James Kempton

Research Interests

Though my DPhil research was in the control and energetics of bird flight, I now work in the mathematical modelling of malaria epidemiology. I am interested in how age and number of exposures to malaria influence patterns of severe and mild disease in patients. Understanding these patterns demands the development of transmission models and the fitting of disease risk functions to clinical data. Despite my transition to infectious disease research, I maintain an interest in flight biomechanics, in particular in the dynamic soaring flight mode used by procellariiform seabirds to harvest energy from the wind shear gradient above the ocean’s surface. Dynamic soaring helps Procellariiformes – the albatrosses, petrels, and shearwaters – fly vast distances, often without flapping for extended periods. Alongside developing new means to study dynamic soaring behaviour, I researched the guidance behaviour of attacking birds-of-prey during my graduate work, and I continue to engage in this field.

I have accompanied my graduate and post-doctoral research by leading scientific expeditions to discover new species, particularly in the Balkans. In June 2023, I will lead my most ambitious expedition to date, to Indonesian New Guinea. Expedition Cyclops will take myself and the expedition team to the Cyclops Mountains in Papua. One aim is to find Attenborough’s long-beaked echidna – unseen for 62 years – in the unwalked peaks of the mountains. The expedition is a collaboration between the University of Oxford and the Indonesian Research and Innovation Agency, and scientists at both institutions will be describing new species to science discovered on the expedition. Genetic work on collected tissue samples, alongside new geological work on the Cyclops Mountains, aims to uncover the evolutionary history of New Guinea’s enigmatic fauna. Finally, the expedition is intended to galvanise new conservation efforts to protect the threatened mountains.

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