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World-Leading Doctoral Scholarship in Modern Languages and Biology - Netting Nineteenth-Century Knowledge: Rediscovering ‘Missing’ Abundance and Biodiversity Baselines in Fisheries Research


   School of Biology

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  Prof A Brierley, Prof Mary Orr  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Many data collections and fish databases for marine and freshwater environments show the effects of over-fishing, pollution, water resource management and introduction of invasive species. Anecdotally, catches were also much larger several generations ago. What these data cannot show, and what is most needed in order to address stock sustainability and fish biodiversity is a ‘baseline’ for given aquatic ecosystems. What were the ‘normal’ fish stocks prior to recent (over-)exploitation, climate change, other human impact? How can ‘normal’ be established?

This project directly addresses these questions through comparative ‘netting’ of recorded nineteenth-century ‘European’ knowledge, because modern world fish study – ichthyology as a defined scientific discipline – is founded, collated, and newly classified in 1828-48 by Cuvier and Valenciennes in France. Galvanizing the diversity of its world experts and knowledge networks enables access to missing ‘baseline’ information hidden in multiple sources in different European languages. For example, newspaper reports, sporting and fishing manuals, local natural histories, as well as first national accounts of indigenous fish species with illustrations all provide vital and dateable intercultural information. While such ‘data’ were not collected systematically, their further richness – e.g., concerning multiple stakeholders, related biota, adverse weather, or other events – can be mined to map and model known states of fish stocks at the date(s) of the published accounts.

How can such diverse information be put together, let alone analysed to ensure the onward sustainability and biodiversity of fish stocks in marine and freshwater environments? The impasse for such research is that Fish Biologists are not trained to work with historical texts, and Nineteenth-Century Modern Language Studies experts do not engage with Fish sciences. The co-supervisors at St Andrews of this project, Profs Mary Orr, Buchanan Chair of French (published on nineteenth-century ichthyology) and Andrew Brierley (published on a diversity of marine and freshwater fisheries) unusually bring together the ‘missing’ interdisciplinary research expertise. Their combined knowledge and successful track records in interdisciplinary PhD supervision will engage ‘text and data’ methods in this project to establish ‘baseline’ research in Fish Biology. This new multidata and multicultural approach to ascertaining species sustainability has immediate relevance to other endangered fauna and habitats in environmental and ecology research.

The Project Outline and its Investigator:

You will produce a discipline-resetting pilot study on how (1) to establish and (2) to investigate the (comparative) baselines for Fish by investigating current and past ‘data’ for at least two case study sites/habitats. They will also be informed by consideration of (inter)national and colonial/postcolonial history and geography. For example, case study work on fish of Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest inland water body (the focus of ongoing field research by Brierley) can be recalibrated through study of Lough Neagh, largest of the British Isles (its 19th-century comparative European ichthyology studied and published by Orr). Similar geologies or latitudes could also inform your strategic choice of comparative pilot studies which you will establish with the project co-supervisors.

You will have a Masters degree in Biological, Environmental or Climate sciences, but also demonstrate proven expertise at Undergraduate or Postgraduate level in a ‘text-based’ discipline, for example modules or combined honours qualifications taken in Modern Languages/English and Comparative Literature, History and/or Art History. Competency in at least two European languages (including English) and experience of University Study Abroad in the country of your target water bodies would be an additional advantage.

Informal enquiries regarding this scholarship may be addressed via email to Professor Mary Orr [Email Address Removed] and/or Professor Andrew Brierley [Email Address Removed].

Instructions on how to apply can be found here.


Funding Notes

Duration of award
Up to 3.5 years. The successful candidate will be expected to have completed the doctorate degree by the end of the award term. The award term excludes the continuation period and any extension periods.
Value of award
The award covers full tuition fees for the award term as well as an annual maintenance payable at the standard UK Research Council rate (the 2021-22 annual rate is £15,609).

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