Staff profile

Dr Richard Williams


Richard Williams holding a bird


Biology and Zoology


College of Life and Natural Sciences


School of Environmental Sciences

Research centre

Environmental Sustainability Research Centre


Kedleston Road, Derby Campus



I investigate the ecology and evolution of vertebrate pathogens, especially in birds. Fluctuations in disease cycles and emerging diseases are part of global change. Pathogens spread to new host species and ecosystems, threatening public, livestock and wildlife health. But most wildlife pathogens are poorly known. I use field sampling, molecular screening, ecological niche modelling (ENM), and phylogenetic analyses, to understand how patterns of disease distribution and phylogeny change. I have worked on various pathogen systems: papillomavirus, poxvirus, avian influenza, avian malaria, flaviviruses.

In 1999, the USA was ravaged by a mysterious emerging disease that killed wild birds, horses and people: West Nile Virus. It suddenly emerged in New York and spread to Alaska and Argentina. The virus amplifies in wild birds, and is transmitted by mosquitoes. When infected mosquitoes bite humans, this can cause lethal spillover to people. I was hooked on researching the natural history of zoonotic and other wildlife diseases. Fast forward to 2020, and we are again suffering severe emerging diseases that came from nowhere: Covid-19. We really must learn to investigate little known diseases before it becomes urgent to.

I am especially interested in avian papillomavirus and poxvirus. These viruses are really nasty for birds but are not taken seriously by the scientific community. They are "emerging" diseases that are becoming far more common and invading new geographic areas. But not important: they only affect birds. These diseases are becoming much more common in the UK. This coincides with major population increases in some bird species and major declines in others. How is environmental change driving the evolution of such bird pathogens? What is the effect?

Teaching responsibilities

My position at the University of Derby is research only. That said, I help out with teaching in the College of Life and Natural Sciences when I am asked to. I have participated in the following modules:

I am/have been involved in research supervision/collaboration of Undergraduate or Masters Level Research, on subjects including testing for Human Papillomavirus in human tonsils, developing species distribution models for the Black Rhino, and analysis of bird rescue centre data.

I have taught extensively in previous roles in universities in Sweden, Spain, USA.

I have just received my FHEA (Fellow of the Higher Education Academy).

Professional interests

Responsibilities & Skills

Experience with molecular screening techniques including; Nucleic Acid extraction, primer design, PCR, qPCR of specific genes and microbial pathogens, RT-PCR, microsatellites

Serology (Blocking ELISA, PRNT, Microsphere Immunoassay)

Developing Ecological Niche Models (MAXENT, ENMTools, GARP, ArcGIS for visualization of data)

Bird Ringing (British Trust for Ornithology A-permit holder). I have previously been licensed to ring and collect samples in the USA and Spain, and have also worked closely with ornithologists and wildlife epidemiologists in Sweden.

Experience with analysis programs including; Beast, Clustal, Geneious, MrBayes, Paup, RaxML, TNT, and many more.

Manuscript Reviewer for British Poultry Science; Ecohealth; Ecology and Society; Epidemiology and Infection; Geospatial Health; International Journal of Health Geographics; Journal of Applied Ecology; Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine; PLoS ONE; Transactions of the Royal Society for Tropical Hygiene and Medicine and many more

Associate Editor for 'Journal of Applied Animal Research'

Research interests

Membership of professional bodies


International experience

Zoonotic Ecology and Epidemiology, Linnaeus University, Kalmar, Sweden (2016-2018) 

Zoology and Physical Anthropology, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Spain (2011-2016)

Natural Sciences, St. Louis University, Madrid Campus, Spain (2008-2015)

Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, University of Kansas, USA (2004-2010)

Zoology Department, Natural History Museum, London, UK (1999-2004)

Short-term research stays

Epidemiology and Emerging Infections, Naval Medical Research Center Detachment, Lima, Peru

Arbovirus Lab, Instituto de Salud Carlos III, Majadahonda, Spain

Vector-borne and Zoonotic Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Fort Collins, USA

Virology, Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research, University of Accra, Ghana

Additional interests and activities

Blog Posts

Dr Richard Williams, Researcher in the University of Derby’s Environmental Sustainability Research Centre, discusses whether there is a connection between COVID-19 and climate change, and explains how climate affects disease distributions.

Epidemiology of oral HPV infection in tonsil tissue. Poster. Lisbon Portugal. EUROGIN. 2018

Epidemiology of oral HPV infection in tonsil tissue. Invited talk. Kegworth, Derbyshire, UK. East Midlands Cancer Alliance Advisory Group. 2018

Molecular identification of Papillomavirus in ducks. Poster. Villa Aske. 8th One Health Sweden Scientific Meeting. 2018

Mallard maladies: real-time PCR detects chronic cloacal papillomavirus in ducks. Poster. Turku, Finland. 11th European Ornithological Union Conference. 2017 

Neglected pathogens of wild birds. Poster. Kalmar, Sweden. Ecology Meets Epidemiology, 7th One Health Sweden Scientific Meeting. 2017 

Exploring patterns of microbial biodiversity using ecological niche models. Poster. Borgholm, Sweden. EEMiS Workshop. 2017 

Moderate prevalence of pox-like lesions in house sparrows and low genetic diversity of avipoxvirus strains in Spain. Poster. Strasbourg, France. XXI International Poxvirus Conference. 2016

 A century of Shope Papillomavirus in museum rabbit specimens. Invited talk. III Congreso de Novedades en Investigación Zoológica. Madrid, Spain. UCM. 2016

Blood-sucking parasites of pied flycatcher nestlings in el Escorial, central Spain. Poster. Badajoz, Spain. 10th European Ornithological Union Conference. 2015

PCR detection of poxvirus in naturally infected wild birds: comparison of blood, swab and tissue samples. Poster. Salamanca, Spain. XIX International Poxvirus Conference. 2012

Perez-Uz…Williams RAJ, Martin-Cereceda. Rain-fed granite rock pools: extreme refuge niches for protists. Accepted by Limnetica, 2019

Lawson, B….and Williams RAJ.  Spatio-temporal dynamics and aetiology of proliferative leg skin lesions in wild British finches. 2018. Sci Rep 8: article 14670

Williams RAJ, et al. Endemicity and climatic niche differentiation in three marine ciliated protists. 2018. Limnol and Oceanogr 63: 2727-2736

Williams RAJ, et al. papillomavirus. 2018. Sci Rep 8: article 9096

Truchado DA, Williams RAJ, et al. Natural history of avian papillomaviruses. 2018. Virus Res 252: 58-67

Ruiz-Martínez J, Ferraguti M, Figuerola J, Martínez-de la Puente J, Williams RAJ, et al. 2016. Prevalence and genetic diversity of avipoxvirus in house sparrows in Spain. PLoS ONE 11: e0168690 

Escudero Duch C*, Williams RAJ *, et al. 2015. A century of Shope papillomavirus in museum rabbit specimens. PLoS ONE 10: e0132172. * joint first author

Williams RAJ, et al. 2014. PCR detection of avipox and avian papillomavirus in naturally infected wild birds: comparisons of blood, swab and tissue samples. Avian Pathol. 43:130-4

Williams RAJ, et al. 2014. Avian Pathology: polymerase chain reaction detection of avipox and avian papillomavirus in naturally infected wild birds: comparisons of blood, swab and tissue samples. J Avian Med Surg. 28: 184-185 (Not Peer-reviewed)

Williams RAJ, et al. 2012. Avian influenza infections in non-migratant land birds in Andean Peru. J Wildl Dis. 48: 910-917

Williams RAJ, et al. 2012. Yaoundé-like virus in resident wild bird, Ghana. Afr J Microbiol Res. 6:1966-1969

Perez-Tris J*, Williams RAJ*, et al. 2011. A multiplex PCR for detection of avian papillomavirus and poxvirus in cutaneous warts from live birds and museum skins. Avian Dis. 55:545–553 *joint first author.

Williams RAJ, et al. 2011. Continent-wide association of H5N1 outbreaks in wild and domestic birds in Europe. Geospat Health. 5: 247-253

Nakazawa Y, Williams RAJ, et al. 2010. Ecological niche modelling of Francisella tularensis subspecies and clades in the United States. Am J Trop Med Hyg. 82: 912-8

Williams RAJ, Peterson AT. 2009. Ecology and geography of avian influenza (HPAI H5N1) transmission in the Middle East and northeastern Africa. Int J Health Geogr. 8: e47

Williams R. 2009. Review of the book: “Forgotten people, forgotten diseases: the neglected tropical diseases and their impact on global health and development”by Peter J. Hotez. Washington (DC): ASM Press. Quart Rev Biol. 84: 320-321 (Not Peer-reviewed)

Williams RAJ, et al. 2008. Predictable ecology and geography of avian influenza (H5N1) transmission in Nigeria and West Africa. Trans Roy Soc Trop Med  Hyg. 102: 471-9

Martin Cereceda M, Williams RAJ, et al. 2008. Easy visualization of the protist Oxyrrhis marina grazing on a live fluorescently-labelled heterotrophic nanoflagellate. Curr Microbiol. 57: 45-50

Peterson AT, Williams RAJ. 2008. Risk mapping of highly pathogenic avian influenza distribution and spread. Ecol Soc. 13: e15

Martín Cereceda M, Williams R, et al. 2007. An investigation of the fine structure, cell surface carbohydrates and appeal of the diatom Extubocellulus as prey for small flagellates. Protoplasma. 232:69-78

Nakazawa Y, Williams R, et al. 2007. Climate change effects on plague and tularemia in the USA. Vector-borne Zoonotic Dis. 7: 529-540

Peterson AT, Williams R, et al. 2007. Modeled global invasive potential of Asian gypsy moths (Lymantria dispar). Ent Expt App. 125: 39–44

Mohammed K, Papeş M, Williams R, et al. 2006. Global invasive potential of 10 parasitic witchweeds and related Orobanchaceae. AMBIO. 35: 281-288