A University of Stirling scientist has been awarded £1.5 million for an innovative four-year data project that will enable marine aquaculture to respond to impacts from climate change.
Dr Lynne Falconer, of the University of Stirling’s Institute of Aquaculture, has been awarded a UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Future Leaders Fellowship award for her proposal to use data from salmon farms located on the coasts of Scotland and Norway to develop tools for better industry decision-making.
Dr Falconer said “I’m delighted to have been awarded this Future Leaders Fellowship and I’m really looking forward to this exciting step in my career. The fellowship provides an outstanding opportunity to establish my own research team and lead an ambitious programme of research that will have real-world impact.
“Marine aquaculture is an important contributor to the global food system. But climate change is a threat, as fish production is highly influenced by the farm environment. Even small changes in the farming conditions can affect fish growth, health, and welfare.
“Recently, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reiterated that the world is undergoing unprecedented rates of change, so there is an urgent need to understand what climate change means for marine aquaculture, as fish and seafood is a hugely important part of being able to feed a growing global population.”
Dr Falconer said there is a gap in our understanding of what is happening at farm level, and what that can tell us about the bigger picture of climate change along our coasts. At the same time, climate change data available to farmers is often very generalised, which can impede decision-making at a local level.
Together with her research team, she will use a combination of fieldwork, data analysis, and predictive modelling to develop a framework of tools for industry to develop future responses to short and long-term changes. The work involves close collaboration with a network of industry partners, researchers, regulators, and policymakers.
She said: “We are now in an era of precision aquaculture where vast amounts of data can be collected, stored and analysed to support better decision-making. This research will develop and use data-driven approaches to gain new insight into how farming environments are changing and how marine aquaculture can respond.
“The work will consider the complexity of marine aquaculture, integrating biological, environmental, technical, and socio-economic factors that influence production to develop tools that address real-world challenges and decisions.
“These findings and approaches will then be adapted and expanded for other species and locations throughout the world.”
Dr Falconer is one of 97 Fellows awarded in the current round of the Future Leaders Fellowships scheme, worth a total of £96 million, with £13 million allocated in Scotland.
The scheme helps universities and businesses in the UK recruit, develop and retain the world’s best researchers and innovators, regardless of their background.
UK Science Minister Amanda Solloway said: “As home to the innovators who demonstrated the first working television and telephone, Scotland has a unique history in technological innovation. Backed with £13m of UK Government funding, these pioneering projects in Scotland, whether that’s making smart devices sustainable or supporting the fishing industry to combat climate change, will continue that proud tradition.
“We are putting science and innovation at the heart of our efforts to build back better from COVID-19, empowering our scientific leaders of tomorrow to drive forward game-changing research and helping to secure the UK’s status as a global science superpower.”
UKRI Chief Executive, Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser, said: “I am delighted that UKRI is able to support the next generation of research and innovation leaders through our Future Leaders Fellowship programme.
“The new Fellows announced today will have the support and freedom they need to pursue their research and innovation ideas, delivering new knowledge and understanding and tackling some of the greatest challenges of our time.”
Each fellowship will last four to seven years. Awardees will each receive between £400,000 and £1.5 million over an initial four years.