofsson JK, Ripley BS, Osborne CP. 2019. Frequent fires prime plant developmental responses to burning. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 286: 20191315 – Link to paperRelated article on The Conversation

Simpson KJ, Wade RN, Rees M, Osborne CP, Hartley SE. 2017. Still armed after domestication? Impacts of domestication and agronomic selection on silicon defences in cereals. Functional Ecology – Link to paper –

Simpson KJ, Ripley BS, Christin P-A, Belcher CM, Lehmann CER, Thomas GH, Osborne CP. 2016. Determinants of flammability in savanna grass species. Journal of Ecology 104(1): 138-148 – Link to paper – 


I’ve gained considerable experience of teaching within the Animal & Plant Sciences Department during my PhD (as part of the ‘PhD with teaching’ scheme) as well as spending 5 months as a University Teacher.

My research interests are echoed in my teaching. I’ve lectured on plant physiology, reproduction and development (APS120, APS137) and population and community ecology (APS273). In addition, I have ran practicals on plant and fungi biology (APS137) and two plant-based research projects (APS135). I have supervised a number of tutor groups (for Level 1, Level 2 and Erasmus students) and L3 dissertation students (APS331). Teaching in the field on a range of diverse topics (APS350 Marine Ecology, APS336 Animal Ecology and Behaviour and APS273 Plant population and community ecology)  has been a personal teaching highlight!


I believe outreach is important in inspiring the next generation of biologists, and have enjoyed getting involved in a range of outreach activities.