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Kimberley Simpson

Contact details



  • PhD – Dept of Animal & Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield, UK (2013-present; 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. This work has recently been published in Functional Ecology (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 research focuses on how fiIMG_5338re shapes grass traits, particularly those related to flammability and post-fire recovery. This means I get to do lots of fieldwork in South Africa under the careful guidance of Prof Brad Ripley (Rhodes University)

Thus far, I’ve shown that grass flammability varies considerably between coexisting species and is driven by specific plant traits (Simpson et al., 2016). I’m currently looking into how fire frequency drives divergence in grass flammability and recovery traits, and the role of fire characteristics as environmental filters for grass traits.


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. 10.1111/1365-2745.12503

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 Ecology10.1111/1365-2435.12935



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’m excited to be a mentor on the British Ecological Society’s Undergraduate Summer School later this year.


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