Cohort 2

Hebe Carmichael- University of Exeter

Having been awarded a GW4 Fresh CDT studentship, I am now undertaking a PhD at the University of Exeter’s Cornwall campus in the Environment and Sustainability Institute. Having studied for a BSc in Zoology at the University of Leicester and a consequent MRes in Ecology & Environment from the University of Sheffield, I have developed a keen interest in climate change ecology. The way in which organisms and their ecosystems will respond to rapid global environmental change (e.g. warming, acidification, eutrophication), combined with the co-occurring effects of species loss driven by factors such as land use change, invasive species and pollution, is a pressing concern. Despite this, to date most studies have investigated these multiple facets of environmental change in isolation. Using high-throughput experiments with freshwater microbial communities, my project aims to quantify potential synergies between multiple environmental stressors and biodiversity loss on ecosystem functioning. This work can be used to help better predict future organism persistence and ecosystem functioning and will enable identification of key taxonomic groups to target for conservation.  

Quantifying synergies between multiple stressors and biodiversity loss on the functioning of freshwater microbial communities Lead Supervisor: Gabriel Yvon-Durocher; Stakeholder: Freshwater Habitats Trust

Kye Davies- University of Exeter

As an ardent explorer and lifelong academic, with a deep and abiding interest in the wild world, I have built a valuable knowledge base of freshwater ecosystems and rewilding conservation science. I graduated recently from UCL with an MSc in Aquatic Science and take great interest in the roles of reinstating natural processes and native species in ecological restoration. Beavers are recolonising the UK after an absence of >400 years. As a keystone species and as ecosystem engineers, Eurasian beavers (Castor fiber) have an incredible capacity to manipulate the aquatic environments in which they live, catalysing disproportionately large effects on ecosystem structure and function through the creation of complex and variable habitats in mosaic-like wetlands which can potentially sustain a wide range of aquatic wildlife. These changes can be important for restoring ecosystem functions, enhancing habitat heterogeneity, raising biodiversity and contributing vital ecosystem services. However, despite being commonly known as a keystone species, the full extent of the ecological impact of beavers is yet to be fully understood, especially in a UK context. The challenge of the PhD research is to quantify what the wide range of aquatic ecological impacts of beavers might be and predict where they will manifest across a range of ecosystems in a modern UK setting. A large-scale MBACI research design will be applied to assess reach-scale ecological responses to beaver reintroductions by monitoring reference sites with established beaver families and control sites in beaver-free locations as well as capturing baseline and impact data where beaver reintroductions take place. Research will be supported by an expert project team, headed by Dr. Richard Brazier (University of Exeter), which are leading beaver reintroduction monitoring and modelling across all major beaver sites in the UK.

Quantifying the impact of beaver reintroduction on aquatic ecology Lead Supervisor: Richard Brazier; Stakeholder: Devon Wildlife Trust

April Hayes- University of Exeter 

I completed my BSc in Biomedicine at Lancaster University, and my MSc in Advanced Biological Sciences at the University of Liverpool. For my PhD, I will be based at the University of Exeter Penryn campus, investigating selection for antimicrobial resistance by non-antibiotic drugs. Low concentrations of drugs, both antibiotics and non-antibiotics, are present in the freshwater system as micropollutants. There is evidence that non-antibiotic drugs have antimicrobial effects on bacteria in the human gut, and may be an emerging risk contributing to antimicrobial resistance in freshwater systems. In my project, I will be investigating resistance mechanisms, and exploring the selection for resistance in different freshwater contexts. Ultimately, the aim is to inform on water policy to manage the spread of antimicrobial resistance. I post semi-regular updates of my research and general science on Twitter at @_aprilhayes

Investigating selection for antimicrobial resistance by non-antibiotic drugs in freshwater microbial communities Lead Supervisor: Aimee Murray; Stakeholder: Astra Zeneca 

Tomo Homan- University of Bath

There is strong evidence demonstrating that the growing presence of organic micro-pollution in our freshwater sources, such as pharmaceutical waste and personal care products (PPCPs), are harmful to aquatic life. While comprehensive source appointment models exist nationally, the fate and behaviour of micro-pollutants in small dynamic river systems has never been accurately described. My PhD project will aim to: (i) Develop a river model that couples hydrological and water quality modeling at high temporal and spatial resolution (ii) Calibrate and validate the model for key PPCPs and pesticides (iii) Use the model as a risk evaluation tool to identify risks to aquatic life and specific ecosystem functions. It will also be used to run multiple contingencies to predict the effects of abatement options. I will be based at the University of Bath with Prof. Jan Hofman and I will be working in close collaboration with Wessex Water and the Environment Agency. I have an MEng in Biochemical Engineering from the University of Bath and I am now looking to apply my skills in the water sector.

High resolution modelling of fate and transport of organic micropollutants and their effect on ecosystems in small rivers Lead Supervisor: Jan Hofman; Stakeholder: Wessex Water

Harry Layfield- University of Bristol

Upon completion of an MRes in Tropical Forest Ecology at Imperial College London, I was awarded a GW4 FRESH CDT studentship at the University of Bristol under the supervision of Prof. Martin Genner. My PhD takes a genomic approach to better understand the diversity of macroinvertebrates found in Lake Malawi using DNA barcoding and environmental DNA metabarcoding. Macroinvertebrates act as biological indicators and can provide complete spatial-temporal knowledge of freshwater ecosystems and their landscapes. The results of this project will help establish the ability of using environmental DNA as a monitoring and assessment tool for African freshwaters.

Diversity and speciation of aquatic macro-invertebrates of Malawi Lead Supervisor: Martin Genner; Stakeholder: Department of Fisheries Malawi


Kosta Manser- University of Bristol

Now that I have gained my Biology (MSci) degree, I have accepted the GW4 FRESH CDT to continue to pursue my interests in sensory ecology at the University of Bristol. My research will centre around electrical fields in freshwater micro- and macro- fauna, especially those of invertebrates. Preliminary investigations have found that the electrical environment of freshwater is rich in information, but the techniques and equipment to harvest the information in a useful way are not yet developed enough or simply nonexistent. The ability to gather this information with fast and reliable tools could be an excellent way to measure the biodiversity of freshwater ecosystems and thereby act as a proxy measure of their health.

The electric ecology of freshwater habitats Lead Supervisor: Daniel Robert

Daniel Osmond- University of Exeter

The landscape of the UK has been exploited for several millennia for valuable metal ores, changing the structure and chemical composition of our ‘natural’ waterways. This legacy has forced freshwater species to adapt to this changed, heavy-metal impacted landscape, in order to survive. The brown trout (Salmo trutta) is a ubiquitous species throughout the UK, found from high mountain tarns to clear lowland chalkstreams. Critically, this species has been seen to be living and breeding in a number of rivers heavily impacted in heavy metal pollution. Previous studies have shown high genetic divergence of such metal-impacted populations within Cornwall, but we seek to establish whether there is specific adaption within trout populations to different heavy metal pollutants, the regions of genome involved and by looking more widely across the UK, whether phylogenetically distant populations respond with the same ‘toolkit’ to similar ‘cocktails’ of heavy metal pollution. With a background in molecular ecology at the University of Exeter’s Cornwall campus (MSci Zoology), and being an avid angler, I am excited to delve deeper into what these hardy trout populations might teach us. 

Adapting to life in metal polluted rivers: implications for conservation, genetic diversity and fisheries management in the brown trout (Salmo trutta) Lead Supervisor: Jamie Stevens; Stakeholder: Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust & West Country Rivers Trust

Emma Pharaoh- Cardiff University

The biodiversity and ecosystem function of rivers are threatened by a variety of pressures. Pressures include; pollution, abstraction and climate changes. These pressures have fluctuated over time, while some have reduced (e.g. urban point-source pollution), others have become more pronounced (e.g. climate changes). Urban rivers have shown improvement in England and Wales, demonstrating ecological recovery. Within rural rivers this has not been the case, with recent work indicating emerging problems. During my PhD project I will investigate the changing state of rural rivers across England and Wales. I will analyse big data, collected over the last 30 years, to investigate the changes in river invertebrate communities and the potential drivers of these changes. Findings will then inform fieldwork which will offer greater insight into the mechanisms for changes. With Dr Ian Vaughan as my lead supervisor, this project is a collaboration between Cardiff University, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), the Environment Agency and Natural Resources Wales.

Diagnosing the reasons for biodiversity decline in rural rivers Lead Supervisor: Ian Vaughan; Stakeholder: Environment Agency/NRW

Claire Robertson- Centre for Ecology & Hydrology/ Cardiff University

I have taken a meandering route to working in freshwater ecology, having obtained an MA in Biological Sciences from the University of Oxford in 2013, and an MSc in Global Environment, Politics and Society from the University of Edinburgh in 2016. In between, I have worked for climate campaigning and environmental charities, and in the education sector. I’m excited to be embarking upon my PhD under the joint supervision of Dr Daniel Read (CEH) and Professor Steve Ormerod (Cardiff University). Through this project, I hope to develop environmental DNA protocols to improve whole-community biodiversity assessment of ponds, and use this to examine landscape-level pond connectivity. Ponds offer a rich area of ecological research, being simultaneously understudied, endangered and highly important for freshwater biodiversity. They also provide an exciting opportunity for science communication and engagement with policy-makers, two areas I’m keen to dive into via working with the Freshwater Habitats Trust.

Using environmental DNA to understand the role of connectivity in pond ecosystems Lead Supervisor: Dan Read; Stakeholder: Freshwater Habitats Trust

Chris Webb- University of Bristol

I obtained a BSc in Biological Sciences from the University of Exeter and a MSc in Applied Marine Science from the University of Plymouth. During my PhD at the University of Bristol I aim to gain further insights into the single largest stressor on freshwater ecosystems throughout the developed world, nutrient enrichment. This issue causes significant damage to ecosystem health and the services they provide, such as a decline in biodiversity and water quality. My project focuses on defining the key nutrient sources and contaminants impairing ecosystem health at Chew Valley Lake, a local water reservoir. Results from this project will aid with the development of an improved management strategy for Chew Valley Lake.

Defining nutrient sources and fluxes driving lowland drinking water reservoir ecosystem response Lead Supervisor: Penny Johnes; Stakeholder: Bristol Water

Costanza Zanghi- University of Bristol

My PhD project aims to apply behavioural studies on predator-prey interactions to environmental change in aquatic habitats. I will be focusing on combined variable temperature and turbidity in two model systems, a temperate one in the UK using sticklebacks and damselfly larvae, and a tropical system in Trinidad with pike cichlids preying on guppies. The findings aim to shed some light on how predatory pressure affects freshwater fish populations in near-future environmental conditions and observe if either predators or preys can adapt and perhaps take advantage of a rapidly changing climate. To do so, through the GW4 FRESH CDT, I have joined the Ioannou Group at the University of Bristol and I am looking forward to visiting the field-sites in Trinidad with Dr. Amy Deacon. The CDT also offers me great interdisciplinary support through an experienced and varied supervisory team, key training sessions across all member universities, and networking opportunities with other early career scientists in the field of freshwater ecology. Check @CosZan on Twitter to see how I get on.

Predator-prey interactions under near-future environmental change: The combined effects of increasing temperature and turbidity Lead Supervisor: Christos Iannou; Stakeholder: Freshwater Habitats Trust

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