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GW4 FRESH CDT studentship: Bridging ecology and technology: Using citizen science and artificial intelligence to track fish health

Project Description

Crucial to conservation and management of wild fisheries are data on fish distribution and their disease status. Anglers have reported an increasing burden of welfare issues, particularly for those prominent skin pathogens which cause skin lesions, and are often a key indicator of general health. Oomycetes of Saprolegnia species are particularly problematic; increasing in prevalence as fish become more stressed and immunocompromised in the light of climate change, and the resulting fungal-like growths on the skin of the fish are visible by eye. In the UK, wild fisheries data are collected via government agencies, such as Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and the Environment Agency (EA) using methods that can be timeconsuming, laborious, and expensive. Data on the distribution and extent of visible fish diseases are, as such, sparse, leading to large gaps in knowledge even for common species. There exists, however largely untapped sources of publicly contributed data via images shared on social media that could fill this knowledge gap by providing extensive spatial data on fish distribution and disease status. Social networks have a user base of over 2 billion, reflecting the observed reality of 25% of the human population. Using AI machine learning techniques from images submitted to social media we will develop an automatic monitoring systems (AMS) to identify, across the UK, fish species, their location and signs of disease.

As an alternative to directed and structured surveys, we will explore the value of social media content in which members of the public photograph and describe wildlife ad hoc, and with no particular scientific intent. Such images, taken with smart phones are geo-tagged and so could provide a rich source of validated wildlife distribution data, constituting what we term ‘passive citizen science’. We will conduct a systematic evaluation of the quality of social media observations for wild freshwater fish mapping across the UK to predict species distribution data using the textual tags and image content of photos on online photo sharing sites, Flickr, Twitter, etc. Using machine learning and computer vision processes, we will identify fish species and quantify any visible disease on the fish (e.g. Saprolegnia). Such data will allow us to map the distribution of wild fish whilst simultaneously mapping their disease status, so allowing us to rapidly identify disease distribution.

As a second objective we will initiate a dedicated citizen science project to map fish distribution and health intensively on Welsh rivers. Working with stakeholders ‘Wye and Usk Foundation’ we will use their ‘fishing passport’ to roll out a citizen science project. Anglers on the Wye and Usk are required to register for a day pass so providing an infrastructure via which we can provide instructions to angler on how to upload images to the photo-sharing website Flickr. From this very low citizen science effort we will extract location data and use the machine learning tools to identify both the species in the image and the presence and extent of any disease. We will evaluate this technique as a real-time reporter of disease on this catchment.

Throughout the PhD the student will co-develop the reseach with their PhD committe, and benefit from the contrasting and complimentary experiences spending time with computer scientists (Cardiff and Exeter), disease ecologists (Cardiff), and engaging with the stakeholder. This broad skill set the studentt will acquire are highly sought after in the field of ecological and biomedical research and in private (e.g. ecological consultancies) and governmental (Defra, Fera, NRW) organisations, and more widely, making the student highly employable within diverse sectors.

Studentships will last for 3.5 years full-time or the equivalent period part-time.

The application deadline is 9am on 16th December 2019.


Applicants must apply directly to the CDT and not via Cardiff University’s online application system. Please use the below link which will take you to the relevant page to place an application to the CDT directly:

For more details on how to apply, please visit the GW4 Fresh website:

Funding Notes

Full UKRI stipend and fees to be funded for the duration of the studentship (3.5 years), plus RTSG of £11,000.

NERC-funded studentships are subject to UKRI eligibility requirements i.e. you should be a citizen of the UK or other EU country and have been residing in the UK for the last 3 years.

This project is in competition with others available across GW4 FRESH CDT; the projects which receive the best applicants will be awarded the funding. This year we are advertising 25 projects for 14 studentships.

Please note there are mandatory training activities during the first six months.

Related Subjects

How good is research at Cardiff University in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 54.70

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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