Posts By / Rob Britton

Success is infectious? SciTech researcher wins best student presentation at international conference

Danny Sheath, who has just submitted his Ph.D. thesis for examination, attended the 10th International Conference on Applications of Stable Isotope Techniques to Ecological Studies (http://isoecol.com/2016/) in Tokyo last week. Held every two years, this conference attracts an international audience of ecologists who use stable isotope analysis in their research. Danny presented an oral paper on a key aspect of his doctoral research that investigated how parasites alter aspects of the behaviour and diet of their hosts. By comparing the ‘trophic niches’ of infected and uninfected hosts, he quantified the consequences of parasites for food web structure.

He clearly made it sound much more interesting than me though as he won the student prize for the best presentation against some stiff competition in his first presentation at a major international conference! On his return, he then received some further good news when some of his research was accepted for publication in the journal Parasitology. Well done Danny!!

Mission accomplished: fish genetics and population restoration are fused!

Our recent blogs on our fusion-funded co-creation and co-production project on fish population restoration were reporting our strong recent progress as our students began their placements – and all of a sudden, the project is now finished! So what did we discover?

Well, firstly, our students who completed their placements with the University of Insubria in Northern Italy have worked incredibly hard, with excellent reports coming back from our Italian partners (see below). They produced some excellent genetic data to help progress our work. Our placement students based at BU have also been working very hard (albeit in much cooler conditions!) and produced some excellent ecological data.

BU students in Italy

(Above) Our placement students outside the Università degli Studi dell’Insubria with Dr Serena Zaccara (3rd from left) and Caterina Antognazza (2nd left)

Secondly, through our co-creation with stakeholders, students and research collaborators, we have successfully revealed the extent of the disturbance of human activities on fish genetic patterns in the UK. We have revealed clear impacts relating to losses of genetic integrity of fish at the river basin level that we suggest affect their ability to adapt to local conditions – which could be important in the context of climate change. We will be publishing our findings in at least two peer-reviewed papers in the next few months with our students as co-authors.

Thirdly, did we discover how these fish populations could be restored sustainably? Yes, we think we did and we have already passed these on to the relevant authorities at our recent workshop, so these are being considered for implementation.

Finally, we have shown once again that co-creating and co-producing knowledge with our students, stakeholders and international collaborators brings multiple benefits, including enhanced mobility and employment prospects for our students. It has been a thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding experience for all!

– Rob Britton, Demetra Andreou & Ben Thomas (all SciTech)

Removing con-fusion: combining genetics, ecology and engineering in fish population restoration

Work on our fusion-funded co-creation and co-production project heats up in July as students get to work with our partners on our project ‘Fusing ecology, engineering and genetics to deliver sustainable river management’.

Working with the Environment Agency, the University of Insubria, Italy, we are investigating how river management strategies in the UK can be more sustainable in relation to river engineering and fishery management. This is important given river management focuses mainly on delivering socio-economic benefits (e.g. via flood defence) that are detrimental to fish communities (e.g. due to habitat loss). These impacts are usually mitigated by releasing (‘stocking’) high numbers of fish reared in captivity. There is, however, little consideration given on the fate and impact of these fish, providing the basis for our work.

Work to date has included our research assistant, Caterina Antognazza, collating samples and information to enable our student teams to run their genetic and ecological analyses, and engineering projects that designed sustainable engineering solutions to restore river habitats. Consequently, teams of placement students will very soon be commencing work in Italy and BU to determine the genetic and ecological impacts of fish stocking, with particular focus on whether the policy of stocking farmed fish has resulted in genetic impacts for fish populations at a regional level. We are also running a workshop very soon to bring together external stakeholders to discuss these issues. Given the expected fast pace of progress in the next five weeks, we’ll report back on our outputs by the end of July so watch this space!!

Catarina

Caterina prepares the samples for the students.

– Rob Britton, Demetra Andreou, Ben Thomas

You reap what you sow? The importance of seed-corn funding

Obtaining ‘seed-corn’ funding to get a new research idea off the ground can be crucial in developing your work, especially for early-career researchers. Whilst the initial ‘seed’ may be a relatively small amount of money, if spent wisely then watch it grow! This is particularly relevant at the moment due to the internal funding opportunities currently open for BU academics.

To show how seed-corn money could work for you, here’s an example of where it helped me. Back in 2009, the then School ofConservation Sciences (CS) ran an internal research funding scheme where the maximum amount awarded per project was £3000 and priority was given to applications with match funding. So I firstly had to formulate my research question and obtain some match-funding. After much reading and thinking I finally settled on my question (in a relatively new area for me but related to my other research) and successfully approached the Environment Agency for a modest amount of match-funding. The subsequent application to the CS scheme was successful.

Given the limited amount of money available, it had to be spent very carefully. A part-time researcher was used to complete the data collection and as the work progressed, further seed-corn funds were secured from external sources. These enabled us to expand the work and resulted in the subsequent publication of several journal articles. These were important in underpinning further funding applications as we could now show the work was relevant and we were competent in doing it! Inevitably, a number of these funding applications failed but through perseverance and refining the ideas (reading, discussions with colleagues etc), we have recently been awarded two separate PhD studentships by external funders. This includes a NERC CASE studentship, where the industrial partner is the same Environment Agency collaborator I first approached in 2009. Looking ahead, as these PhDs deliver their research then this should enable the development of more ambitious projects ideas that enable larger grant applications to be submitted.

So – hopefully- this example of showing how seed-corn funds can quite literally grow has motivated you to take advantage of those open internal funding schemes. Remember, the process of then turning seed-corn funds into something more substantial and long-term may not be easy: I have not mentioned the long hours spent putting together the funding applications that were turned down. But as a collaborator put it when I recently asked him how he managed to increase his NERC standard grant application success rate from 0 to 40 %:

‘…….the more I practised, the luckier I got’.