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The effect of acoustic pollution on freshwater soundscapes and stonefly mate selection

   School of Applied Sciences

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  Dr J Dodd, Dr I McGregor  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project


Human-made acoustic pollution is ubiquitous in today’s global ecosystems. We now have some understanding how terrestrial and marine ecosystems are affected by human-generated noise, whilst our knowledge on the effects on freshwater ecosystems is sparse. Information relating to ecoacoustics (the role sound plays in ecology) of rivers and streams is critically needed.

This PhD studentship is a fantastic and timely opportunity to identify and evaluate the impact of road-bridge noise on river soundscapes and whether/how such noise affects mate selection of stoneflies, a key indicator group for assessing water quality.

Rivers are hydrodynamically active and highly diverse in their natural acoustic patterns. Evidence suggests that animals inhabiting rivers have adapted to communicate using acoustics within this naturally diverse acoustic landscape (e.g. Holt & Johnston, 2015). The masking of ambient sound through human-made acoustic pollution may inhibit the detection or discrimination of acoustic signals used by freshwater fauna to meet life history requirements (e.g. mate discrimination), as is the case in the terrestrial and marine environment (e.g. Slabbekoorn & Peet, 2003).

Stoneflies (Plecoptera), freshwater macroinvertebrates inhabiting a range of running water types from small streams to large rivers, are indicators of good water quality. Adult stoneflies communicate by drumming on a hard surface. Male stoneflies use drumming calls to attract females, who respond to the male call by drumming a response. Unravelling whether human-made acoustic pollution impacts stonefly communication is key for understanding the effects of acoustic pollution on the riverine ecosystems.

This PhD project will involve the collection of acoustic data from a suite of road-bridge designs and river sizes to explore the relationship these variables have on the transfer of acoustic information into the freshwater environment. Field-based recordings will then be used to experimentally investigate the effect of acoustic pollution on the drumming signals of adult male stoneflies and whether/how this affects female mate selection.

The successful candidate will be given the opportunity to develop a range of skills highly relevant for conservation and the emerging field of ecoacoustics, equipping them to pursue a research career in academia or work in a role with government, industry or the third sector.

You will gain skills/expertise in:

·        The use and deployment of novel, passive, non-destructive environmental monitoring equipment

·        Field- and lab-based techniques for the recording of soundscapes and acoustics signals in terrestrial and aquatic environments

·        Generating some of the first soundscape recordings describing the effects of human-generated acoustic patterns in running water environments

·        Designing and developing experimental manipulations and field observations to investigate a critically understudied area of ecology

·        Processing data using advanced methods

·        Develop a model to inform better bridge design to support freshwater conservation

·        Generating your own professional network to support your onward career.

 The successful candidate will be based at Edinburgh Napier University (Sighthill Campus). For soundscape analysis you will work closely with colleagues from the School of Computing (Merchiston Campus) and engage regularly with the influential NGO Buglife. You will be part of a thriving PhD community and supportive PGR environment and can team up with other students and colleagues working in the field of Conservation and Restoration Science.


Academic qualifications

A first degree (at least a 2.1) ideally in Ecology, Biology or Environmental Sciences and with a good fundamental knowledge of freshwater ecosystems.  

English language requirement

IELTS score must be at least 6.5 (with not less than 6.0 in each of the four components). Other, equivalent qualifications will be accepted. Full details of the University’s policy are available online.

Essential attributes:

·        Experience of undertaking field-based work (ideally aquatic environments)

·        Competent in the analysis of large data sets using the R statistical language

·        Knowledge of (ideally freshwater) macroinvertebrate identification

·        Good written and oral communication skills

·        Strong motivation, with evidence of independent research skills relevant to the project

·        Good time management

·        Full, clean driving licence

Desirable attributes:

·        Experience of the collection of acoustic information

·        Experience of animal husbandry, ideally for invertebrates


To apply, please click on the ‘Institution Website’ link on the right-hand side of this page. SCROLL DOWN PAST THE FEES INFORMATION AND FUNDING SECTION TO THE 'PhD' SECTION, where you choose ‘PHD APPLIED SCIENCES full-time’.

When applying, please quote the application reference SAS0176 on your form.


·        Completed application form

·        CV

·        2 academic references, using the Postgraduate Educational Reference Form (Found on the application process page)

·        A personal research statement (This should include (a) a brief description of your relevant experience and skills, (b) an indication of what you would uniquely bring to the project and (c) a statement of how this project fits with your future direction.)

·        Evidence of proficiency in English (if appropriate)

Funding Notes

This project is fully funded at the standard Edinburgh Napier studentship rates. Funding will include payment of full-time fees for three academic years, plus 36 monthly stipend payments at the prevailing rate set by the UK Research Councils. Interviews will take place end of November/beginning of December 2022. Students must be able to commence their studies in March 2023


Tonolla D., Lorang M.S., Heutschi K., Gotschalk C.C. & Tocknera K. (2011) Characterization of spatial heterogeneity in underwater soundscapes at the river segment scale. Limnology & Oceanography
Slabbekoorn H. & Peet M. (2003) Birds sing at a higher pitch in urban noise. Nature
Ruffoni A. & Tierno de Figueroa J.M. (2022) Description of drumming signals of four stonefly species from Corsica (Plecoptera: Perlodidae, Nemouridae, Capniidae and Lecutridae). Aquatic Insects
Holt D.E. & Johnston C.E. (2015) Traffic noise masks acoustic signals of freshwater stream fish. Biological Conservation
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