Modelling and investigation of the effects of anthropogenic noise on the collective movement of animals

Lead Research Organisation: University of Dundee
Department Name: Mathematics


There is increasing evidence that the wellbeing of marine and terrestrial animals
is affected by the exposure to anthropogenic noise (arising from various
industrial activities; e.g., the Oil & Gas industry), which interferes with signal
processing or animal communication, or can directly harm animals [1].
A major issue regarding the anthropogenic noise is the difficulty of assessing its
impact, and estimating behavioural effects on animals.
The goal of this research is to use mathematical modelling, combined with
analytical techniques and available experimental data, to propose hypotheses
regarding the effect of anthropogenic noise (e.g., generated by the Oil & Gas
industry) on the inter-individual communication between the members of small,
medium or large animal aggregations. The project will see the development of
2D multiscale mathematical models that describe the spatial interactions
between animals via sound signals (the models will be generalizations of models
in [2,3]). To investigate the models developed in this project, various analytical
and numerical techniques will be used. For biological realism, the models will be
parametrised with available data regarding animal movement (e.g., speed,
turning behaviours) and animal communication (e.g., communication sound
levels, frequency). Finally, the models will be used to test the effect of
anthropogenic noise on disrupting group-level communication, and the potential
consequences regarding the survival of individuals.
This project will not only lead to the development of new computational and
analytical techniques to investigate these mathematical models, but will also
increase our understanding of the role of man-made noise on the biological
mechanisms that disrupt animal movements and behaviour, and eventually lead
to better mitigation methods to increase population survival.
[1] A.A. Yim-Hol Chan, D.T. Blumstein, 2011. Attention, noise, and implications for
wildlife conservation and management. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 131,
[2] I.D. Couzin, J. Krause, R. Jamesm G.D. Ruxton, N.R. Franks, 2002. Collective
memory and spatial sorting in animal groups. J. Theor. Biol. 218, 1-11.
[3] R. Eftimie, G. de Vries, M.A. Lewis, 2007, Complex spatial group patterns result
from different animal communication mechanisms, PNAS, 104(17), 6974-6979


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/N509632/1 01/10/2016 30/09/2021
1817923 Studentship EP/N509632/1 01/10/2016 31/08/2020 Arnina Goodlad
Description Our first set of research focussed on incorporating different types of noise into a simulation of fish movement. Through studying different types we identified that the priorities on marine animal movement and the type of noise included could disrupt the movements in different ways; namely the disruption of communication with their nearest neighbours caused the largest detrimental impact on the group dynamics. We are currently studying the impact of a large structure (with and without noise) on marine animals movements; thus far it would appear that regardless of the type of structure (i.e., if the marine animal is attracted to it for protection or is repelled as a result of noise etc) their movements can be disrupted as a result of a decrease in group alignment (i.e., ability to shoal efficiently).

We have studied how the presence of structures (e.g., oil rigs, offshore wind/wave farms, etc.,) might impact a group during their long term movements. For example, if a group are attempting to move towards a feeding ground, or a spawning ground, they could be delayed in reaching their location. This could have long term impacts such as a decline in population size or the displacement of a group.
Exploitation Route My first set of findings might be of interest to people who are interested in particle movement and the incorporation of different types of noise, particularly the order of the phase transition from ordered to disordered. It might also be of interest to anybody who carries out experimental studies on fish movement and their communication via various sensory systems (in particular, their lateral lines). The current set of research, I hope, will be helpful in the development of offshore industries such as renewable energy sectors, or the oil and gas industry. I hope to identify the impact that these structures will have on collective movement which will hopefully add some considerations to developing offshore structures with respect to areas which are of interest to marine populations (e.g., spawning grounds, feeding grounds,...).

These results could also be useful in the fisheries management sector. Currently, much of the research on fish stocks is based on the impact of the fishing industry, my research indicates that there may be additional factors which need to be included in considering how the stocks are doing. Namely, that the population size may not have depleted, but they have been displaced, thus making it more difficult to track and monitor the population.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Energy,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism

Description I wrote a short article for the magazine, "Shetland Life" (Issue 461, March 2019), describing the purpose of my research and how I hope it will help the local community of Shetland. I described my research considerations and briefly summarised the current research in the field, and how I hope to add to this. I attended the Global Food Security (GFS) Speak Up Storytelling Masterclass where I learned how to turn my research into a story that could be understood by the general public/non-academics. In this workshop I was able to communicate my research and make the wider implications further understood. Following from that I was shortlisted to attend the final competition at the Cambridge Science Festival where I presented my research to members of the public. I went on to win the "Audience Choice Award". The audience really understood the research I was doing, and the wider implications this could have and asked me some really great questions. Following from this, The Shetland Times newspaper would like to do a piece on me and my research and I am hoping to get interviewed by the local radio station, as well as contact The Fishing News newspaper to discuss my research.
First Year Of Impact 2020
Sector Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

Description Global Food Security Speak Up for Food Security Research Storytelling competition. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The final involved 5 participants from the masterclass presenting their stories to an audience of around 100 as part of the Cambridge Science Festival. It was supposed to be more than 200, but due to the current pandemic, much of the Cambridge Science Festival was affected. I presented my story which incorporated my research in a way that the audience could understand. The audience was made up of a wide range of people; general members of the public, some scientists and many high school children. Following my story, many members of the audience asked me questions and it was clear that my presentation had changed their opinions on the matter of how we monitor fish stocks. I went on to win the Audience Choice Award by an overwhelming majority.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
Description Global Food Security Speak Up for Food Security Storytelling Masterclass 2020. 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Along with 11 other postgraduate students, I attended the masterclass to learn how to communicate my research to the wider public through the art of storytelling. During this workshop, we learned various techniques to tell our research stories, as well as other stories. At the end of the event, we were all invited to give a 3 minute presentation on our research. Of the 12 people attending, 5 were selected to attend the final competition at the Cambridge Science Festival.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020