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Beth Gillie: Report on placement at Marine Institute at Memorial University

I undertook my DurhamARCTIC placement at the Marine Institute at Memorial University, St John’s, Newfoundland, between 17th April and 7th July 2023. During this three-month placement, I contributed to research investigating the repercussions of climate change on the North Water Polynya.

I joined Dr Tyler Eddy’s research group, Team Zissou, and collaborated with one of his current postdocs, Dr Andrea Bryndum-Buchholz, who had just created a fisheries food-web/ecosystem model of the North Water Polynya. This polynya is one of the most biologically productive marine areas in the Arctic Ocean and is important in sustaining both Inuit communities and many keystone species. By leveraging my expertise in species distribution models gained from my PhD, we explored the use of species distribution models in informing future changes to the North Water Polynya ecosystem with climate change.

Throughout the placement, I undertook an array of activities that significantly contributed to my learning and insight into Arctic ecological research. I collaborated in the development and refinement of the theory behind the food-web models to assess the implication of additions of novel species to the food-web. Building on my expertise, I ran species distribution models under different climate change scenarios for key target species which could shift their distributions northwards into the North Water Polynya in order to predict potential disruptions to food-web function. Working closely with Tyler and Andrea, I actively participated in discussions, sharing insights from my specialisation, and gaining valuable interdisciplinary perspectives. We are currently continuing to work on this research with the aim of submitting the final manuscript to be published within the next few months. This piece of work will also make an extremely valuable contribution to one of the chapters in my thesis.

Through the active engagement in diverse research activities, my skill set has been substantially enriched by this placement. The immersion in food-web modelling methodologies enhanced my understanding of ecological dynamics and modelling intricacies. The application of species distribution models to this research question has honed my analytical and problem-solving skills. In addition, it has been invaluable to experience another university and research environment. I worked in an office with other postgraduate researchers which provided me with another opportunity to meet and collaborate with researchers from varying disciplines but all unified in a shared interest in marine environments. I also had the opportunity to sit in on a comprehensive examination and watch some MSc and PhD thesis defences which were useful chances to witness how thesis defences work in another institution. I also met other people from different departments at Memorial University and had tours of people’s labs and research facilities.

My placement at the Marine Institute proved transformative, significantly advancing my comprehension of the intricacies of Arctic ecosystems and their vulnerability to environmental change. The hands-on experience in food-web modelling and the application of species distribution models broadened my horizons, allowing me to contribute actively to essential research efforts.

I’d like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to Tyler, Andrea and Team Zissou at the Marine Institute, for being so warm and welcoming, for their guidance, support and providing an environment conducive to learning and growth. Tyler and Andrea’s mentorship and collaboration has been invaluable in shaping this enriching experience. This experience has propelled me toward a career dedicated to contributing meaningfully to the scientific discourse surrounding ecological conservation and climate change mitigation. I am deeply grateful for this opportunity funded by the Leverhulme Trust and look forward to translating these experiences into impactful contributions in the realm of ecological research.