Research PG


Lighthouse Field Station, Institute of Biological & Environmental Sciences, University of Aberdeen, Cromarty IV11 8YL

Combined Studies


Virginia began her PhD in 2018. Her project focusses on the foraging behaviour and movement ecology of marine top predators, and the influence of the environment on their foraging patterns. In particular, she will investigate harbour seal movement patterns, using GPS telemetry data, and their foraging behaviour, inferred from accelerometer, in the context of Area Restricted Search theory. She will also explore the movement of bottlenose dolphins, inferred from passive acoustic, in the inner Moray Firth in relation to environmental cycles and foraging behaviour.

Virginia graduated from the University of Aberdeen in 2018 with a BSc (Hons) in Marine Biology. She carried out her honours project at the UoA Lighthouse Field Station, which focused on the detection performance of CPODs. For 2 summers she also worked at the Field Station analysing acoustic data and as an intern to assist the photo-ID project. She developed her interest in cetaceans working for the Tethys Research Institute in Italy, her home country.

Lighthouse Field Station profile      Github page



  • BSc Marine Biology 
    2018 - University of Aberdeen 
    First class.

Prizes and Awards

Best-speed talk at the Society Marine Mammalogy UK student chapter conference, Swansea, 2019

Mark Young Prize for service, University of Aberdeen, 2018

Gold STAR (Student Taking Active Roles) Award, University of Aberdeen, 2017

Zoology Travel Grant, University of Aberdeen, 2016


Research Overview

My research interest in on the drivers and factors that influence the movement and foraging behaviour of marine predators.

  • Animal movement in relation to ecological theories.
  • Predator prey interaction from proxies (e.g. Acoustic signals and accelerometer).
  • Animal movement in relation to environmental changes and cycles.
  • How individuals life histories might influence individuals movements and behaviours.

Research Areas

Biological and Environmental Sciences

Current Research

PhD:  “Movement patterns and foraging behaviour of marine top predators in the Moray Firth (Scotland)”

  • Investigate drivers of Area restricted search behaviour of a central place foragers using GPS tracking and accelerometer data.

  • Assess the influence of dynamic environmental variables on the searching behaviour of a central place foragers. Analysis of tracking and biologging environmental data.

  • Analysis of free-ranging predator movement and foraging behaviour within and between well-known foraging hotspots.

I am using both telemetry and acoustic to gain new insights into why predators decide to visit specific areas and how prey distributions (inferred from other proxies) is influecing their decisions. 


Conference and meetings attendend:

  • Integrating accelerometer data into state-space models to investigate harbour seal foraging behaviour
    World Marine Mammal Conference (WMMC)
    December 2019 - Barcelona, Spain
  • Integrating accelerometer and environmental data into state-space models to investigate harbour seal foraging
    Special Commitee on Seals (SCOS) Science Day
    September 2019 - St. Andrews Universtity, Scotland

  • Marine top predator inter-specific interactions in a dynamic environment
    Speed talk
    13th Meeting of Society for Marine Mammalogy Uk & Ireland Regional Student Chapter 
    January 2019 - Swanse University, Wales

Past Research

Honours project:  “Using a Porpoise click synthesiser to field-assess CPODs detection performance”

In my dissertation I used a play-back experience of harbour porpoises clicks to test the detection performance of a wide-used click detectot (C-POD). 


Knowledge Exchange

  • Supported the organisation of the Women and Science and Engineering night for University of Aberdeen School of Biological Sciences, March 2018

  • As President of the AUMS I launched the University of Aberdeen Marine Society school outreach program, 2017/2018 

  • People engagement volunteer for RSPB, April – June 2016

  • Volunteer at “Run for the whales”, 2016

  • Talk “Whales and Dolphins of the Ligurian Sea”, 2015


Ongoing collaborations

Project: State-space model of harbour seal incorporating movement and accelerometer data
Enrico Pirotta (University of Washington and University of Cork), Gordon Hastie (University of St. Andrews, Sea Mammal Research Unit), Geert Aarts (Wageningen University), Paul Thompson and Isla Graham (University of Aberdeen).

Project: Using Artificial Intelligence to automatically detect bottlenose dolphin vocalisations
Rachael Xi Cheng (Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research and Osnabrück University), Simone Prentice (JNCC), Oihane Fernandez, Barbara Cheney, and Paul Thompson (University of Aberdeen)

Project: Comparison of bottlenose dolphin acoustic behaviour between the Moray Firth (Scotland) and Cardigan Bay (Wales)
Stephanie King and Laura Palmer (University of Bristol), Barbara Cheney and Paul Thompson (University of Aberdeen)