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.
Wildlife and offshore wind
Gull and turbines, pic BTO
We are part of a large collaborative project, Wildlife and Offshore Wind (WOW), to develop and demonstrate methods for assessing the effects of offshore wind energy development on marine wildlife. Our geographic focus is the East coast of the USA, where a large number of marine renewable energy projects are planned.
The project started in June 2022 and we expect to have some preliminary outputs to share within the first year.
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.
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 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. We have continued to gather information and are now updating our assessments.
We have also predicted strongly negative effects on resident dolphins from one proposed habitat restoration project.
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.
In 2018 we estimated that fewer than 20 were left, with numbers halving per year. However, our most recent work gives a minimum of 5-13 in 2021 suggesting that the remaining animals are perhaps those that are better at avoiding the nets. If urgent action is taken, the species may still be saved.
For more about vaquita conservation, please see the IUCN's vaquita web page.
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.
PCoD: Population Consequences of DisturbanceNorth Atlatic Right Whale, by Jenifer Strachan
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 have worked on multiple projects developing and demonstrating approaches for this modelling, even when data are very sparse.
In many cases, disturbance is only one of several human-caused stressors potentially impacting marine mammal populations. We are currently working on possible approaches for assessing and predicting the population consequences of multiple stressors (PCoMS).