University of St Andrews
 
 
Sea Mammal Research Unit

SMRU News Centre

item 744
[27-11-2011 to 31-01-2012]


News Item:
SMRU Awarded Queen's Anniversary Prize

The University of St Andrews has been awarded a Queen’s Anniversary Prize in recognition of the work of a world-leading research unit which is helping to further understanding and protection of the oceans.

The Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU) at the University of St Andrews is among the winners in the Diamond Jubilee Round of The Queen's Anniversary Prizes for Higher and Further Education.

The Anniversary Prizes, which recognise excellence in higher education and research, were announced at a reception at St James Palace, London, on Thursday 24 November 2011.

The Sea Mammal Research Unit has become a world leader in applied research promoting best practice in the health and governance of the ocean environment.  Based at the East Sands, St Andrews, the Unit is part of the University’s School of Biology and Scottish Oceans Institute. It operates from the tropics to the poles and maintains a particular focus on the UK’s seas.  Its academic staff and graduate team specialise in research on marine mammals - primarily seals, whales and dolphins – using innovative monitoring techniques.

The sea mammals which SMRU monitor provide a unique and sensitive early warning system to track and measure a range of factors concerned with the sustainability of human exploitation of the seas. 

With the scale and nature of industrial exploitation of the oceans rapidly developing, there is increasing demand for and impact of SMRU’s services, and its contribution to national policies.

Professor Ian Boyd, Director of the Unit, and University Chancellor Sir Menzies Campbell, were at St James Palace to hear the announcement. Professor Boyd said:

“Marine mammals are a bit like the canary in the cage. If we know how to read their behaviour and populations we can minimise the effect of our resource exploitation on the ocean. Although we need to exploit the ocean we also need to find ways of doing this sustainably. Marine mammals have a capacity to tell us when we are reaching the limits.

“My colleagues and I are delighted that our institution has been recognised in this way. It is truly a privilege to work with such magnificent animals and to have the job of translating their importance into information that the public can use. We also recognise that the institute is a hub in a global network of scientists and collaborators who share our passion for understanding these enigmatic creatures.”

Full Press Release

More about the Queen's Anniversary Prizes

contact: Prof Ian Boyd


 

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  • Looking at telemetry data from above and below: some technological and methodological thoughts of an animal movement ecologist
    speaker: Dr Theoni Photopoulou (University of Cape Town)

    building: SOI
    room: Lecture Theatre
    see also: additional details
    host/contact: Dr Emma Defew

    Telemetry (the remote collection of data via communications systems) allows us to study animals that we would otherwise be unable to observe, in environments we don't have easy access to. The collection of such data is racing ahead of the analytical techniques we have available to understand the data and the systems under study. The type of information we can or should collect both determines, and is determined by, the questions we are able to address regarding the ecology, life-history and behaviour of animals. Challenging systems are often the most interesting, and sometimes the most important to study, but they present us with special practical and analytical challenges. Even though we now have the capacity to collect data in more detail and greater quantities than ever before, we often still have to make do with whatever we can get, or conversely, end up with data in large volumes or with more complexity than we know how to analyse. I will present examples of the data types and study systems I work with, including seals and black eagles, the importance of knowing how data are collected, and some of the methods I use to try to get the most out of these data.


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  • Keynote Speech: International Environmental Omics Synthesis Conference: Genomics and Inheritance
    speaker: Professor Elizabeth A. Thompson (University of Washington, School of Statistics)

    building: MBS
    room: Lecture Theatre
    see also: additional details
    host/contact: Prof Thomas Meagher

    More details about the 4-day International Environmental Omics Synthesis Conference in St Andrews, as well as speakers and programme, can be found on the iEOS web site.

    Genetic diversity in a species is key to its success in a changing environment, and a key determinant of genetic diversity is the ancestral history of the population.  Classically such ancestral structure was considered in terms of population demography and pedigree-based relationships.  Analyses were often constrained by the assumed pedigree structures, and by the assumption that individuals not specified as related have independent genetic data.  In reality, extended multi-generation pedigrees cannot be validated from genetic data on extant individuals, and any given pedigree can give rise to a wide variation of genetic descent patterns.
     
    Modern genetic data allow for the detection of this co-ancestry at specific genome locations, and it is this co-ancestry of DNA that provides a direct measure of genomic diversity. Recently, primarily in human genetics, numerous methods for the detection of segments of genome sharing between pairs of individuals have been developed.   However, combining these inferences into realized structures of the changing genome sharing across a chromosome jointly among multiple individuals has proven challenging.  I will discuss a new approach to this problem, and show how, even if only pairwise estimates are desired, joint inference provides improved estimates.


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