I am a statistician based in the Centre for Research into Ecological and Environmental Modelling (CREEM) and School of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of St Andrews. My research work is motivated by ecological applications, particularly related to widlife conservation.
Some Recent Research
Population dynamics of British grey sealGrey seal, pic Bernie McConnell
Working with scientists from the Sea Mammal Research Unit, we have modelled the population dynamics of this iconic British species, showing how population size has increased over the past few decades and is now levelling off in most regions.
This work forms part of the advice given each year to the UK and Scottish governments to help them manage grey seal populations in Britain. For more about this, see the Special Committee on Seals (SCOS) web site.
Monitoring the critically endangered vaquitaVaquita from fishing line, by Noah Scalin
The vaquita is a small porpoise, found only in the Gulf of California, Mexico. The species is on the brink of extinction because of accidental deaths in illegal fishing nets. Monitoring vaquita population size is hard because so few remain. We have worked as part of an international expert panel, in collaboration with many others, to design visual and acoustic surveys, and analyze the resulting data.
Our most recent published estimate is that the population is declining at around 50% per year and that only around 9 animals (95% credible interval 6-19) remained as of Summer 2018.
For more about vaquita conservation, please see the Marine Mammal Commission's vaquita web page.
Deepwater Horizon oil spill damage assessmentAerial view of Deepwater Horizon oil spill
Following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, we worked within the team estimating the short- and long-term effect on marine mammal populations. This research formed part of the Natural Resources Damage Assessment used as a basis for the settlement between BP the US Government. The team's work appeared as a series of papers in a special issue of the journal Endangered Species Research.
We are now in the process of updating our assessments, as part of a research project "Consortium for Advanced Research on Marine Mammal Health Assessment" (CARMMHA).
Does naval sonar disturb whales?Blue whale diving
Experiments designed to answer this question are difficult and expensive. We have been working with the scientists involved to develop methods that make better use of existing data (see MOCHA web site). This paper gives an overview of our work.
We have also coordinated a review of the state of knowledge on sonar effects, with recommendations for future research priorities, available as a review paper in the Journal of Animal Ecology.
PCoD: Population Consequences of DisturbancePCoD concept diagram
Does human-caused disturbance to individual animals cause population-level changes in species abundance? Finding out requires modelling across multiple scales, from short- to long-term and from individual to population. We are part of a working group developing practical methods for this modelling, even when data are very sparse. Here is a recently-published review paper:
In many cases, disturbance is only one of several human-caused stressors potentially impacting marine mammal populations. We were part of a US National Acadmies of Sciences panel assessing methods for understanding these cumulative effects.