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Prize Winners at Environ 2019

Congratulations  to the prize winners at Environ 2019 for their presentations and posters. We have shared their abstracts here for you to learn more about their excellent research projects.

Best Oral Presentation Winner – Felipe Guapo, Maynooth University

Molecular and behavioural characterisation of neonicotinoid exposure on bumblebees reveals trends between chemical effect and their mode of action


Bombus terrestris (L.) is one of the most important native and commercial bumblebee pollinator species worldwide. Along with many other pollinators their populations are in decline due to a multifactorial phenomenon that includes the extensive use of agrochemicals, among them, neonicotinoid insecticides. Although the characterisation of insecticide effects on bees is not new it is essential to understand these effects on a pharmacological level to better mitigate the risks of their use in the environment. This study characterised the behavioural and molecular effects of acute exposure to 8 different sub lethal and field relevant concentrations of agonistic and antagonistic neonicotinoids. Thirty, three and four bees from at least 3 different colonies per treatment were used respectively for each experiment (n= 311 bees in total). Patterns of hyperactivity were identified for bees exposed to clothianidin while bees exposed to imidacloprid showed signs of temporal paralysis. The accumulation of synapsin in bumblebee brain cells was quantified using confocal microscopy with higher levels observed in imidacloprid-exposed bees. The characterization of the brain proteome using quantitative mass spectrometry resulted in the identification of hundreds of statistically significantly differently abundant (SSDA) proteins between exposed and non-exposed bees. Functional annotation analysis on these proteins indicated that an impairment of intracellular transport, a decrease in cellular communication and an increase in cytoskeleton organization occurred in clothianidin exposed bees, whereas imidacloprid exposed bees displayed an increase in translational activity, RNA transport and axon guidance and a decrease in synaptic vesicle exocytosis and neuron maturation. In conclusion, our results demonstrate individual and distinct response trends that are correlated with the mode of action of each insecticide.

 

Best Poster – Sean O’Connor, IT Sligo

Biogas production from small-scale anaerobic digestion plants

Sean’s research focuses on investigating small-scale anaerobic digestion (SSAD)  systems which is a promising technology for the treatment of livestock waste, as it can transform organic matter into biogas (a mixture mainly composed of methane and carbon dioxide). SSAD systems thus do not only provide the benefits of: improvement of on-site energy generation, upgrading and provision of a nutrient-rich fertiliser, reduction in pathogenic loads, and reductions in odour and greenhouse gas emissions, but also additionally provide economic benefits with its use in smaller farm sizes and with regards to its portability and flexibility. Sean’s work at Environ 2019 aimed to shed light on the topic by modelling the technical, environmental, and economic considerations for the construction and operation of an SSAD plant on commercial Irish dairy farms.

Future work involves working with an industry partner to design, test and optimise a robust, modular, small-scale unit (20kW) for the Irish agriculture sector. This research has been carried out under the Renewable Engine project which is a cross-border initiative supported by the European Union through its INTERREG VA Programme. Renewable Engine facilitates the achievement of industrial R&I at PhD level in local engineering companies for the development of new products.

 

Best Biodiversity Prize Winner – Alan McCarthy, University College Cork

Predators and prey of Hen Harriers (Circus cyaneus) in young commercial upland forests

The uplands of Ireland have undergone significant land use change in recent decades through large-scale afforestation of previously open habitats. For upland specialist bird species, such as the Hen Harrier, this land use change represents a significant threat. While previous research has shown that Hen Harriers have persisted in some areas due to their ability to exploit the earliest stages of the commercial forest cycle for nesting and foraging, this study is the first to assess the suitability of the young forest habitats that are replacing their traditional open habitats. We assessed the prey abundance (small mammals and passerines) and predator communities (mammalian and avian) of young commercial forest habitats. Prey animals recorded in young forests included bank vole, greater white-toothed shrew and several passerine species. Predators recorded included red fox, pine marten, American mink and hooded crow. Our results showed a lower abundance of Hen Harrier prey in young forests compared with open moorland, and a diverse predator community in young forests. These findings demonstrate how afforestation of upland breeding habitats of the Hen Harrier creates areas of lower prey abundance than their traditional breeding habitats, with high predation risk. This has important conservation and management implications, and comes at a time when upland habitats are under more anthropogenic pressures than ever before. These findings will help to inform forest policy and management practices and Hen Harrier conservation strategies throughout Ireland and across their range.

 

Best Wastes & Resources Management – Annija Lace, IT Carlow

Arsenic detection in water using microfluidic detection systems

Heavy metal pollution of drinking water has become a major global concern. Heavy metals such as arsenic, lead and chromium are highly toxic, therefore, effective heavy metal monitoring is very important.  The most commonly used methods for heavy metal monitoring in water are laboratory based, and therefore, require sophisticated instrumentation, expensive maintenance and highly trained technicians. Consequently, cost effective, fast and easy to use alternative detection methods are required for heavy metal monitoring in the environment.

Annija’s research is focused on developing a novel method for heavy metal determination in water based on microfluidic detection systems. The first stage of this research involved assessing various chromophores and their suitability for use in microfluidic detection systems. Method performance was evaluate using UV-vis spectroscopy. For arsenic detection in water leucomalachite green method was selected due to the method’s sensitivity and strong colour formation. The final stage of the project involved leucomalachite green method’s integration into a microfluidic detection system. The method was capable of detecting arsenic in various water matrices such as lake and groundwater. The developed method has a great potential for arsenic monitoring in waste water samples and environmental samples with high known arsenic concentrations. 

 

Best Aquatic Environment Poster – Raymond Wilson, Ulster University

Environmental Change in Ireland’s Small Marl Lakes

Efforts of INTERREG project CANN (Collaborative Action for Natura Network) for improvements in six of seven priority habitats under the EU directive are also directed at the Magheraveely/Kilroosky marl lake cluster in Fermanagh and Monaghan. Marl lakes are typically groundwater fed and have elevated calcium carbonate levels promoting a well-buffered high pH regime. The reference condition for this lake type is characterised by low concentrations of dissolved nutrients, unique assemblages of rare plant species and favourable conditions for molluscs and other benthic invertebrates.

Along with the alkaline fens on their fringes, the lakes have been designated as a Special Area of Conservation due to the occurrence of Stonewort species and considerable stocks of the endangered White-Clawed Crayfish – considered to be among the best populations in the UK and Ireland.

Stoneworts belong to the Charophytes. They are submerged complex algae whose root like rhizoids anchor them in sediments. Stoneworts often appear as pioneer species in nutrient poor environments. Their stands contribute to stabilisation of a lake status with long periods of water clarity and to habitat heterogeneity for other aquatic species.

In recent years, most of these marl lakes appear to have experienced a change in nutrient status, with increased Phosphorus concentrations supporting algal blooms, which block sunlight and thus suppresses the growth of benthic stoneworts.  Algal blooms and stonewort decline have resulted in loss of physical habitat heterogeneity, oxygen depleted bottom waters during the summer and increased nutrient recycling from sediments.

With the imminent threat of Crayfish Plague– a parasitic water mold which is deadly to our native crayfish – now also extending to the island of Ireland, these marl lakes are now more important than ever. Due to their isolation, they could be natural ‘Ark Sites’ that bolster native crayfish populations and source areas for repopulation efforts. However, with changes in habitat from nutrient enrichment, our surveys have already indicated a decline in their crayfish populations. In at least one lake the population has already disappeared.

The project team aims to investigate and test suitable mitigation options for these lakes. It will recommend measures for securing their conservation status. The CANN project is supported by the European Union's INTERREG VA Programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB).
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Best Soils Presentation – Aoife Egan, IT Carlow

Estimating the potential of fourier transform infrared spectroscopy as a nove tool for nematode characerterisation

 

Best Water Related Presentation – Conall Holohan, NUI Galway

Fat-anaerobic digestion to energy: unlocking the forgotten resource

 

 



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