Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences - Masters by Research Theses

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Now showing 1 - 5 of 26
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    New insights into the summer distribution of basking sharks (Cetorhinus maximus) in the northeast Atlantic
    (University College Cork, 2022) Stasiuleviciute, Edita; Rogan, Emer; Jessopp, Mark John; Department of Communication, Climate Action and Environment; Department for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Ireland; Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland
    Basking sharks, Cetorhinus maximus, have undergone widespread historic exploitation in the northeast Atlantic and are of conservation concern. A greater knowledge on their spatial and temporal habitat use in response to environmental conditions is required to better inform subsequent monitoring and management strategies. Several efforts to describe the occurrence and distribution of basking sharks have been already made, however nothing at large spatial scales. Sighting information on basking sharks was derived from three aerial survey programmes which covered extensive inshore and offshore waters within the northeast Atlantic. The occurrence of basking sharks in the area was highly seasonal, with individuals predominately observed during the summer months (May-August). Hotspots of occurrence were within the coastal waters off the south and west of Ireland, whereas areas such as southwest of England and west of Scotland, previously considered to be hotpots for basking sharks, were not aggregation sites during summer months, suggesting a seasonal change in distribution. Based on satellite-derived environmental variables and climate indices, this study revealed that distribution of basking sharks was associated with (1) lower chl-a concentrations (< 2.27 mg/m³), (2) shallow coastal waters which are most likely important summer feeding grounds; and (3) positive North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) winter index, most likely through association with prey species. Sea surface temperature (SST) had no significant effect on the distribution of basking sharks. This study provided new insights into the seasonal occurrence of basking sharks on a large scale within the northeast Atlantic. The results produced here could be incorporated into future management frameworks for assessing the threat and conservation needs for this regionally protected species, as well as providing guidance for future research efforts.
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    The carbon sequestration potential of the Irish uplands
    (University College Cork, 2022-09-01) Swan, Sophia; Harrison, Simon; Sullivan, Timothy
    The Irish uplands, which cover much of the western half of the country, have long been known as a bare, treeless landscape, used for grazing livestock. They are characterised by thin, peaty unproductive soils, and tend to provide poor economic returns to those farming them. A land use shift is currently occurring across the uplands, with many farmers ceasing actively to exploit the land and leaving the industry, a process exacerbated by isolation, poor incomes, and a lack of successors willing to continue farming the family landholdings. This comes at a time when Ireland is urgently seeking novel approaches to sequester carbon from the atmosphere, and offset GHG emissions from intensive agriculture. Expanding woodland cover onto degraded agricultural land is one of several potential methods being explored worldwide to increase terrestrial carbon sequestration and storage. This study aims to determine the future carbon sequestration potential of the Irish uplands, through the potential regeneration of native woodland, in the event that their land use shifts away from livestock grazing and the associated vegetation management of burning. We chose the Iveragh peninsular, Co. Kerry, SW Ireland as our study site. This is an area of extensive upland landscape, with a long history of extensive cattle and sheep grazing on the unenclosed land, including a considerable area of upland commonage. We used two approaches to estimate the potential carbon sequestration potential of regenerating woodland in the uplands. Firstly, we wished to determine the environmental and anthropogenic factors associated with woodland regeneration currently observed within the study site, so as to better predict the location and extent of any future woodland regrowth. This was achieved using a combination of online GIS mapping techniques, coupled with ground-truthing of the extent of tree regrowth. Secondly, we wished to establish the realistic nature of any potential future natural woodland cover, in terms of species composition, density and growth form of trees and in the soil composition underneath such woodland. We surveyed the woodland cover of a number of small, uninhabited and unexploited islands within lakes of the southwestern uplands. These islands were ascertained to have been ungrazed since at least the middle 19th century and likely for much longer, owing to their small size and inaccessibility to grazing animals. The vegetation and soil data were then used to calculate the potential carbon storage of any future woodland regeneration. GIS analysis revealed that slope, elevation, soil type, controlled burning practises and proximity to woodland seed source all influenced the current extent of tree regeneration in the study site. Significant differences were observed between the vegetative composition of the islands and adjacent mainland sites, with dense woodland cover consisting primarily of holly, rowan and birch observed across islands. This island vegetation sequestered ten times more carbon per hectare than adjacent mainland sites, which predominantly consisted of Molinia grassland, with no woodland growth noted. Soils in mainland sampling areas were consistently wetter and less carbon rich than those sampled on islands. Based on these factors, it was determined that within 40 years, 0.6% of the Irish uplands could show natural woodland regeneration, should barriers to re-growth (sheep grazing and vegetation burning) be removed. A higher percentage woodland regeneration could be achieved with additional proactive tree planting programme, which is likely necessary to establish woodland growth in areas remote from existing trees and which have been treeless for many centuries. Despite such a small, predicted increase in percentage tree cover via natural means, this still provides the potential to store over 600,000 tonnes of carbon, thus providing Ireland with valuable ways to offset carbon emissions, along with increasing biodiversity and reduce flood risk over the coming years.
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    Photoperiod and circadian regulation of early development in Lolium perenne (L.) varieties
    (University College Cork, 2022-09-28) Richards, Michael; Henriques, Rossana
    This research describes a protocol for the rapid assessment of early growth photoperiodic performance of the agronomically important perennial ryegrass Lolium perenne, within long-day (LD) and short-day (SD) photoperiods, and provides a preliminary assessment of candidate primer sequences for genes involved in ryegrass circadian regulation. The in-vitro screening process allowed us to compare the effects of LD and SD photoperiods upon both germination rates and root and shoot development. We were able to show a correlation between the performance in vitro with traits from the field based agricultural Pasture Profit Index (PPI), which would allow for a faster screening process for plant breeders. Working in-vitro and being able to control environmental parameters such as temperature would speed the process of screening ryegrass genotypes for useful traits within Irish agriculture and facilitate the exploration of circadian rhythm in ryegrass fitness and its adaptability to climate change.
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    Establishing the Citizen Science Stream Index (CSSI) to monitor water quality in freshwaters
    (University College Cork, 2022-03-01) McSorley, Brendan; Harrison, Simon; Sullivan, Timothy
    Streams and rivers are amongst the most endangered ecosystems in the world. Water quality is an important measure for maintaining ecosystem function. Despite several decades of the EU Nitrates and Water Framework Directives, inputs of nutrient-rich organic matter of both agricultural and municipal origin continue to pollute many waterways in Ireland, most of which are not routinely monitored in terms of water quality. This lack of data hampers efforts to improve water quality. Citizen science projects involve non-experts contributing to scientific data voluntarily and have been identified by the EU as a growing field of practice that is likely to yield significant outcomes for water quality and data capture. In this thesis a biotic index called the Citizen Science Stream Index (CSSI) was established using a principal component analysis of an EPA data set of macroinvertebrates. A further analysis was made using the provided Q-Values in this data set to find the most indicative macroinvertebrates for a citizen science index. The CSSI uses six easily identifiable and common benthic macroinvertebrates with narrow pollution tolerances that indicate water quality, to give a rapid indication of the ecological status of a stream in a sampled area. The CSSI is an easily taught and simple to use biomonitoring index that enables non-experts to identify where pollution has affected the macroinvertebrate community. The protocol involves taking a thirty second kick sample and checking it for the presence or absence of the six taxa, giving a score from -3 to +3. This is repeated three times and the resulting three scores are summed to give a CSSI score between -9 and +9. From this score the sampler can band the water quality of the stream into three water quality bands, red (poor), orange (moderate) and green (good). This thesis validates the CSSI’s indicator taxa, protocol and scoring system by using multiple data sets with varying spatial distribution, water quality and seasonality, comparing the CSSI with contemporary metrics such as the EPA Quality-Values (Q-Values), the Biological Monitoring working Party’s (BMWP) Average Score Per Taxon (ASPT) and the Small Stream Risk Score (SSRS). A pilot study to further test the quality, accuracy and feasibility of the index in the field was carried out on the Nore River catchment with volunteers from the NoreVision project. It was found that the CSSI compared sufficiently with the contemporary metrics tested and provided accurate results in the field study. Therefore, it is fit for purpose as a rapid biomonitoring citizen science index. The CSSI is currently being rolled out in volunteer initiatives around Ireland. The CSSI has received a positive response from participants and provided consistently reliable data capture when compared to existing data points thus far.
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    Spatiotemporal variability in Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba) around South Georgia from Antarctic fur seal (Arctocephalus gazella) diets at two long term monitoring sites
    (University College Cork, 2022-11-29) Coleman, Jamie; Jessopp, Mark John; Hollyman, Phillip; Collins, Martin; Trathan, Phillip
    Despite its biological, biogeochemical, and economic importance, there is much about Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba Dana, 1852) that is still poorly understood. This is especially true for its recruitment into South Georgia’s waters, which is highly variable and difficult to predict. Krill fluctuations exert bottom-up pressures on the entire ecosystem which can be reflected in changes in the breeding success and diet of dependent higher predators, such as Antarctic fur seals - Arctocephalus gazella (Peters, 1875). This study compares two long-term datasets (2008-2021) of Antarctic fur seal diet from Bird Island and King Edward Point, South Georgia, to investigate year-round krill dynamics. Foraging tracks from breeding female fur seals demonstrated that seals from the two sites forage in distinct regions. Krill length-frequency distributions generally followed a synchronous pattern across both sites with summer increases in length associated with growth, and winter decreases associated with ongoing senescence, mortality and possibly krill shrinkage, coupled with recent recruits with smaller body lengths entering the population. Using a multivariate approach, mixed layer depth, sea surface temperature, chlorophyll a, and salinity together explained 43% of the dissimilarities in krill length-frequency distributions predated by fur seals between seasons. Bird Island seals took significantly larger krill than those at KEP, possibly a result of continued krill growth during advection between the two areas, or differences in local oceanography. Krill cohorts visibly developed across years with large-scale recruitment of smaller krill occurring every 4-5 years. An anomalous period between 2017 and 2020 occurred when synchrony between sites broke down and later re-established. The beginning and end of this anomalous period appears to coincide with switches in the El Niño Southern-Oscillation, however more data are needed to formally test this link. This study highlights the importance of having multiple spatially separated long-term monitoring sites; this is particularly important in this ecological system as it can vary over a range of scales, including local scales, and it is also recognised to be experiencing significant changes.