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Previous research experience placements (REPs)

Lancaster University – Conserving mountain species in the face of climate change: the Mountain Ringlet butterfly in Cumbria – Rosa Menendez

Project Objectives

The main objectives of this project were:

  • To model the distribution of the mountain ringlet butterfly (Erebia epiphron) in the Lake District using existing distribution records and a combination of climatic, topographical, geological and habitat variables.
  • To carry out butterfly surveys, in collaboration with Butterfly Conservation members and volunteers, in order to validate the model.
  • To carry out lab work to measure host-plant quality to assess how this varies with elevation and geology.

Outcomes and benefits

The main research outputs of the project were:

  • A database and GIS maps were generated for climate, topographical, geological variables and distributed data of the mountain ringlet butterfly in the Lake District at a 1km resolution. This allows the distribution of the species to be modelled at the landscape scale in relation to environmental variables.
  • Butterfly surveys were carried out to assess the presence/absence of the species in squares were the species was previously unrecorded.
  • Information about how the nutritional quality of the butterfly’s host-plant varied with elevation and with the type of geology was gathered. The results indicate that plants at higher elevations and in volcanic rocks contain a lower C/N ratio suggesting that they could be of better nutritional quality for the caterpillars.

The main benefits to the student were:

  • The student gained field skills in identification and surveying of butterflies and laboratory skills in measuring C and N from plants.
  • The student was introduced to experimental design and gained experience in using SPSS for statistical data analysis.
  • The student had the opportunity to interact with other researchers (including Ecology/Biology UG and Master students doing their dissertations and PhD students) and technicians during the lab work. He became aware of the Health and Safety regulation in relation with doing ecological work.
  • The student benefited from interaction with members of Butterfly Conservation and RSPB which are both involved in the management and conservation of the butterfly in the Lake District.
Bangor University – Wave-tide interaction and simulating extreme storm wave events – Matt Lewis

Project Objectives

High resolution (2 Hz sampling frequency) wave observations were available from an oil platform in the North Sea when a fetch limited extreme wave event occurred between the 14 and 15th December 2012. A significant wave height of 12m and peak wave period of 13s was observed with 19 rogue waves. Current spectral wave models cannot simulate this event accurately, we shall investigate why. For example, is it because the wind field is not accurately resolved (in either space or time), or is it because of wave-tide interaction, or source terms within the wave model? 

Data will also be collected from Bangor University’s waverider buoy, and a near-by 5-beam adcp, located in the North Wales tidal-stream energy demonstration zone. Analysis from both regions will be used to understand the sensitivity of wave growth terms in the SWAN spectral wave model, the accuracy of wave rider buoys in high tidal current regions, and the importance of wave-tide dynamic coupling. Results from our investigations will be presented to colleagues at the National Oceanographic Centre (Liverpool), and a planned research paper.

Outcomes and benefits

Research outputs from the proposed project will form the basis of a research paper to investigate the sensitivity of spectral wave models during fetch limited cases, which will lead to better parameterizations of wave growth terms and understanding of ocean-atmosphere interactions – building upon the work of two recent research papers:

  • Gibson et al. (2014). The statistics of wave height and crest elevation during the December 2012 storm in the North Sea. Ocean Dynamics, 64(9), 1305-1317;
  • Bricheno et al., (2013). Effect of High-Resolution Meteorological Forcing on Nearshore Wave and Current Model Performance. Journal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology, 30(6), 1021-1037

Furthermore, the results of analysis, including recommendations for wave observations in high tidal current sites, will be presented at the 14th International Workshop on Wave Hindcasting and Forecasting and 5th Coastal Hazards Symposium (Nov 2015).

The student will benefit from access and training to the hpcwales supercomputing system (www.hpcwales.co.uk), the SWAN wave model and time-series analysis with OCTAVE or MATLAB. Furthermore, they shall gain experience of working within the research environment of the School of Ocean Sciences. 

University of Nottingham – Trophic engineering: the adaptive landscape of mechanical function in four-bar linkage systems of fish jaws – Dr Andrew MacColl

Project Objectives

Complex functional systems of living organisms can sometimes be well modelled from an engineering perspective. The ‘trophic’ (feeding) traits of fish provide a good example. They have been modelled as interacting systems of simple and four-bar linkage levers. In engineering design it is clear that there can be many-to-one mapping of form to function in such systems. This many-to-one mapping is also seen in the ‘design’ of organismal systems such as fish jaws which are arrived at through evolutionary processes. This can foster the evolution of diversity because different morphologies may have the same emergent functional properties, which cannot be differentiated by Darwin’s mechanism of natural selection. However, it is clear from existing work that organisms do not always occupy the full morphological ‘space’ of equivalent designs. In this project we will explore the extent of variation in the jaws of a rapidly evolving fish, the three-spined stickleback, modelled as four-bar linkage systems, and seek to understand the extent to which different populations of this fish vary, how that is related to the environments in which they live, and why they may forsake some areas of the functional parameter space that appear suitable from an engineering perspective.

Outcomes and benefits

The main research outputs of the project were:

The simulations developed by the student have already revealed interesting results. Previous work on the lever structures of fish jaws have used static measurements of jaw bones to derive conclusions about the way that these systems work, and have led to the idea that there is a hard trade-off between the speed and the force with which jaws close. The student’s dynamic simulations suggest that measurements of speed and force derived from static measurements may not closely resemble the true properties of fish jaws, and that the relationship between speed and force may be less of a constraint than previously thought. The simulation model developed by the student will continue to allow us to investigate the variation in jaw forms of three-spined stickleback.

The main benefits to the student were:

The student has had his first taste of working on an independent research project. He has developed a four-bar linkage simulation model of fish jaws, and incorporated published and new data into his simulations to reveal novel aspects of the dynamics of these systems. This has allowed him an insight to the way in which research is carried out in universities, and is likely to inform his choice of honours project.