University of St Andrews
Sea Mammal Research Unit

Dr Debbie Russell
Research Fellow

Scottish Oceans Institute
East Sands
University of St Andrews
St Andrews
KY16 8LB



I am a research fellow at the Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU) and am affiliated with the Centre for Research into Ecological and Environmental Monitoring (CREEM) where I am spend one day a week.  In addition, I have visiting research fellow status at the University of Exeter.


General Information

I am interested in the marine ecosystem and species at the interface between the marine and terrestrial environments, namely seals and seabirds which are dependent on the marine ecosystem for food but on the terrestrial environment for breeding.  I am particularly interested in interactions on various levels: among different taxa, between species and humans, and between species and their changing environment.



  • Investigation of seal population trends and their drivers.
  • Using a mixture of Bayesian and frequentist methods to analyse harbour and grey seal telemetry data to answer both pure and applied research questions.
  • Investigation of the impact of anthropogenic structures, their construction, operation and decommisioning, on marine predators.
  • Using movement and behavioural data within a state-space modelling framework to define activity budgets.
  • Modelling interactions between seals and fisheries in a spatial context, using state space models.
  • Modelling the effect of climate variation on British seabirds.



PhD students

  • J.Chris McKnight, University of St Andrews. "Effects of tag attachment in a large marine vertebrate". Co-supervised with Dave Thompson and Sophie Brasseur.
  • Matt Carter, University of Plymouth. "How do grey seal pups learn how to forage? Using telemetry data to understand development of foraging behaviour in relation to oceanography and potential disturbance".  Co-supervised with Clare Embling,  Kimberley Bennett and Phil Hosegood.

Masters students

  • 2011
    • Raquel Soley Calvet. "Living among giants: Habitat modelling of Harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) in the Northern Gulf of St. Lawrence." Co-supervised with Sonja Heinrich.
    • J.Chris McKnight. "Short-term effects of capture and tag attachment in common seals, Phoca vitulina." Co-supervised with Bernie McConnell.
  • 2012
    • Sara M. Young. "Potential Effects of Captivity on Dive Behavior and Movement Patterns of Juvenile Grey Seals." Co-supervised with Dave Thompson.

Lectures and Practicals

  • 2nd year interdisciplinary module "Science Methods"
  • Marine Mammal Biology and Environmental Biology Masters.
    • Quantitative Methods for Ecology
    • Research Methods in Marine Mammal Science


  • Russell DJF & McConnell B. (2014). Seal at-sea distribution, movements and behaviour. OESEA-10-10 Report to DECC.
  • Russell DJF & Lonergan M (2012). Short note on grey seal haul-out events at-sea.  Special Committee on Seals (12/07).
  • Jones EL, McConnell BJ, Duck CD, Morris CD, Hammond PS, Russell DJF & Matthiopoulos J (2012). Marine distribution of grey & harbour seals around the UK. Special Committee on Seals (12/06).
  • Sparling CE, Cox E & Russell DJF (2012). Dogger Bank Seal Telemetry Report. SMRU Ltd report SMRUL-ROY-2012-025 to Royal Haskoning and Forewind.
  • Russell DJF et al. (2011).  SMRU seal telemetry data holdings.  Special Committee on Seals (11/16).
  • Russell DJF, Matthiopoulos J & McConnell BJ (2011).  SMRU seal telemetry quality control process.  SMRU seal telemetry data holdings.  Special Committee on Seals (11/17).
  • Russell DJF et al. (2011). Modelling interactions between top predators and fishing vessels: implications for fisheries management in a wider ecosystem Detailed report on NERC grant NE/F002025/1.
  • Russell DJF & Sparling CE (2011). Seal Telemetry data and Triton Knoll Offshore Wind Farm. Technical note produced for RWE NRL and Royal Haskoning by SMRU Ltd.
  • Russell DJF (2011). Harbour seal telemetry data relating to potential wind farms: Docking Shoal, Race Bank and Dudgeon. Report commissioned by DECC.
  • Grellier K & Russell DJF (2011). Summary of SMRU seal count and telemetry data from the Humber area. Produced for EMU by SMRU Ltd.
  • Russell DJF (2011).  Seal Telemetry in the Forth and Tay. Interim Report to FTOWDG by SMRU Ltd.
  • Wilson, LJ, Wanless, S, Harris, MP & Russell, DJF (2003). Isle of May seabird studies in 2002, JNCC Report 338, 29 pages, ISSN 0963 8091.




Russell, DJF , Wanless, S, Collingham, Y, Anderson, B, Beale, C, Reid, J, Huntley, B & Hamer, K 2015, ' Beyond climate envelopes: bio-climate modelling accords with observed 25-year changes in seabird populations of the British Isles ' Diversity and Distributions , vol 21, no. 2, pp. 211-222.
Russell, DJF , McClintock, BT , Matthiopoulos, J , Thompson, P , Thompson, D , Hammond, PS , Jones, EL , MacKenzie, M, Moss, S & McConnell, BJ 2015, ' Intrinsic and extrinsic drivers of activity budgets in sympatric grey and harbour seals ' Oikos , vol Early view.
Hastie, GD , Russell, DJF , McConnell, BJ , Thompson, D & Janik, VM 2015, ' Multiple-pulse sounds and seals: results of a harbour seal (Phoca vitulina) telemetry study during windfarm construction ' Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology .
Russell, DJF , Brasseur, S , Thompson, D , Hastie, GD , Janik, VM , Aarts, G , McClintock, BT , Matthiopoulos, J , Moss, S & McConnell, BJ 2014, ' Marine mammals trace anthropogenic structures at sea ' Current Biology , vol 24, no. 14, pp. R638-R639.
Silva, MA, Jonsen, I , Russell, DJF , Prieto, R , Thompson, D & Baumgartner, MF 2014, ' Assessing performance of Bayesian state-space models fit to Argos Satellite telemetry locations processed with Kalman Filtering ' PLoS One , vol 9, no. 3, e92277.
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