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Opening of unique research centre

A new £1.3M research centre which will look at anything from the monitoring of wild animal populations to oceanic phenomena will open officially today (Tuesday 2nd September, 2003) at the University of St Andrews.

It will be the only research centre of its kind in the UK and will span the fields of ecological and environmental modelling. It specialises in wildlife survey techniques and modelling population dynamics.

CREEM (Centre for Research into Ecological and Environmental Modelling) is a collaboration between experts from three Schools: Mathematics and Statistics; Biology; and Geography and Geosciences.

The Centre will be headed up by Professor Steve Buckland. He said:

“The University of St Andrews has a long tradition of statistical ecology. This Centre brings together a unique blend of expertise, allowing us to build on that tradition and broaden our research strengths. Research projects already under way address a wide range of practical and theoretical issues.”

The Centre includes around 30 statisticians, mathematicians, biologists and geoscientists, two thirds of whom have their main office in the new building.

The group have combined expertise in animal abundance estimation methods, distance sampling, population trend analysis, population dynamics, environmental geosciences, interactions between marine mammals and man, antipredator behaviour, fisheries ecology and climate and ocean models.

They hold individual research grants and contracts into a wide range of areas including national butterfly monitoring, the invasive rhododendron, modelling the spatial distribution and abundance of whale and dolphin populations, monitoring the effect of climate change on Arctic polar bear abundance, and predicting the future size of the UK population of grey seals.

CREEM consists of several research groups. The Research Unit for Wildlife Population Assessment (RUWPA) was established in 1993, and is the largest research group in the new centre. The other groups involved are: Climate and Ocean Modelling, Sedimentary Systems Research Unit, Pelagic Ecology Research Group, Fractals in Ecological and Environmental Modelling, Marine Mammals and the Environment, Modelling Ecological Significance of Muscle Cell Dynamics, and Conservation Science.

RUWPA is a contract-funded research group specialising in the development of new statistical methods and innovative applications of existing methods. The team has expertise and experience in most aspects of wildlife assessment and survey design. One of their achievements is the development of software for the design and analysis of sightings surveys. It is the only generally-available software for this purpose, and has around 5000 registered users from over 120 countries. Users include wildlife managers, conservationists, research biologists, population ecologists, fisheries scientists, reserve wardens and foresters.

The software implements a range of techniques known as ‘distance sampling’. These are used to estimate the sizes of a very diverse set of populations, including trees, flowering plants, insects, amphibians, reptiles and fish. Most applications however are to birds (game birds, seabirds, songbirds, birds of prey) and a wide range of terrestrial and marine mammals.

RUWPA also host annual international workshops on distance sampling and estimating animal abundance. In the last ten years, around 300 scientists and wildlife managers from nearly 50 countries have attended these workshops. Workshop materials include two books published by RUWPA staff.

Meanwhile, the Centre for Conservation Science (CCS) is a multidisciplinary collaborative venture with the University of Stirling. CCS uses novel mathematical and statistical techniques to resolve controversies and uncertainties associated with a range of conservation issues. Current projects include: development of strategies for the efficient control of rhododendron; examining management options for sika deer in Scotland; modelling the dynamics of UK grey seals; exploring ways to address the hen harrier / red grouse conflicts on Scottish grouse moors; and the control of North American mink.

CREEM was initially set up in 1999, but the recent expansion has allowed for the establishment of a new base at the University’s old Observatory. The refurbishment and extension of the Observatory, together with provision of equipment and support staff, was funded by SHEFC (Scottish Higher Education Funding Council) to the tune of £1.34m.

NOTE TO EDITORS:

YOU ARE INVITED TO ATTEND THE OPENING OF CREEM ON TUESDAY 2ND SEPTEMBER AT 11AM AT THE OBSERVATORY, BUCHANAN GARDENS, ST ANDREWS. THE CENTRE WILL BE OFFICIALLY OPENED AT 11.30AM BY PROFESSOR JOHN LAWTON, CHIEF EXECUTIVE, NERC (NATURAL ENVIRONMENT RESEARCH COUNCIL).

NOTE TO PICTURE EDITORS:

JPEG PICS ILLUSTRATING SOME OF THE RESEARCH OF THE CENTRE ARE AVAILABLE FROM GAYLE COOK – CONTACT DETAILS BELOW.

ENDS

Issued by Beattie Media On behalf of the University of St Andrews Contact Gayle Cook on 01334 467227, mobile 07900 050 103, or email gec3@st-andrews.ac.uk Ref: CREEM opening pr 290803 View the latest University news at http://www.st-andrews.ac.uk

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