‘Team Otter’ are currently led by Dr Elizabeth Chadwick, who has been Project Manager since 2004. Research Associate Dr Eleanor Kean focuses on toxicology and scent communication. Dr Geoff Hobbs gained his doctorate in 2010 and is working with the group to complete journal articles arising from his thesis.
The project also benefits from a large and ever-changing group of volunteers and collaborators. Many of our volunteers are undergraduates at Cardiff; we also take on students through a number of national and international schemes such as ECTARC, IAESTE and Nuffield. Please check our facebook group for information about volunteering opportunities, or contact us.
Dr Elizabeth Chadwick did her first otter dissections as an undergraduate, during her professional training year in 1996-97 at the Llysdinam Field Centre. At the time, the Otter Project was managed by Dr Adeline Bradshaw. In 2004 (after finishing her degree, a PhD in herpetology, and a short post-doc position looking at ecotourism and ecology in the Cape Verde islands), she took over as Otter Project Manager. Recognising that as a one-woman band she could not exploit the full potential of the project, she started roping in colleagues and acquaintances to provide expertise in a wide diversity of research areas, from parasitology to molecular genetics. The project continues to go from strength to strength, not only developing our understanding of this elusive species, but also using it as a model organism to investigate ecological principles and processes.
Dr Eleanor Kean Having spent a few years conducting spraint and camera trap surveys for Cheshire Wildlife Trust, Eleanor joined the Project in 2008 in search of a new method to monitor otter populations. She completed her PhD on otter scent communication in 2012 having juggled thesis write up, a fellowship in Parliament and completing a report on pollutants in otter livers for the Environment Agency. She has now joined the Project as a Research Associate, continuing the ecotoxicology research and working on funding applications.
Julia Owen and Charlotte Lees are currently studying Biology as undergraduates at Cardiff University. They are undertaking a professional training year (a year away from their taught courses to develop research skills, broaden knowledge and experience) as research assistants with the Otter Project. As part of this, they are assisting in post mortems, report writing, volunteer recruitment and coordination. They will also both be undertaking research projects, of which the topics have not yet been decided.
Ellie Sherrard-Smith (supervised by Dr E Chadwick and Dr J Cable, October 2009-July 2013) Ellie graduated from Cardiff University in 2007 with a BSc (Hons) in Zoology. During the third year of her undergraduate degree she worked with the Welsh Biomass Centre and Cardiff University Field Centre at Llysdinam. After graduating, Ellie worked at the Cardiff University Otter Project for two years on a variety of projects including cementum analysis, reproduction, seasonality and stable isotope analyses. Whilst working at the project, the gall bladder parasite Metorchis albidus was discovered, this work led directly to her PhD examining otter parasites in the UK. The PhD led to an interest in disease transmission and, whilst remaining a keen collaborator of Cardiff University's otter project, Ellie is now based in London undertaking her first post doc at Public Health England. Her role there is to help understand the epidemiology of Chlamydia trachomatis - the team is producing a tool to examine whether the introduction of point-of-care (testing and treatment in a single visit to a health facility) would be cost effective and benefit the health of society.
Since her undergraduate, Ellie has completed a teaching role for a short stint in Honduras for Operation Wallacea, she is also a STEM ambassador.
Geoff Hobbs (supervised by Dr E Chadwick, Dr F Slater and Prof M Bruford) graduated in 2010. His PhD used muscle tissue samples from the otter archive at Cardiff, as well as samples from southwest England donated by Vic Simpson, to analyse population structure. He continues to prepare manuscripts arising from his thesis, and is now working as Biodiversity Officer at Bridgend Council.
David Stanton is a PhD student in the conservation genetics research group here at Cardiff. During the final year of his degree he worked alongside Geoff Hobbs on the mitochondrial genetic diversity and structure of the European otter (Lutra lutra) in Britain (Stanton et al 2009). Though his PhD (2010-present) is on the genetic structure of okapi (Okapia johnstoni) in the forests of the DRC he is also currently looking at the landscape genetics of Lutra lutra in Scotland, in his spare time.
Associated staff at Cardiff University
Professor Mike Bruford leads a thriving conservation genetics group at Cardiff, and co-supervised Geoff Hobbs during his PhD on otter genetics. He continues to support the otter project in his capacity as Group leader for the Organisms and Environment Division at Cardiff University. Dr Jo Cable is a molecular parasitolgist at Cardiff. She takes an advisory role for many aspects of the project, and co-supervises Ellie Sherrard Smith. Dr Carsten Müller is a chemical ecologist. He manages the Biosciences analytical unit and co-supervised Eleanor Kean's PhD.
Each year we are joined by a number of undergraduate volunteers, who make the most of the opportunity to gain some practical experience of mammalian dissection. Some return for longer term volunteering placements in the summer holidays or after their degree e.g. through the CUROP scheme (thanks to Alex Chinchen, CUROP student 2012). A number of international graduates have also joined us through ECTARC and IAESTE (thanks to Sonia Valladares, Morena Ferraro, Marta Pasanau, Asun Lopez, Akiko Obata, Milica Tosic, Kamila Mustafina and Vicky Mallouri), and UK A-level students through the Nuffield scheme (thanks to Amy Bradley and Liz Turner). Volunteers assist with many aspects of the project, from recording observations during post mortems, to developing mini-research projects. Short-term volunteers primarily assist observations and sampling during otter dissections; longer term volunteers typically receive training in a range of lab based activities such as dissection and microscopy, and office skills including use of mapping in ArcMap GIS and databasing in MS Access. If you are interested in volunteering please contact us or see our facebook page for opportunities.
Since 2007 the Environment Agency has supported a technician post with the project. This has enabled us to employ a series of research assistants to help with all aspects of the project. Ellie Sherrard-Smith took on the role from 2007 to 2009, followed by Zoe Deakin from 2009 to 2010, Sarah Paul from 2010 to 2012 and Rosemary Moorhouse-Gann from 2012 to 2013. Rosemary held the position of assistant project manager before beginning a PhD at Cardiff University. Rosemary’s research focused on otter diet and she remains affiliated with the project whilst she prepares papers for publication in her spare time.
Professional Training Year Students (PTYs)
The Otter Project also benefits from PTYs who take a year away from their taught course to develop their research skills and brouden their knowledge. From 2012 to 2013 Willow Smallbone carried out her PTY with the Otter Project and completed a research project on Toxoplasma gondii. From 2013 to 2014 Rob Elmer and Heather Wood carried out their PTY years with the Otter Project. Rob worked on assessing the effects of persistent organic pollutants on size and bone mineral density of otter bacula. Heather carried on Willow’s work by extracting DNA from Toxoplasma gondii found in a range of otter tissues, and developed methods aimed at strain typing the parasite.