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Bangor University news

The latest study and research news from Bangor University

October 2011
May 2011
March 2011
January 2011

Sticky stuff – Ocean Sciences Research Grant to study ripples on mudflats and beaches

Sand and mud banks form important barriers around our coastline. Researchers at Bangor University’s School of Ocean Sciences are to lead a major research project to assess how these fine materials are moved by water currents around our coastline, and how this movement could change as the result of climate change.

The collaborative research project, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and named COHBED, will investigate how the presence of cohesive, ‘sticky’ mud within sandy sediment influences the erosion, transport and deposition of this mixed sediment in seas and rivers.

‘The United Kingdom is a coastal nation with most people living within a few miles of the sea. Mud and sand are found in places where the energy of waves, tides and river flows is low and these water-borne sediments can be deposited on the sea floor. Muddy and sandy habitats are very important for the ecology and economy of the UK. They provide food for many species of birds and fish, but also protect the coastline from the erosive forces of the sea. They also act as a filter, where pollutants from the rivers are captured and eventually degraded. Because of the importance of these systems, their natural behaviour and stability is of increasing concern as sea levels rise with climate change,’ explains Dr Jaco H Baas, Lecturer at the School of Ocean Sciences and Principal Investigator of the project.

Dr Baas adds: ‘The main reason for setting up this project is that we have very little scientific information to help us to predict how natural mudflats and beaches will respond to the changing forces of the tides, wind and waves. When water flows over the sea bottom, the energy of the flow shapes the sediment into wavy features, such as ripples. These so-called bedforms help control the erosion and transport of sand, mud, nutrients and pollutants on a daily basis, but also in periods of storms, high rainfall and coastal flooding.’

‘Information allowing us to predict the size and movement of bedforms is essential for many scientific disciplines, such as environmental management, hydraulic engineering, seabed habitat biology, computer modelling of particle transport and sedimentary geology. However, there is an almost complete lack of knowledge concerning bedforms consisting of mixtures of sand and mud. Sandy sediments are known to be “non-cohesive”, because the sand particles do not stick together, whereas muds are made up of smaller particles that do stick together and so are called ‘cohesive’ sediments. This difference is one of the study targets of the COHBED project.’

The COHBED project is a collaboration with researchers from the National Oceanography Centre in Liverpool (Prof Peter Thorne), and the Universities of Leeds (Dr Daniel Parsons), Plymouth (Dr Sarah Bass) and St Andrews (Prof David Paterson), each contributing their specific expertise in physics, mathematics, sedimentology and biology to the project. The total budget is just under £1 million; this will help employ five Postdoctoral Researchers at the participating research institutes during various phases of the three year project, as well as one PhD student.

The COHBED project ranked joint second in the latest Standard Grant scheme of the Natural Environment Research Council. The award, in the field of sedimentology, follows hard on the heels of the recent ‘hat trick’ of successes in Physical Oceanography at the School of Ocean Sciences.

A large part of these investigations will be done through flow simulations in the School of Ocean Sciences’ Hydrodynamics Laboratory and ship-based work in the Dee estuary.

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Bangor University science assisted IOM achieve Sustainable Fisheries Accreditation

Bangor University’s School of Ocean Sciences has welcomed the news that the fishery producing Manx Queenies, the Isle of Man’s queen scallops, has been awarded a sustainability certification under the Marine Stewardship Council programme.

Experts in sustainable fisheries at the School have worked with the Isle of Man (IOM) Government’s Department of Environment Food and Agriculture since 2006, to advise them how to manage the fishery sustainably. They have also worked closely with the fishing industry to avoid previous periods of ‘boom and bust’.

Professor Mike Kaiser who led this research explained: ‘Our science addressed the key questions about the sustainability of the fishery. This required an intensive effort to gather data about scallop stocks, seabed habitats and the bycatch associated with the fishing gear. However none of this would have mattered without fishermen’s cooperation. Providing workable policies for sustainable fisheries relies on far more than evidence about the marine life – we need to take human behaviour into account as well. We are just as important an element in the equation.’

He adds: ‘Achieving MSC Sustainable Fisheries accreditation is a further boost for the now lucrative Queenie fishery industry. The MSC logo will add to their success, enabling consumers to buy their product with confidence and a clear conscience that they are purchasing fish from a sustainable source.

‘Achieving this accreditation provides a valuable model for other fisheries, showing what can be achieved through open dialogue and cooperation – as opposed to enforcement.’

Scallops caught by Isle of Man registered day boats are prized by chefs and celebrated annually in the Isle of Man in the three-day Queenie Festival. Once in decline, the now sustainably fished ‘queenie’ fishery is providing a high value product sought after by best restaurants around the UK.

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Researchers measure the value of a smile

Researchers at Bangor University have placed an economic value on a smile, demonstrating scientifically the effect that a genuine smile can have on our decision-making. The psychologists call this ‘social information’ and say that it has more of an effect than you may imagine.

Danielle Shore, a PhD student at the School of Psychology and the lead author of the research explains:

‘Imagine you need a new car. What factors influence your choice? You might intend to base your decision on purely practical matters such as running costs and reliability, however new research shows that social factors, such as the salesperson’s behaviour, play a bigger role than you think.

‘If the salesperson gives you a genuine smile of pleasure, you will have a positive experience and be likely to buy a nicer car or more add-ons than you originally intended. Indeed, genuine smiles appear to act as a form of social currency, a valuable reward that people will pay to receive,’ she explains.

The researchers examined people’s responses to two types of smiles: genuine and polite. The feature that distinguishes these smiles is the presence of ‘laugh lines’, the tiny wrinkles that appear at the corners of the eyes during genuine but not polite smiles. The authors designed an experiment in which students played a game against computerized ‘opponents’ with either higher or lower chances of winning money and who smiled either genuinely or politely. In the later stages of the ‘game’, the researchers measured people’s preferences by asking them to choose their opponents. The results allowed the researchers to determine how valuable participants found each type of smile.

‘The important finding in this experiment,’ explains Shore, ‘is that people preferred genuinely smiling opponents, even when they were associated with a lower chance of winning. We found this interesting because our participants, who were all university students, are usually highly motivated to earn money. We expected them to prefer genuinely smiling opponents only when the odds of winning were equal. The fact that they chose opponents who were less likely to pay out was a big surprise.’

Indeed, the researchers calculated the value of a genuine smile in the experiment at just over a third of a penny.

‘This is a small amount, but imagine that you exchange 10 to 20 of these smiles in a short interaction. That value would add up quickly and influence your social judgment. So, the new car might seem a better bargain if a genuinely smiling salesperson sells it to you,’ suggests Dr Erin Heerey, the study’s co-author.

According to Shore, this research has implications for how people make a range of important social decisions.

‘Genuine smiles might help people see eye-to-eye during interactions. People who often make genuine smiles may have an easier time convincing others to adopt their goals. Because positive interactions help people build relationships, smiles might cement the social ties we share with our friends and colleagues.’

Their research has been published in the journal Emotion. Danielle’s PhD studentship was supported by the Economic & Social Research Council.

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Bangor University announces third year of expansion of Postgraduate Research Scholarships

New Research Scholarship places are being offered at Bangor University for the third successive year. The places are part of the University’s five year postgraduate expansion programme. They were also created to mark the University’s 125th Anniversary in 2009.

‘A strong postgraduate community is an essential element of any international research-led university. As well as contributing to the further growth of our already vibrant postgraduate community, over half the Scholarship students will work on projects that will assist businesses working in key sectors of the Welsh economy. This will enable them to access the expertise that exists within the University to develop their businesses,’ said Professor John G Hughes, the University’s Vice-Chancellor.

‘The Scholarship schemes offer opportunities to the very best students to work with the University’s leading academics and rising stars. They form part of our strategy to grow research excellence and research capacity,’ said Prof David Shepherd, the University’s Pro Vice Chancellor for Research & Enterprise.

The University is offering 18 Anniversary Research Scholarships and 28 ESF supported Knowledge Economy Skills Scholarships (KESS).

The Anniversary Scholarships are flagship awards comprising three year PhD studentships covering fees and providing an annual stipend and research allowance, and three year PhD bursaries that provide an annual stipend. The University is inviting applications from outstanding UK/EU and International students. These can be made on-line via the University’s website.

The KESS programme provides MRes and PhD Scholarships, which are undertaken collaboratively with businesses. Research is focussed on the priority sectors for the Welsh Economy. Each KESS scholarship provides an annual stipend and research allowance. University fees are waived.

KESS is a pan-Wales higher-level skills initiative led by Bangor University on behalf of the higher education sector. The programme aims to deliver the R&D skills needed to grow the knowledge economy. It is part-funded by the Welsh Assembly Government’s European Social Fund (ESF) Convergence programme for West Wales and the Valleys.

Each KESS scholar undertakes an integrated research, innovation and business skills training programme leading to a Postgraduate Skills Development Award. Additionally, KESS has been recognised as being unique in how it utilises ESF support to deliver a higher-level skills development programme jointly with employers.

Professor John G Hughes said: ‘KESS is an outstanding opportunity for us to partner our skills with regional companies of all sizes to create new knowledge through collaborative research and maximise our contribution to the economy.’

For more information and to apply please visit the Bangor University website.

Read about the experiences of two Bangor University scholarship students.

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Catfish study reveals multiplicity of species

Peer into any stream in a South American rainforest and you may well see a small shoal of similar-looking miniature catfish. But don’t be fooled into thinking that they are all the same species.

Two similar catfish species that share the same colour pattern: C. sp. C68 & C. maculifer –  © Bangor UniversityAn extensive investigation of South American Corydoras catfish, (reported in Nature 6.1.11), reveals that catfish communities – although containing almost identically coloured and patterned fish, could actually contain three or more different species.

Establishing for the first time that many species are mimetic; that is, they evolve to share the same colour patterns for mutual benefit – the research also established that each individual community of similar looking fish comprised species belonging to different genetic lineages, but still adopting similar colour patterns.

This discovery suggests that in many cases the number of Corydoras catfish species may be higher than previously recognised. This has consequent implications for environmentalists charged with protecting environmental diversity and safeguarding the species.

This increases the challenge of conserving these species at a time when many South American rivers are experiencing large scale development involving damn building, and destruction or contamination of habitats.

Markos Alexandrou, PhD student at Bangor University and one of the paper’s authors said: ‘Although appearing identical in terms of colour pattern, our in-depth assessments of genetic relationships, diet, body shape and colour patterns of the fish revealed that 92% of the communities we sampled comprised species that do not compete for resources.’

Dr Martin Taylor, project leader at the University’s School of Biological Sciences said: ‘This research highlights the hidden diversity and complexity found within neotropical freshwater ecosystems. Unfortunately, these habitats are also under extreme pressure from human activities.’

Claudio Oliveira of project partners, (UNESP, Botucatu, Brazil) said: ‘Besides the unknown biodiversity and interesting evolutionary system revealed by this study, it reinforces the urgent need to preserve and manage South American environments to avoid the loss of many species yet to be discovered and described.’

The research was funded by the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council, and supported by UNESP, Brazil.

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Bangor offers ten new international Forestry distance learning scholarships thanks to the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission

Staff at Bangor University’s School of Environment, Natural Resources and Geography (SENRGy) are delighted to announce that the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission (CSC) have agreed to fund 10 places for scholars from developing Commonwealth countries to study on the MSc Forestry (distance learning) course. The scholarship will include international tuition fees, plus a travel scholarship to enable scholars to attend a field course in 2012 or 2013.

Dr James Walmsley, Distance Learning Co-ordinator, said: ‘The CSC has previously funded individual PhD projects in SENRGy but this is the first time they have agreed to fund a taught postgraduate programme.

‘There has been growing interest in our distance learning course from forestry professionals from developing countries in recent years. These prestigious distance learning scholarships will enable 10 international students to study for their MSc Forestry degree, whilst living and working in their own countries. We hope that, through studying this course, we can impart knowledge, skills and ideas to facilitate sustainable forest management in a number of developing Commonwealth countries,’ he added.

The School have been running forestry-related distance learning courses since 2002 and have so far produced 71 graduates; people who would otherwise not have had the opportunity to study for a postgraduate degree. The course team continue to revise and update teaching materials, with ever greater use being made of e-learning technologies, to enhance both individual and group work learning and assessment.

Please email
distance@bangor.ac.uk for further information.

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