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Personal profile

Research interests

Research projects


Northern Periphery and Arctic INTERREG programme preparatory project: Cool Waters, Natural and Cultural Heritage in the North East Atlantic

The NPA area hosts a number of submerged archaeological sites (e.g. historic wrecks) and sites of cultural importance that have significant value on several fronts. They are of historic importance in themselves, they form the basis of a significant recreational dive tourism industry and, in some locations, they have been shown to significantly influence the flora and fauna of the region, including Priority Marine Habitats.  Deterioration of cultural and natural sites is a major challenge faced by local SMEs (e.g. diving operations) operating in areas across the north-east Atlantic (e.g. Scapa Flow in Orkney, Saltstraumen in Norway, coastal waters of Northern Ireland and the Faroes) for whom the historic resource and associated ecosystems are fundamental to their livelihood. Deterioration is also a major challenge for statutory bodies across the region who are responsible for management of the resources, particularly as a legal framework for marine cultural protection remains largely unrealised for the region.  In addition to natural deterioration of sites, the region also faces considerable threat of global climate change to marine ecosystems.  However, a lack of research effort on impacts has meant that communities are largely uninformed of potential impacts and will face huge challenges in determining adaptation or mitigation strategies. Marine managers, planners and researchers across the NPA region will explore and apply methodologies for effective preservation and management strategies for realisation of the social, economic and environmental benefits of these submerged heritage/natural assets.  The project aims to work with stakeholders to gather improved knowledge and to illustrate and raise awareness of the association of the natural and cultural resources across the region.  Outputs for the project will be shaped by stakeholders needs as determined via regional workshops and events, a web-based forum and consultation with local authorities.  Stakeholders will be involved in various project aspects (e.g. monitoring:  local dive groups, SMEs; education/promotion: museums, schools, SMEs;  management: local authorities, interest groups) to ensure outputs are viable and self-sustaining, thereby tackling the challenges faced by the NPA region and advancing the success of its associated communities.

Scottish Natural Heritage Commissioned Research project: Genetic connectivity of Scotland's Modiolus modiolus biogenic reef sites: Highlighting the role of Marine Protected Areas to the wider network

Decline in the extent of M. modiolus beds has been noted across the species’ European distribution.  In the Irish Sea, historical fishing activity, namely scallop trawling and dredging, has caused widespread and long-term damage to beds including those situated around the Isle of Man and Northern Ireland (UK BAP, 2008; Rees, 2009).  Consequently, M. modiolus reefs are listed as a threatened and/or endangered species and habitat in all OSPAR regions (OSPAR, 2008) and thus are a conservation priority under the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD, 2008).  Likewise, M. modiolus biogenic reefs are a UK Biodiversity Action Plan priority habitat (identified as most threatened and requiring conservation action) (UK BAP, 2008). Analyses of genetic connectivity and diversity may highlight how populations relate (i.e. are connected) to one another and shed light on the adaptive capacity of each population, respectively.  Such information will be instrumental in advising management of M. modiolus particularly in light of current marine spatial planning developments and is also of further value for conservation and restoration of these habitats.  For example, recent microsatellite screening of M. modiolus populations in Northern Ireland has contributed to restoration efforts there. Likewise, connectivity data may be instrumental in informing the designation of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) particularly by highlighting important source populations that are integral to maintaining a network of populations and identifying periphery populations that may depend on the network for recruitment. Well managed MPAs can provide an ecologically connected system that can facilitate range shifts of populations in response to climate change. However, a greater understanding of the scale at which features are connected within the current suite of protected areas in Scotland is required

Fishery Industry Science Alliance (FISA): Verification of important areas for juvenile shellfish in Orkney waters

The juvenile scallop project aims to continue research into scallop stocks in Orkney by working with scientists who will train local scallop divers in scientific recording techniques in order that they, in turn, will be able to provide sound information on stock distribution and densities and continue monitoring work into the future. Little is known about the quantities of King Scallop in the fishery or how robust stocks are and this kind of information will help fishermen to look after the stocks sustainability from an evidenced based perspective.



FLEDGE, HWU Energy Academy: Biofouling Solutions for Marine Renewables:Knowledge Network Development

The UK government has set the objective of delivering at least 15% of electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Governmental projections of electricity generation from these sources have created significant interest in Orkney as a leading region for large scale deployment of wave and tidal energy converting devices. Owing to a rich local tradition of working in the sea, Orkney has a well-developed infrastructure supporting the marine energy industry. This has recently been enhanced with the construction of additional piers and harbour structures to facilitate growth of the sector. A major concern to industries working in the marine environment is biofouling-the settlement and growth of organisms on submerged structures, including converters and also measurement instrumentation. In this study we survey piers, harbours, energy converters and data buoys to ascertain the diversity of biofouling. From data generated, recommendations are made regarding the maintenance regimes of MRED infrastructure to promote best energy generation and to prevent spread of non-native nuisance organisms. 

FP7 MaCumBA: Marine Microorganisms, Cultivation methods for improving their biotechnological applications

I am a participant of workpackage 8 of the MaCumBA project running from August 2012-July 2016. The aim of this research is to work with chemical engineers and physicists to develop the use of dielectrophoresis and optical tweezers for isolation of single cells into arrays for downstream high throughput screening. We are using different types of bacteria to test the utility of this platform.


Natural product chemistry of marine Bryozoa and their bacterial symbionts

I am CEO of research spin out company BryoActives Ltd. We are developing novel mode of action anti-microbials which are active against gram negative bacteria. We use a range of sources to isolate marine bacteria from and have screened over 10,000 isolates for activity. A subset of these have shown interesting anti-microbial activity. We are currently purifying the active compounds from the screening assays and are undertaking mass spec analysis to obtain structural information. We are collaborating with colleagues at University of Strathclyde and University of Waikato in this research. Funding for some of this research has been granted by ERDF Orphan Fund in collaboration with the Moredun Institute and by the Knowledge Exploitation Hub at Strathclyde University. BryoActives Ltd were prizewinners in the Converge Challenge Business Plan Competition in 2010.


Sustainable shellfisheries in the Irish Sea (SUSFISH)

This INTERREG project was completed in July 2013, and I managed the GeneFISH workpackage. The aim of this research was to analyse the genetic structure of populations of the common cockle and the edible crab. Outcomes of the research revealed information about the connectivity of populations across the Irish Sea region. This data has been used to validate particle dispersal models and to help inform the future management of these shellfish stocks under future climate change scenarios.


Rates, patterns and divergence times among the Bryozoa: integrating fossil, molecular and morphological data.

NERC funding (NE/E015298/1) in collaboration with colleagues at the Natural History Museum, London targeted the study of phylogenetics in marine Bryozoa (colonial invertebrates). Phylogenetic trees were constructed for the Bryozoa using a range of genes, both nuclear and mitochondrial. Morphological and reproductive characters were mapped on to the phylogenetic framework and inferences made regarding the evolution of certain characteristics (eg. Larval type). The overall aim of was to clarify relationships between major groupings within the Bryozoa as groupings have been based largely on morphological characteristics with little understanding of the underlying genetic basis.

Comparative mitogenomics of marine Bryozoa

A project to investigate cryptic speciation and evolutionary rates in the Celleporella hyalina bryozoan complex was recently completed as a collaboration with Prof. Roger Hughes, Bangor University and Dr. Andrea Waeschenbach at the NHM. This work was funded by the Welsh Assembly Government CIRRE initiative.


I graduated with a BSc Honours degree in Marine Biology from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne in 1994. I studied for a PhD with Professor John Ryland and Professor Gary Carvalho at Swansea University on ‘Speciation and Reproduction of Marine Bryozoa in the genus Alcyonidium (Lamouroux)’. This work involved using a combination of morphological and molecular techniques to investigate species diversity and taxonomy. I stayed at Swansea for two NERC-funded Postdoctoral research posts working in the laboratories of Dr Peter Hayward and Professor David Skibinski, continuing studies into the molecular systematics and population genetics of marine Bryozoa. In 2003 I took up a lectureship at Aberystwyth University and during this period started to develop new research interests into the chemical biodiversity of marine Bryozoa and their bacterial symbionts in collaboration with Dr Mike Winson.  I joined the School of Life Sciences at Heriot-Watt University in July 2009 as a lecturer in Marine Biology, with a view to further developing research on the chemical ecology and biodiversity of marine invertebrates and their bacterial symbionts. In my spare time, I enjoy SCUBA diving, underwater photography, cycling, hill-walking and reading.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 7 - Affordable and Clean Energy
  • SDG 13 - Climate Action
  • SDG 14 - Life Below Water
  • SDG 15 - Life on Land


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