University of Aberdeen student awarded top national award for PhD thesis

University of Aberdeen student awarded top national award for PhD thesis

Dr. Enrico Pirotta, who studied for his PhD at the University of Aberdeen, received the RSPB Conservation Science Award for an outstanding PhD at a ceremony at the Zoological Society of London last night (Thursday, May 26).

The award for an outstanding PhD thesis is open to postgraduates who have been awarded a PhD in any area of conservation science at a UK university within the last two years. Students are nominated by their academic departments, and a winner is selected by a team of scientists at the RSPB.

Dr Pirotta’s thesis looked at the potential consequences of expanding human activities at sea on marine life. For long-lived marine mammals it is hard to detect effects at a population level. Therefore, although European legislation calls for the protection of the conservation status of populations of these animals, we are often limited to observing only short-term changes in behaviour, the significance of which is unknown. In the context of an international effort to address such problems led by Prof. John Harwood (University of St Andrews), Dr Pirotta worked with Dr. David Lusseau and Prof. Paul Thompson at the University of Aberdeen to develop a modelling tool that can help to bridge this gap for the population of bottlenose dolphins ranging along the North-East coast of Scotland.

All his PhD thesis chapters are already published and over the past three years, Enrico has produced seven articles in top-tier journals directly linked to his thesis and seven in collaboration with others, using his analytical skills to help make an impact to better our ability to understand our impacts on the marine environment.

Dr Pirotta said: “I am extremely honoured to receive this award. With my work as a researcher I hope to contribute to the understanding and the preservation of the natural world. The achievements of RSPB in the field of conservation have always been a source of inspiration for me, and this award is an important encouragement to continue along this challenging path.

“The completion of my PhD would not have been possible without the invaluable support of my supervisors, Dr. David Lusseau, Professor Paul Thompson and Professor John Harwood, and of many excellent colleagues and friends that I have met along the way. I would like to express my deepest gratitude to them, and to RSPB for this exciting recognition of my work.”

Dr. David Lusseau, who supervised Dr Pirotta’s PhD added: “Enrico’s work has had momentous impact, transforming the way regulators can appraise the impact new developments might have on long-lived, slow reproducing species such as cetaceans. In the short time of his PhD thesis, Enrico has made an impact in the UK, helping the Scottish government with tourism management, coastal urbanisation management, and marine renewable management. His innovative work is already being applied abroad to aid in difficult marine activity management cases.”

Dr Pirotta joined the University of Aberdeen in 2012 after receiving a MASTS Prize studentship from the Marine Alliance for Science and Technology for Scotland.

Enrico has now taken up a postdoctoral researcher position with Pr. Leslie New at Washington State University working on the investigation of the cumulative impacts of human disturbances on blue whales and elephant seals.