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Department of Geography



Dr Ilona Kater

Teaching Associate in Human Geography and Bye-Fellow at Queens' College

Arctic ecologist interested in human-environment interactions and use of multiple forms of knowledge within research


  • 2021-Present: Teaching Associate, University of Cambridge
  • 2022-Present: Director of Studies and Bye-Fellow, Queens' College, University of Cambridge
  • 2019: Visiting Scholar, Umeå University
  • 2018: Research Assistant, University of Stirling
  • 2017: Research Assistant, University of Alaska Fairbanks


  • 2018-2022: PhD in Biosciences and Anthropology, University of Durham
  • 2014-2018: BSc Ecology, University of Stirling



Ilona's research is focuses on Northern and Arctic ecology, examining the complex relationships between human activity, the physical environment, and the living environment. Previous work has examined otter ecology in relation to fish farms in the Shetland Islands, alongside research into carbon fluxes in Fenno-Scandinavian tundra soils, linked to processes of Arctic 'greening' and Arctic 'browning'.

Cumulative impacts of land-use

Her most recent research has focused on how the winter grazing of reindeer in Northern Europe is being affected by changes to the physical environment around them. These changes include the cumulative impacts of industrial development, such as silviculture, mining, hydropower and population centres, and changing weather patterns, including more frequent icing events which block reindeer grazing. Using data derived from fieldwork and numerical modelling, this work aims to further our understanding of the complex and mutifaceted interactions occuring in this system, both today and in the near future.

Natural scientists and local knowledge holders

Reindeer in Fennoscandia do not live in a system detached from humans. Not only are they impacted by the physical effects of industrial development, but they are also impacted by social changes, especially those occuring in the relationships between industry, Saami herders, and the nation-states within which they reside. This work aims to understand the influence of politics, law, policy, and economies on the reindeer herding system, adding a vital human component into the study of biological systems. Alongside highlighting the benefits of an interdisciplinary and collaborative approach, this research questions the ways in which scientists interact with knowledge holders, especially Indigenous communities, noting that we need to undertake these collaborations in a mindful, respectful and reflective way to avoid practices that lead to harmful and inaccurate work.


Internationally peer-reviewed

  • Kater, I. (2022) Natural and Indigenous sciences: literatures and lessons for more effective collaborations. Regional Environmental Change, 22(4).
  • Kater, I. and Baxter, R. (2022) Abundance and accessibility of forage for reindeer in forests of Northern Sweden: Impacts of landscape and winter climate regime. Ecology and Evolution, 12(4): e8820
  • Parker, T.C, Chomel, M., Clemmensen, K.E, Friggens, N.L, Hartley, I.P, Johnson, D., Kater, I., Krab, E.J, Lindahl, B., Street, L.E., Subke, J.-A. and Wookey, P.A. (2022) Resistance of subarctic soil fungal and invertebrate communities to disruption of belowground carbon flux. Journal of Ecology. 00, 1– 15.
  • Soininen, E.M., Barrio, I.C., Bjørkås, R. et al. (2021). Location of studies and evidence of effects of herbivory on Arctic vegetation: a systematic map. Environmental Evidence, 10: 25



  • Course coordinator for Geography Tripos Part II, Paper 2: Geographies of the Arctic
  • Lecturer for MPhil in Polar Studies and MPhil in Anthropocene
  • Supervisor for MPhil and undergraduate dissertations
  • Teaching lab and field skills in the Department of Biosciences (University of Durham)
  • Teaching on level 3 fieldcourse: The Arctic, in the Department of Geography (University of Durham)

External activities

  • Member of the Herbivory Network
  • Assisting with Saami language comic book about permafrost
  • Director of Studies and Bye-Fellow, Queens' College, Cambridge