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Meet the AQUACROSS team: Fiona Culhane

November 24, 2017

Dr. Fiona Culhane

Last week, Manuel Lago introduced the EU-funded AQUACROSS project in a blog post which called for a greater focus on gender equality in environmental science and policy-making.

This week, we begin the first of a series of interviews with AQUACROSS researchers by speaking to Dr Fiona Culhane from the University of Liverpool in England. Fiona introduces us to her research, and her motivations for studying aquatic environments.

Freshwater Blog: What is your focus of your work in AQUACROSS, and why?

Fiona Culhane: The focus of my work in AQUACROSS is on the links between people and aquatic ecosystems, from an ecologist’s perspective. Through AQUACROSS, I am exploring how human activities and the impacts these have on aquatic ecosystems will ultimately affect our own well-being and the socio-economic system, via the ecosystem. Though my main focus is on marine environments, I am interested in looking at these effects at a large-scale, across the aquatic realms, and developing methods that can work in data poor situations.

Lough Erne

Cattle and donkeys grazing the edge of Lough Erne, Northern Ireland. Image: Fiona Culhane

Why is your work important?

In order to manage ecosystems sustainably, we need to understand the links in the system and the consequences of our own actions. If we put this in terms of our own well-being and the socio-economic system, we may better be able to highlight the trade-offs that occur with resource use so that we can make more informed decisions about how to protect the environment for future generations.

What are the key challenges for marine management in Europe?

Marine environments are large, highly connected ecosystems, where knowledge is often patchy or disparate. The challenge for management is to make decisions that take account of the connectivity and to do this with limited information.

Marine Ecosystem Services

Marine ecosystem services are varied, and interlinked with those in freshwater and estuarine environments. Image composite: Fiona Culhane

Tell us about a memorable experience in your career.

When I started my first post-doc job at the University of Liverpool, I joined the team working on the ODEMM project. After years working alone on my PhD it was a big change. The group was highly collaborative and I realised how productive, inspiring and motivating it can be to work like that. It was a turning point for me because I recognised that was how I would like to continue working as a scientist in the future.

What inspired you to become an ecologist?

I have always loved nature and cared about the environment, most probably influenced by my mother as she is always pointing out different species of plants and animals to me. I was excited to get to secondary school, to finally be able to study science, which became one of my favourite subjects. As time went on, I saw that being a scientist could be a way to make a difference to the world. A job where I could travel and work outdoors was also really appealing to me.

The Firth of Clyde

Looking out across the Firth of Clyde in Western Scotland. Image: Fiona Culhane

What are your plans and ambitions for your future scientific work?

As my career has progressed, I have seen that being an ecologist is not only about making a difference to the environment and biodiversity but also to people’s lives. I am very interested in the connection between the state of the ecosystem and the health and wellbeing of people. I am interested in developing methods that can work in data poor situations, such in the developing world, where the knowledge base is poor, but where people are most affected by changes to their ecosystems.

Find out more about Fiona’s work on the AQUACROSS website.

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