Project Description

Anthropogenically driven environmental changes affect our planet at an unprecedented scale and are considered to be a critical threat to biodiversity. According to the World Health Organization, anthropogenic noise is one of the most hazardous forms of anthropogenically driven environmental change and is recognised as a major global pollutant. Given that more than two-thirds of our planet is covered with water, there is a pressing need to get a holistic understanding of the effects of anthropogenic noise on marine species. The effects of anthropogenic noise on marine mammals are a subject of growing concern, and single studies suggest that noise affects both their behaviour and physiology. However, single studies cannot provide holistic quantitative assessments of the potential effects of noise. The results of this project will provide the quantitative evidence necessary for national and international legislative bodies to regulate this environmental stressor more effectively.

This project aims to quantify the effects of anthropogenic noise across marine mammals, specifically cetaceans and pinnipeds. We will use a series of state-of-the-art phylogenetically controlled meta-analyses to quantify the effects of noise on marine mammals. The work will include several meta-analyses to quantify the relationship between anthropogenic noise and (i) behaviour, (ii) physiology, and (3) movement ecology and the distribution of these animals to provide the first quantitative estimates of the effects of noise pollution across marine mammals.

As part of this project, the successful candidate will be trained in research synthesis, including state-of-the-art statistical analysis in the programming language R, study design, and how to communicate the results through stakeholder engagement.


Although this project is on marine mammals, the successful candidate does not only need to have a passion for mammals. The successful completion of the project requires a candidate to be very interested in the theoretical foundations of the outlined work and to have a strong interest in learning more about computer programming, how to maintain databases, and how to carry out complex statistical analyses. This is a purely desk-based bio-informatics project.

Image credit: Ian Taylor on Unsplash


Hansjoerg Kunc

Primary Supervisor:

Profile: Hansjoerg Kunc
Institution: Queen's University, Belfast
Department/School: School of Biological Sciences

Davina Derous

Secondary Supervisor:

Profile: Davina Derous
Institution: University of Aberdeen
Department/School: School of Biological Sciences

Additional Supervisor:

Dr Jonathan Houghton, Queen’s University Belfast, Biological Sciences



Kebke A, Samarra F & Derous D. 2022. Climate change and cetacean health: impacts and future directions. Phil. Trans.  R.  Soc.  B377: 20210249

Kunc HP & Schmidt R 2019. The effects of anthropogenic noise on animals: a meta-analysis. Biology Letters 15, 2019.0649

Kunc HP, McLaughlin KE, & Schmidt R. 2016. Aquatic noise pollution: implications for individuals, populations, and ecosystems. Proc. Roy. Soc. B 283: 20160839


  • biodiversity
  • environmental-management

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