water@leeds blog

An interdisciplinary approach to tackling major water issues

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Parasite turns shrimp into voracious cannibals

Interview and article by Chris Bunting, Senior Press Officer, University of Leeds

Parasites can play an important role in driving cannibalism among freshwater shrimp, according to a new study involving researchers from the University of Leeds, Queen’s University Belfast and Stellenbosch University in South Africa.

The study found that the parasite, Pleistophora mulleri, not only significantly increased cannibalism among the indigenous shrimp Gammarus duebeni celticus but made infected shrimp more voracious, taking much less time to consume their victims.

Dr Alison Dunn, Reader in Evolutionary Biology in the University of Leeds’ Faculty of Biological Sciences, who led the study, said: “Cannibalism is actually fairly common in nature. Our work is the first study to ask if cannibalism is affected by being parasitised.”

The research, published in Royal Society Open Science, reports that although consumption of juveniles by adults is a normal feature of the shrimp’s feeding patterns, shrimp infected with the parasite ate twice as much of their own kind as uninfected animals.

They attacked juvenile shrimp more often and consumed them more quickly than did uninfected shrimp.

Mandy Bunke, a PhD student at the University of Leeds who was the key researcher on the study, said: “Although the parasite is tiny—similar in size to a human red blood cell—there are millions of them in the host muscle and they all rely on the host for food. This increased demand for food by the parasites may drive the host to be more cannibalistic.”

Dr Dunn added: “The parasite is quite debilitating. It takes over huge areas of the muscle, so instead of a nice transparent shrimp you get quite a chalky appearance because of muscles packed with the parasite. Interestingly, our group has also found previously that infected shrimp may be able to catch and eat less prey of other animal species. Perhaps cannibalism of smaller shrimp is the only way these sick animals can survive.”

gammarus pair (Alison Dunn)

gammarus pair (Alison Dunn)

The latest study also found that uninfected adult shrimp were less likely to cannibalize infected juvenile shrimp than uninfected juveniles.

The study is important to understanding the extent of parasites’ influence on biological systems. The Gammarus duebeni celticus, the subject of the study, is being replaced in Irish waterways by the invasive species Gammarus pulex, which is native to Great Britain. The Open Science study suggests that the parasite Pleistophora mulleri may be playing a role in weakening Gammarus duebeni’s resistance.

Gammarus duebeni pair  (Rob Weedall)

Gammarus duebeni pair (Rob Weedall)

The research was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

The full paper: Mandy Bunke et al., ‘Eaten alive: cannibalism enhanced by parasites,’ is published in Royal Society Open Science (2015) and is available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsos.140369 (DOI: 10.1098/rsos.140369 ).


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Traditional water sources in Dhofar

The Arabian Desert is one of the most arid areas of land on Earth, a place in which Bedouins have experienced tremendous hardship in accessing water, particularly in the pre-oil era. In this short blog, I will shed some light on the Bedouin lifestyle in Dhofar and how they have coped with water shortage. The work draws on data collected during a three-year project to document the endangered Modern South Arabian Languages spoken in Oman and Yemen. The project is funded by the Leverhulme Trust and hosted at the University of Leeds. Further information about the project can be found under: http://www.leeds.ac.uk/arts/info/125219/modern_south_arabian_languages/ 

The amount of water available in the desert has never been sufficient to meet the demands of Bedouins. The Bedouin describe water in terms of two types: water fed by groundwater source and water fed by rain. The former type is a permanent source and the latter is temporary. However, desert dwellers cannot spend the whole year in the vicinity of groundwater sources as they sometimes have to migrate from one place to another in search of better grazing areas as rearing animals is imperative for Bedouin life.

In the Najd of Dhofar, the wadis of Andur and Habrut are the arteries of life in the steppe, as described by Bertram Thomas in Arabia Felix. Andur lies behind Jabel Samhan (approximately north of Mirbat) while Habrut lies in the western mountainous area of Dhofar. These permanent water-holes are surrounded by natural oasis palms and continue to be used for tribal meetings held between sheikhs and tribesmen when required. The two water-holes provide abundant water, food (palm dates) and shade.
The Bedouin move with their herds within the desert in search of rainwater to be found in water-pools (in Mehri maḥlīḳ) and puddles (in Mehri śtrīr). Rain provides them with the opportunity to return to the desert. Drought and the fear of being attacked by raiders compelled them to resort to mountain water sources despite their fondness for the desert. In the desert, rain clouds and lightning are the Bedouins’ compass. They usually dispatch scouting men ahead to check if the rainfall has been adequate for grazing and water.

The pressing need for water forced Bedouin ancestors to invent techniques for the purposes of collecting and prospecting for water. Water would be carried in waterskins made from the complete hide of a goat (in Mehri nīd), shown here.

Goat-leather waterskin

Goat-leather waterskin

Prospecting for water involves the creation of waterscrapes (in Mehri maḥsāt) which were widely used by Najd inhabitants in the desert. To determine whether a place had sufficient water to warrant digging, they would lift a heavy stone and drop it down on the ground and listen for an underground echo that might gauge the depth of groundwater. If water was deemed to be present, a waterscrape would then be dug with simple digging tools whilst milk bowls (in Mehri ḳālīw) were used as shovels. The depth of waterscrape holes could be as much as the height of a man and required the use of milk bowls and goatskin water bags to draw the water up for use.

Waterscrape being covered to prevent livestock falling in

Waterscrape being covered to prevent livestock falling in

Traditional milk bowl

Traditional milk bowl

These approaches to water discovery and collection have changed in the post-oil era sodocumenting and disseminating traditional techniques and traditional views of water to present to future generations is extremely important, and in this project we hope to be able to produce audio and audio-visual documentation of many such practices.

Author: Saeed al-Mahri, School of Languages
Photos by Janet C.E. Watson and Domenyk Eades

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University Academic Fellowships at the University of Leeds

Are you one of the 250 Great Minds we are looking for?250 Great Minds

The University of Leeds is seeking to recruit up to 250 exceptional early career academics to tenure track equivalent Academic Fellowships over the next three years. There are 250 in total all with a closing date of 16th November 2014.

We are delighted to announce that 7 of these exciting opportunities fall into the theme of water!

The world’s most pressing water issues demand innovative water research, management and policy. The University of Leeds is rising to the challenge through water@leeds, the largest interdisciplinary water research centre of its kind in the world.

Examining the impact of growing global populations, increased water consumption, and shifting climate, rainfall and land use patterns, water@leeds has an internationally recognised track record of knowledge transfer and collaborative research and development. With high-profile and well-established partnerships with charities, industry and government, it delivers world-class intelligence and is inspiring industry and commerce to be more innovative in tackling these global water challenges.

University Academic Fellow in Aquatic Ecology

Water is increasing in value and declining in availability across much of the world, while hydrological processes are undergoing rapid change under a fluctuating climate.  Central to the increased efficiency of exploitation and preservation of the world’s freshwater is an understanding of the abiotic and biotic processes that underlie water-related ecosystem services. A new Aquatic Ecology Research Group (AERG) has formed as part of water@leeds, with a core of internationally excellent ecologists from the Schools of Biology, Geography and the Faculty of Engineering.  AERG’s 5 year aim is to be recognised as one of the strongest aquatic ecology groups in Europe. Read more here on the water@leeds website.

University Academic Fellow in Biogeochemical Modelling

The Palaeo@Leeds and Cohen Geochemistry research groups are both peaks of excellence within the School of Earth and Environment (SEE) with successful track records of both 4 star output and winning grant income.  You will build on these key areas of strength with your expertise in biogeochemical modelling.  You will bridge the divide between laboratory-based and numerical modelling-based science and will provide rigorous quantified deep-time scenario testing, and a link between our modelling efforts in recent time periods with those in much more ancient geological Epochs. Read more here on the water@leeds website.

University Academic Fellow in Environmental and/or Medical Humanities

The growth fields of medical and environmental humanities are ones in which the School and Faculty are developing significant reputations. Both areas have seen major successes in grant capture through HERA, AHRC and WUN initiatives in recent years, involving colleagues from across the School working in different historical periods and drawing on cross-Faculty and Interdisciplinary work in the Leeds Environmental Humanities Initiative, the Institute for Colonial and Postcolonial Studies and the Leeds Centre for Medical Humanities. The School aims to build on these successes by appointing a Fellow working in or across these two subject areas. Read more here on the water@leeds website. 

lab image

University Academic Fellow in Freshwater Ecology

The School of Geography and water@leeds have expertise in land management, soils, hydrology, freshwater quality, water treatment processes and human use of water.  A new Aquatic Ecology Research Group (AERG) has formed as part of water@leeds, with a core of internationally excellent invertebrate, parasite and algal ecologists from the Schools of Geography, Biology and the Faculty of Engineering.  AERG’s 5 year aim is to be recognised as one of the strongest aquatic ecology groups in Europe.  We seek to build further capacity in this area by appointing a Fellow who can bring complementary high-quality expertise in freshwater ecology. Read more here on the water@leeds website.

University Academic Fellow in the History of Health, Family and the Everyday

You will be an outstanding participant in the lively research area of the social and cultural history of health, making a distinctive contribution to knowledge by shedding light on how personal experiences have changed over time; and engaging with, and contributing to, important current debates on historical methodologies and scales of historical analysis. You will work to strengthen existing internal and external collaborations on perceptions and experiences of health, illness and the family in the past, and into the present day, in order to develop a new impact case study in collaboration with other members of the School of History’s Health, Medicine and Society research group. Read more here on the water@leeds website.

University Academic Fellow in Public Health

As a UAF in Public Health Engineering you will bring expertise in measuring health outcomes and/or economic impacts of engineering measures that are designed to improve public health. You will embed this expertise within the School and you will develop collaborations with researchers at Leeds and other institutes to link the technical engineering perspective with other relevant disciplines. You will lead the development of research studies that bring together technical and economic and/or health impact analysis, with a focus on infrastructure-based interventions. Read more here on the water@leeds website.

University Academic Fellow in Water-Related Hazards

Water-related risks from natural hazards such as flooding, debris/mud flows, landslides, etc. pose increasing threats due to urbanisation, economic growth and climate change. Long-term and short-term impacts on well-being and economic growth pose a global and local threat and the risk is inter-related due to any increasing globalised economy and society. The responses available to individuals, communities, businesses and government agencies are diverse: physical protection, natural processes, behaviour change, stakeholder engagement, emergency & spatial planning, insurance. Read more here on the water@leeds website.

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Latest job vacancies with water@leeds

We currently have two great opportunities to work with water@leeds.

Water@leeds Doctoral Research and Training Centre Manager

Closing date 9th October 2014

We are looking for an enthusiastic and motivated water expert to help lead and co-ordinate exciting new initiatives in water@leeds. water@leeds is already recognised as one of the largest interdisciplinary centres for water-related research, innovation, and training in the world. We seek to generate world-leading research and innovation which has major impacts on society, environment and the economy, to maximise the effectiveness of research and impact funding in the water sector by becoming the focus for interdisciplinary water research and to train new innovative, excellent and interdisciplinary water experts to work at the cutting edge of water research, management and policy.

Your primary role will be to: (i) identify and coordinate large, strategic water-focused framework and other tenders and funding applications, and (ii) establish and manage a new water@leeds Research and Doctoral Training Centre (DRTC) for water-related training, research and innovation. Both aspects of the role will involve significant engagement with external, traditional and non-traditional funding providers, research users, and working collegiately across the breadth of water@leeds. This is primarily a leadership role, however there will be opportunity for the successful candidate to supervise PhD students within the DRTC.

We expect you to have a Ph.D. and significant postdoctoral experience in a research and innovation focused environment, including successful submission of funding proposals to commercial and/or end-user bodies in a relevant water-related field or sector.

For further details and to apply please visit the University of Leeds jobs website

Lecturer / Associate Professor in Ecological Economics

Closing date 30th September 2014

We are looking for an enthusiastic and self-motivated ecological economist with relevant water-related research interests to develop and enhance links across water@leeds and to key stakeholders. You will be able to apply socio-economic analysis, valuation and/or modelling techniques to understand water and other environmental issues from an interdisciplinary perspective. You should have a PhD, research experience and publication track record relevant to the area and grade of the appointment.

We particularly welcome candidates with the ability to bridge analysis and policy, and build research with relevant business and public sector stakeholders.The Economics and Policy Research Group within the Sustainability Research Institute at Leeds has a strong track record in applying a range of economic approaches to understand energy and climate change, water and other environmental issues, as well as exploring the wider relationships between environmental limits, human well-being and the economy. The Group consists of 20 academic and research staff and over 25 PhD students. This is an opportunity to join a team that directly influences international and national policy, and bring new approaches to analyse the economy, water and environment. The team participates in a number of large interdisciplinary national research centres (CCCEP, UKERC, iBUILD, UK INDEMAND), leading to excellent opportunities for developing collaborative research.

Further details of the post and an application form can be found here on the University of Leeds website.

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Microscopic ‘Saturn of the Moors’ discovered

Interview and article by Sarah Reed, University of Leeds Press Officer

A species of alga that resembles the planet Saturn has been discovered for the first time in the British Isles.

The algal species, which is classified as Saturnella saturnus, was discovered by PhD student Jeannie Beadle from the School of Geography at the University of Leeds. Her research looks at pools of water created by peatland restoration measures in the Pennines, such as drain-blocking, with this particular find coming from Moor House-Upper Teesdale Nature Reserve in March 2014.

Saturn of the moors

“I’m really pleased to have shown that drain-blocking is genuinely helping biodiversity. It’s evidence like this which helps land managers to justify the money spent on peatland restoration measures,” said Beadle.

After World War II, many peatlands in the UK were drained using shallow ditches with the aim of drying out the peat to make it more suitable for forestry and land grazing animals.  However, the process has since been shown to be largely ineffective and also damaging to peatland ecosystems.

The blocking of drainage ditches began in the 1980s in an attempt to restore the peatlands to their former boggy state, with most of the pools being created in the last decade or so, when restoration programmes became more widespread.

Beadle concludes: “As well as looking at algae, I’ve sampled about 150 artificial pools for macroinvertebrates, which I’m currently sorting and identifying, so there may be further interesting discoveries later this year. However, I doubt any will be as beautiful as this Saturn of the Moors.”

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‘Clean Water For All’ (CWFA) research initiative – Dr Sangaralingam Ahilan

As part of the ‘Clean Water For All’ (CWFA) research initiative, Dr Sangaralingam Ahilan  travelled to the U.S. on 3rd May for two weeks for co-location research work with U.S. academics at Portland State University (PSU) in Portland, Oregon. This post describes Sangaralingam Ahilan’s personal and research experiences of his first visit to Portland, Oregon.

Portland – The City of Roses

Portland – The City of Roses

Research Experiences

Portland is a Blue Green city in which people and nature can co-exist in the highly developed urban environment.  The city actively promotes storm water management through onsite infiltration and flow control measures to reduce storm water runoff into the street and sewer.  In most parts of Portland, separate storm sewer systems are being implemented to overcome the risk of Combined Sewer Overflows during prolonged rain storms.  This will help protect water courses from microbial pollution and greatly benefit human health, fish and wildlife habitat.


The UK team research work in Portland is mostly centred on the Johnson Creek (JC) which is one of the highly urbanised streams known for frequent flooding and does not meet water quality standards under the Federal Clean Water Act.  The Bureau of Environmental Services (BES) carries out extensive restoration work along the JC reaches to return its floodplain to natural condition in order to provide more space for river flow and storage, which will enhance flood mitigation, water quality, and fish and wildlife habitat.  Ahilan’s research is focused on the JC reach (East Lents) and JC sub watershed (Errol Heights).

Fish ladder in the Crystal spring

Fish ladder in the Crystal spring

The East Lents reach is one of the reconfigured banks of Johnson Creek and reconnects the reach to a restored floodplain on a 70-acre site with native forest.  The Errol Heights sub watershed is mostly with unimproved streets, this causes substantial erosion and sediment yield from the unimproved street network into the urban drainage, resulting in blockages.  The objective of this study is to integrate flood and sediment dynamics of these sites through detailed hydrodynamic and morphodynamic modelling.  Utilising these models allows researchers to understand the existing sediment dynamics and explore potential blue green interventions to minimise the sediment movement into the urban drainage system and into the river.

Ahilan with Zac Perry at Crystal Spring

Ahilan with Zac Perry at Crystal Spring


In summary Ahilan was really convinced by the progress of the City of Portland through ‘grey to green’ initiative over the last decade.  He strongly believes that this is the only way to cope with rapid urbanisation resulting from socio economic development and uncertain climate change in the developed and developing world during our lifetime and for future generations.

Let Knowledge Serve the City ……– Portland State University motto

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Summer studentship reveals potential for solar cooking

By John Marsham (water@leeds Research Fellow) and the research team

A recent studentship project used meteorological data to assess the potential for use of solar cookers in Saharan and sub-Saharan Africa. Whilst this research might not seem to have any water associations, it assesses direct sunlight which is affected by cloud cover. And clouds are water after all!

Using solar cookers in Chad. Photo: Derk Rijks

Using solar cookers in Chad. Photo: Derk Rijks

According to recent estimates, there are more than 140,000 users of solar cookers in the refugee camps of Chad and the low-cost, low-tech and easy to manufacture cookers have the potential to help many of the world’s poorest communities, but their successful operation is dependent on sufficient direct surface insolation. Although ground-based measurements of direct sunshine with a better than hourly time resolution do exist, the network over North and West Africa is very sparse. This project made use of multi-year satellite observations of airborne dust and cloud to derive a spatially complete climatology of conditions suitable for solar cooking in North and West Africa. This climatology will inform future distribution of the technology across the region. Results from the study will be appearing soon in Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society .

The work was a Leeds Climate and Geohazard Services (CGS) project, led by researchers at the University of Leeds, working in collaboration with colleagues at Imperial College London and Agrometeorological Applications Associates/TchadSolaire (AAA/TS). This text has previously been published on the Africa College website.