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Invasive Species in an Artifical World

Invasive Species in an Artifical World


Outline, including interdisciplinary dimension

The transport, introduction, establishment, spread and impact of invasive alien species is a major environmental and ecological problem globally. This is highly likely to worsen as man-made vessels (e.g. boats) and structures (e.g. tidal turbines) provide new opportunities for invasives to gain footholds and proliferate.

This project will use state-of-the-art ecological methodology, such as  ‘comparative functional responses’ (Prof J. Dick, Biology, to examine invasive species interactions with their environment and native species. This will be done in the context of a variety of artificial engineered surfaces (e.g. marine turbines) and changing environmental conditions (e.g. wave patterns), for example, using our bespoke wave tank facility at Queen’s Marine Laboratory, together with ecological transport models (Dr B. Elsäßer, Engineering). The project will quantify key stages in the impact of invasive species as influenced by engineered structures, for example, (1) determining the impact of invasive species (e.g. through predation) on native species colonising natural as compared to artificial surfaces, using functional response curves (relationship between resource density and resource uptake rate); (2) determining the strength of these interactions and population consequences under environmental change induced by artificial structures, such as wave height, strength, amplitude, frequency and energy.

This project will integrate ecological experimentation, data analysis and modelling, with fully quantified aspects of the engineered environment, utilising a unique facility at Queen’s Marine Laboratory that houses joint ecological and engineering infrastructure.  The project will thus provide a PhD student with truly interdisciplinary training and outputs, leading to an ability to understand and predict the impacts of invasive alien species in an increasingly artificial world.

Key words/descriptors

ecology, engineering, invasive species, artificial structures, functional responses, numerical modelling

First supervisor

Professor Jaimie Dick - School of Biological Sciences

Secondary supervisor from a complementary discipline

Dr Louise Kregting - School of Natural and Built Environment

Supervisors’ track record of PhD completions, plus excellence and international standing in the project area

Dick - 18 PhD completions, 16 in progress, 0 non-completions; pioneered the use of functional responses in invasion ecology; 147 papers on subject to date; funding from EU, NERC, Leverhulme and many others; recent invited talks in Turkey, Canada, Australia, Spain, UK, Belgium, South Africa.

Intersectoral exposure and/or international mobility

(e.g. secondments to/collaboration with partner organizations)

Exposure to ecology and engineering and their growing  interfaces; secondment to Centre for Invasion Biology, S. Africa, where Dick held Leverhulme Fellowship; collaboration with DHI Water and Environment Denmark.

Describe briefly the international profile of the partner

The CIB is a South African inter-institutional Centre of Excellence established in 2004 within the DST-NRF Centres of Excellence Programme. Its members undertake research on the biodiversity consequences of biological invasions, largely through post-graduate student training. The principal aims of the Centre's work are to reduce the rates and impacts of biological invasions by furthering scientific understanding and predictive capability, and by developing research capacity. The CIB has its physical home at the University of Stellenbosch, but comprises a network of senior researchers and their associated postdoctoral associates and graduate students throughout South Africa.

DHI Water and Environment is a leading  non-profit organisation in Denmark with over 33 offices worldwide supporting research and consultancy in the water environment in over 140 countries. Their sophisticated numerical modelling tools covering groundwater, surface water, hydrology, fluvial, coastal and oceanographic processes is utilised by more academics and consultants worldwide than any other. They have vast experience in relation to a number of invasive species problems. For example, DHI are a leading institution on issues with ballast water and ballast water treatment. Over 80 percent of their staff have higher degrees and they are committed to training the next generation of professionals across all continents.

Training that will be provided through the research project itself

Experimental design, particularly ‘comparative functional responses (FRs)’, statistical modelling of FRs in ‘R’ with bespoke package developed at QUB  (FRAIR package in ‘R’; );  training in marine hydrodynamics and ecological modelling through numerical modelling, and application of the tidal and wave test site facility to ecological problems.

Examples of additional training in non-research transferable skills

Communication with stakeholders (e.g. fishermen) through project steering group; community engagement and knowledge transfer through local partnerships with business (e.g. Portaferry Regeneration; Strangford and Lecale Partnership).

Expected dissemination of results: peer-reviewed journals, seminars, workshop and conferences at European/international level

(e.g. public talks, visits to schools, open days, QUB impact showcase)

Papers in inter-disciplinary journals (e.g. Nature, Science, PNAS); presentation to invasive species conferences e.g. International Conference on Aquatic Invasive Species; NEOBIOTA European Congress; worskshop at Queen’s Marine Laboratory and Centre for Invasion Biology, S. Africa.

Expected impact activities

(e.g. public talks, visits to schools, open days, QUB impact showcase)

Twice annually, the Queen’s Marine Laboratory runs an Open Day at which this and other projects are displayed to the public, with in excess of 1000 visitors per day; the student will contribute to the scheme we run to send researchers to Schools to highlight our research and teaching; development of numerical  tools to simulate invasive species issues will be presented at DHI User group meetings to assist with uptake of these by the wider professional community; the project will be managed to produce a REF Impact Case Study.