Cohort 3

Ashley Bell- University of Exeter

Microbiomes are a fundamental aspect of a healthy individual. Shifts in microbiome communities due to antibiotic exposure can increase the chance of pathogenic infection, causing disease. Antibiotics enter UK freshwater through improper disposal and effluent from wastewater treatment plants. Much attention has been focussed on the implications for human health and antimicrobial resistance, with far less attention paid to wider environmental implications. My PhD project aims to characterise how antibiotics influence the susceptibility of freshwater fish to pathogenic infection via dysbiosis of the skin and gill microbiomes. My Masters from the University of Exeter provided me with an understanding of metagenomics and marine viral ecology, which I now hope to build upon and apply to the freshwater sector. 

Antibiotic exposure impacts on fish health in natural freshwaters Lead Supervisor: Charles Tyler; Stakeholder: Cefas


Gareth Bradbury- University of Exeter

I studied a first degree in Environmental Biology at University of St. Andrews and a part-time Masters in Biological Recording whilst a consultant for the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT). I was a senior consultant until I stepped over to nature reserve management as WWT’s Reserves Management Advisor in 2018. Highlights include a rapid assessment of wetlands in Oman, helping set up a national waterbird monitoring programme in Kuwait, management planning advice for a new wetland nature reserve in Chile, project managing the surveys and design of the restoration of 180ha of fen from arable farmland for the Great Fen Project and a swathe of other fluvial and floodplain wetland habitat restoration and Sustainable Drainage Scheme (SuDS) projects. I was also lucky enough to do over 200 marine wildlife surveys around the UK and Danish coasts from a small plane (before being replaced by cameras!). I will be based in the Centre for Resilience in Environment, Water and Waste (CREWW) at University of Exeter. As a PhD student, my research will use a Multiple-Before-After-Control-Impact experimental approach to investigate impacts that changes to ecosystems by re-introduced Eurasian Beavers Castor fiber have on water quality, especially the issues of diffuse and point source pollution rife in many catchments.

Can beaver-modified ecosystems mitigate water quality deterioration caused by both point and diffuse source pollution? Lead Supervisor: Richard Brazier; Stakeholder: National Trust


Inge Elfferich- Cardiff University

I completed my BSc Soil, Water and Atmosphere at Wageningen University (the Netherlands) and I stayed there for the MSc Earth and Environment with a specialisation in the Biology and Chemistry of Soil and Water. I did my BSc project with the research group Aquatic Ecology and Water Quality on toxic cyanobacteria. Since then, I have been interested in cyanobacteria and what triggers their often-problematic bloom formation. In Wales, cyanobacteria in drinking water reservoirs produce Taste and Odour compounds Geosmin and MIB that give the water an unwanted earthy flavour. The removal of those compounds in drinking water treatment costs Welsh Water a lot of money. During my MSc project at Cardiff University I developed a molecular assay to determine the abundance of the gene responsible for Geosmin production in Welsh drinking water reservoirs. For my PhD, I will investigate in which format water quality indicators should be monitored with in-situ sensors in Welsh drinking water reservoirs to capture the complex biogeochemical cycles. Real-time data will hopefully enhance our understanding of triggers for Taste and Odour production and guide management decisions to optimise drinking water treatment.

Using in situ sensors to monitor ecosystem health in freshwater catchments Lead Supervisor: Liz Bagshaw; Stakeholder: Welsh Water


Laura Hayes- Cardiff University

I obtained an Mbiol in Biological Sciences from Cardiff University in 2019, with a focus on animal behaviour and disease ecology. For the past year, I have been employed as a senior technician with an international animal nutrition company, testing the effectiveness of feed additives containing natural compounds in boosting fish immunity against parasitic infections.  I am now undertaking a PhD at Cardiff University under the supervision of Prof. Jo Cable, Dr Anna Paziewska-Harris and Dr Tom Williams in collaboration with my stakeholder partner, Public Health Wales. Broadly, this project looks into the fate of Cryptosporidium oocysts in the environment. Cryptospordium species are critical waterborne parasites and the second world leading cause of diarrhoea, a status set to worsen in the near future following implementation of the rotavirus vaccination. The huge excess production of oocysts compared to the infective dose (only 10 oocysts can start an infection) suggests that in the natural environment, most oocysts are removed biotically, probably by grazing and suspension feeding invertebrates and protists. These interactions are likely adversely affected by anthropogenic change. This research provides the exciting opportunity to study a blue marble pathogen which has far reaching implications for the health of both animals and humans in developing and developed countries.

Cryptosporidium movement in water- impact of eutrophication and climate change on the zoonotic disease agent Lead Supervisor: Jo Cable; Stakeholder: Public Health Wales


Ben McClay-  Cardiff University

After graduating from the University of Southampton with a masters in Environmental Science (MEnvSci), I was awarded a GW4 FRESH CDT studentship at the University of Cardiff under the supervision of Dr Irina Guschina. My PhD will investigate the cascading effects of microplastics on lipid quality and transfer through freshwater planktonic systems, through assessing both direct (physiological) and indirect (ecological) effects on freshwater species at different trophic levels. Microplastic pollution is an emerging topic in freshwater, and my work will contribute to a greater understanding of the adverse effects of microplastics on biota, as well as the mechanisms involved at a cellular level.

Cascading effects of micro- and nano-plastics on lipid quality and transfer through freshwater planktonic ecosystems Lead Supervisor: Irina Guschina; Stakeholder: Cardiff Harbour Authority


Daniel McDowell- Cardiff University

After graduating from the University of Sheffield with an MBiolSci in Zoology, I moved to Cardiff University as a research associate. Being awarded the GW4 FRESH CDT, I am able to combine my research interests of ecology and parasites into a project at Cardiff University. Parasitic worms (in particular trematodes) pose serious economic and public health issues in livestock and people, and are usually treated through mass drug administrations. An often over looked aspect of these parasites is their importance in freshwater ecosystems, not only making up large proportions of biomass but serving as prey items for other organisms. Under the supervision of Dr Jo Lello (Cardiff University), Professor Frank Van Veen (University of Exeter) and experts at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and Natural history museum, I aim to determine the role trematodes have in the food web, and to what extent does removal of these parasites through mass drug administration lead to disruptions in the food web. Outcomes of this research will hopefully inform us on how to improve ecosystems that benefit nature and reduce parasite transmission to humans and livestock.

One man’s meat is another man’s poison: exploring the effect of mass drug administration against schistosomes on the aquatic food web. Lead Supervisor: Jo Lello; Stakeholder: Natural History Museum London


Katharine Moss- CEH/University of Bristol

I obtained an MSci in Chemistry at the University of Bristol. I am now undertaking a PhD under the supervision of Dr Daniel Read (Centre of Ecology and Hydrology) and Professor Richard Evershed (University of Bristol) to investigate the effects of sewage effluent on the processes that are responsible for the cycling of dissolved organic matter in lowland rivers and streams. Organic matter is an essential part of freshwater ecosystems, yet its role in lowland catchments is understudied.  The study of these areas has become increasingly more important as urbanisation, particularly via sewage effluent, is causing significant modifications to the composition of the organic matter input of rivers. The amount of sewage in rivers has been increasing with growing urban populations; yet little is known about the composition of organic matter effluent and how it interacts with the biological and chemical systems in freshwaters.  Rivers support a high level of biodiversity and are responsible for a multitude of ecosystem processes, including playing a significant role in the global carbon cycle; therefore, changes in the natural processes responsible for organic matter cycling may have widespread consequences.  

Understanding the ecological role of organic matter (OM) in urban freshwaters Lead Supervisor: Dan Read; Stakeholder: Thames21


Duncan O’Brien- University of Bristol

With modern water security coming under pressure in a changing world, an understanding of the transitions that confined water bodies may undergo is increasingly important. Early warning signals can be identifiable in measured ecosystem properties such as population abundance, diversity or body size and so provide decision makers a window to minimise a negative state shift. Having recently graduated from the University of Essex with an MSc in Tropical Marine Biology, the opportunity to combine ecological-evolutionary theory with impactful research is an exciting one. As a PhD student, I aim to assess the quality of such early warning signals in predicting the Sea of Galilee phase shift, based upon a long-term dataset exploring the entirety of the food-web and environmental characteristics within the lake. This multi-disciplinary project, led by Dr Christopher Clements and in collaboration with researchers from the Centre of Ecology & Hydrology and Israel Water Authority, has the potential to bring together multiple lines of inquiry to support not only the protection of water resources, but theoretical research as well.

Indicators of regime shifts in freshwater ecosystems Lead Supervisor: Christopher Clements; Stakeholder: Israel Water Authority


Agnethe Olsen- Cardiff University

Current data sources on species distribution and disease status are typically time-consuming, laborious and expensive to build. Social media sites are used as data sources in various research contexts. Although most users do not share images with the explicit aim of aiding researchers in understanding ecological phenomena, publicly available images and their associated metadata provide a largely untapped passive citizen science source of data that can be used in wildlife monitoring. In my PhD project at Cardiff University we will to use artificial intelligence tools to determine fish species, location and disease status, particularly focusing on fungal like growths that are visible by the eye, using social media images from across the UK. In the second phase we will create a dedicated citizen science project to map fish distribution and health intensively on Welsh rivers in collaboration with The Wye and Usk Foundation. I have a background in particle physics and IT, with an MSc in Particle Physics (University of Bergen), a PGCE in physics (University of Bristol) and a part-time MSc in Computing (Cardiff University), which I have been completing whilst working as a Senior Analyst in data and infrastructure in the higher education sector. If you want to see how I get on with bridging ecology and technology supported by a highly interdisciplinary team of supervisors, look up @theSeimParticle on Twitter.

Bridging ecology and technology: Using citizen science and artificial intelligence to track fish health Lead Supervisor: Sarah Perkins; Stakeholder: The Wye and Usk Foundation


Fin Ring-Hrubesh- University of Bristol

I moved to Bristol having completed an MEnv in Environmental Science at York, and am pursuing my interest in peatland biogeochemistry. My PhD examines the connected systems of peatlands and freshwaters. Peatlands are recognised as critical carbon stores and for supporting unique wildlife, but degradation threatens these landscapes and is having adverse impacts on adjacent freshwater ecosystems. Efforts to conserve and restore peatlands are growing, employing techniques such as re-wetting and vegetation re-establishment. Restoration can slow erosion and carbon export to rivers and streams, but can also fundamentally alter soil processes. My project aims to shed light on how soil biogeochemistry changes during peatland restoration and identify how these changes impact water quality downstream. I will be studying sites within the Brecon Beacons and am excited to work with the National Park Authority and other stakeholders. I join the group of Dr Casey Bryce and will benefit from training in specialised labs across the GW4 and support from my supervisors who have a diverse range of expertise. Find updates from me on the project and more @finringh on Twitter.

Assessing the impact of peatland restoration on freshwater ecosystems Lead Supervisor: Casey Bryce; Stakeholder: Brecon Beacons National Park Authority


Emma Robertson- University of Bath

I obtained a BSc in Environmental Earth Science from Aberystwyth University and an MSc in Geochemistry from the University of St Andrews. I have also previously worked as an Environmental Consultant and a Research Assistant. Having been awarded a GW4 Fresh CDT studentship I will be making use of the first full size constructed wetland in the UK to investigate speciation and distribution of pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) within a wetland system. PPCPs are ubiquitous in the aquatic environment and there is growing concern over the ecological impact of both the parent compounds and their transformation products. Constructed wetlands used in wastewater treatment have shown to be capable of removing PPCPs, however chemical behaviour and removal mechanisms in these systems are poorly understood. This project aims to verify transformation pathways and effectiveness of removal to inform wetland design and advise policy on the use of wetlands. I will be based within the School of Chemistry at the University of Bath, supervised by Barbara Kasprzyk-Hordern (university of Bath) and working with an interdisciplinary team including Richard Evershed (University of Bristol), Charles Tyler (University of Exeter) and Ruth Barden (Wessex Water).

Speciation of emerging contaminants in wetland systems Lead Supervisor: Barbara Kasprzyk-Hordern; Stakeholder: Wessex Water


Rachel Shepherd- Cardiff University

I will be studying for a FRESH CDT PhD on the effects of land use on river birds under Steve Ormerod at Cardiff University. River birds are widely seen as indicators of river and catchment health, as their populations and life histories are affected by the varied human impacts on the freshwater environment. Dippers (Cinclus cinclus) and Grey Wagtails (Motacilla cinereal) in the UK have been shown to be connected to various stressors, including pollution, contaminants, climate change, habitat modification, acidification and invertebrate availability. My research will use historic data and field research to investigate the effects of land use on river bird populations, breeding, prey availability and pollutant exposure, as well as how the effects of land use on water quality and physical habitat affect river birds. An important aspect will be to assess whether mitigation or management strategies can stop or reverse negative impacts. I completed my BSc in Biological Sciences at Oxford University in 2013 and my MSc in Conservation Science at Imperial College London in 2014. Since then, I’ve had varied employment in field research, conservation and most recently as a statistician and data analyst.

Long-term environmental influences on the ecology and conservation of river birds Lead Supervisor: Steve Ormerod; Stakeholder: River Wye Preservation Trust


Guglielmo Sonnino Sorisio- University of Cardiff

I obtained an MEng in Mechanical Engineering from Cardiff University and have then gained a studentship with the GW4 FRESH CDT and will be based in Cardiff University at the School of Engineering. The main focus of this PhD will be on investigating the effects of fish exclusion screens used in many rivers and the swimming dynamics of the fish. The European eel (Anguilla Anguilla) has suffered greatly since the 1980s with a 95% reduction in population, one of the factors that is thought to have caused this is the presence of these screens which impede their migrations up and downstream and can cause impingement. The effects of different types of screens and flow conditions such as velocity and turbulence on the fish will be studied experimentally. It is extremely important to protect these fresh water ecosystems as the number water abstractions and discharges in our rivers is set to increase and to understand how to facilitate the migration of fish to avoid further population declines.

Fish Swimming Dynamics and Behaviour in the Vicinity of a Fish Exclusion Screen Lead Supervisor: Catherine Wilson; Stakeholder: Environmental Agency


Greg Wannell- University of Exeter

My PhD aims to understand the genetic basis of acid tolerance in brown trout (Salmo trutta) and answer long-standing questions regarding the persistence of this species in an otherwise species poor (acid) environment. Dartmoor National Park, a unique upland habitat in southwest England, offers us an excellent model system to explore these question. Many rivers of the region are markedly acidic and experience large fluctuations in pH, with readings of less than pH 4 being recorded. Despite this, most Dartmoor streams still host healthy populations of brown trout which have been shown to be genetically distinct. By comparing these acid-tolerant fish with brown trout inhabiting neutral and more alkaline waters in southern England, we aim to segregate definitively between the ecotypes and to identify regions of the trout genome associated with adaptations to living in a low pH environment. The study will provide a better understanding of the basis of acid tolerance in salmonids and has the potential to reveal the mechanisms of local adaptation and the genetic architecture underlying this process. Such information will be invaluable in future fish conservation in the face of continued global pressures on aquatic systems. Through the GW4 FRESH CDT, I am excited to continue my research within the MEEG group at the University  of Exeter and expand upon experience gained at Plymouth University (BSc Environmental Science) and the University of Exeter (MRes Molecular Ecology). Follow @Greg1L to keep up to date.

Adapting to life in an increasingly acid world: understanding tolerance to acidic waters in populations of trout (Salmo trutta) Lead Supervisor: Jamie Stevens; Stakeholder: Westcountry Rivers Trust

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