I am a Research Fellow at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in the UK. My research focuses on understanding what drives patterns of species and genetic diversity, and how we can use this to help people, agriculture and wildlife adapt to environmental change. I work across a spectrum of scales from method development to field applications and policy impact. A significant theme is applying genomic and spatial modelling techniques to conservation and other global challenges. I’m also very lucky to collaborate with brilliant scientists and conservation practitioners around the world, particularly in Ethiopia, Madagascar and Oman.

My work has been funded by GCRF, NERC, BBSRC, DEFRA and philanthropy. I welcome prospective MSc and PhD students as well as new collaborators who might like to develop a project proposal together.

Research themes:

Understanding biodiversity patterns – how is genetic diversity distributed across species’ ranges? How much of this diversity is useful, or adaptive? Does domesticated diversity (i.e. the agrobiodiversity of crops and other useful plants) show the same patterns as wild biodiversity?

The genomic basis of local adaptation – can we predict how plant or animal populations will respond to environmental change? I’m particularly interested in exploring how modest and carefully evaluated interventions like assisted gene flow which can help sessile species like trees keep pace with climate change.

Sustainable agriculture – it’s impossible for conservationists to ignore the world’s predominant land use i.e. growing plants to feed ourselves. The more efficiently and sustainably we can achieve this, the more space we have for conservation. More importantly, ensuring food and nutritional resilience can help give communities the security they need to think about longer term conservation and sustainability.

Side projects:

  • Understanding edge effects and habitat suitability for the world’s rarest gibbon.
  • Collaborating with the Oman Botanic Gardens to map rare endemic plants in the central desert.
  • Quantifying the impact of forest edge effects on the distribution herpetofauna (and their microhabitats) in Madagascar’s heavily fragmented Northern rainforests.
  • Using counterfactual analysis to understand conservation effectiveness in Madagascar

BBC Earth Interview

Selected publications:

Koch O, Mengesha WA, Pironon, S., Borrell, JS. (2021) Modelling potential range expansion of an underutilised food security crop in Sub-Saharan Africa. Environmental Research Letters; xx-xx.

Borrell, JS, Gebremariam, Z & Abebe, WM Utilize existing genetic diversity before genetic modification in indigenous crops. Nature Biotechnology 39, 1064–1065 (2021).

Borrell JS, Zohren, J, Nichols, RA, Buggs, RJA. (2019) Genomic assessment of local adaptation in dwarf birch to inform assisted gene flow. Evolutionary Applications; 13: 161175.

Borrell JS, Dodsworth S, Forest F, Perez-Escobar OA, Lee MA et al. (2019) The climatic challenge: Which plants willpeople use in the next century? Environmental and Experimental Botany.<

Borrell JS, Wang, N. Nichols, R.A., Buggs, R.J.A. (2018) Genetic diversity maintained among fragmented populations of a tree undergoing range contraction. Heredity

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