Conference success for Aberdeen PhD students

Conference success for Aberdeen PhD students

Three PhD students from the University of Aberdeen's School of Biological Sciences have been recognised for their presentations at the recent British Ecological Society Conference, which was held in Liverpool in December.

Svenja Kroeger won the ‘Anne Keymer prize’ for the best student talk, while Marianna Chimienti was highly commended.  Meanwhile Johanna Van Paassen was highly commended in the best poster category.

The Anne Keymer prize is named in the memory of Anne Keymer and awarded for the best oral presentation by a postgraduate student at the Annual Meeting.

In 1981, Anne was one of the first winners of this previously unnamed prize. She went on to a career of great distinction, before dying of cancer in 1993, at the age of 36.

The prize recognises young ecologists who embody, to a remarkable degree, the qualities and values the society stands for.

Svenja said: “My talk was on cumulative reproductive costs in wild yellow-bellied marmots, so as part of my PhD, I investigated whether a female's past reproduction (the number of times she reproduced and the number of pups she had in past litters) negatively affected her current reproductive success. Excitingly, I found that only the combination of both a high reproductive frequency and large litter sizes in previous years reduced a females probability to reproduce again in the current year. Receiving the ‘highly commended’ award in 2015 made me very happy, however being the overall winner of the Anne Keymer Prize this year is even more exciting of course. I am really grateful to my supervisors who have been fantastic throughout my PhD, and I feel lucky to be able to work on such an amazing data set and study species."

Marianna commented: “My talk was about proposing novel approaches for the analysis of foraging movements of diving seabirds.  Seabirds, as top predators, have been shown to provide unique insights on the status and changes of marine ecosystems. In this study, I emphasised the use of high frequency foraging movement data as an opportunity to explore in more detail the feeding strategy of two species of diving seabirds; razorbills (Alca torda) and guillemots (Uria aalge). I further explored models to aid in inferring prey availability and the perceived profitability of the areas visited when foraging. The number of pursuit and catching events and time spent in such activity can be an indicator of the effort that an animal chooses to invest in a specific location indicating prey availability at depth and the profitability of that habitat. This type of analysis offers the unique opportunity to comprehend the behavioural ecology behind different movement patterns improving our understanding of how animals might respond to changes in prey distributions.

“I am very happy I received the ‘highly commended’ award. I am very passionate about my work and it is very gratifying seeing recognised the hard work and the effort that I am putting in my research. This result, of course, is the product of the combined effort of not only me but also my supervisors and colleagues!”

Professor Jane Reid from the School of Biological Sciences added: “We can be very proud of Svenja, Marianna and Johanna in winning their prizes against stiff competition at the biggest British ecological conference. Their achievement follows on the heels of similar success for Aberdeen students at the previous year’s conference, showing the major strengths of our students in ecology.”