University of St. Andrews: Major grants of €4 million for St Andrews

Two researchers at the University of St Andrews have been awarded major European Research Council (ERC) grants aimed at tackling big questions.

Professor Maria Dornelas of the School of Biology and Dr Karen Brown of the School of Art History will both receive awards of around €2 million for projects studying coral ecology and on the major issues facing island communities.

Professor Maria Dornelas (pictured left), of the Centre for Biological Diversity in the School of Biology at the University of St Andrews, will receive an ERC Consolidator grant of €2 million for a project which aims to link environmental, biodiversity and ecosystem function change.

The project, called coralINT (Integrated Niche Theory: linking environmental, compositional and functional change on coral reefs), will develop ecological theory using coral reefs as a study system to test predictions, as well as to inform theory development.

The project will link together what a species needs, what a species does and how the species function changes the environment.

Corals are highly sensitive to global change, especially climate change, which creates feedback loops: change in environment leads to change in corals which leads to change in the environment. This happens because corals build the structures in their habitat, thereby changing the environment where they live.


Professor Dornelas (right) with Dr Viviana Brambilla, who will also work on the project as a postdoctoral researcher
CoralINT aims to understand the ways in which change generates more change predicting the causes and consequences of biodiversity change, creating 3D maps with mm scale resolution as big as four football fields.

Professor Dornelas said: “I am very excited for the opportunities this award provides and can’t wait to get started. It is a real honour to have been selected.”

Dr Karen Brown, of the School of Art History at the University of St Andrews, has been awarded a grant of €1,976,705 for a five-year project called ‘Shared Island Stories between Scotland and the Caribbean: Past, Present, Future’.

Islands are conventionally associated with romantic ideas of local distinctiveness and isolation, and yet those situated off the west coast of Scotland and the Caribbean share the growing problem of coastal erosion through rising sea levels and storm intensification, as well as economic recession, depopulation and inappropriate tourism development.

The ERC Shared Island Stories project considers past, present and future relationships between these archipelagos through museum and heritage studies, sustainable development, and memory studies.

Building on new evidence into Scotland’s historic transatlantic relationships, the project pushes boundaries around major debates in decolonisation and climate adaptation.

The research activities will include an innovative transatlantic youth exchange involving inter-generational transmission of cultural and ecological knowledge. Through a carefully considered approach to historical and ecological relations, the research will also explore how public engagement with community heritage can bring about significant health and wellbeing benefits to people.

Dr Brown said: “I am delighted to have been selected for this funding, and I look forward to working with the multi-disciplinary team on these cross-cutting issues.”

The grants are part of a €632million funding round of Consolidator Grants from the European Funding Council (ERC) one of the major funders of research in Europe. The funding is aimed at supporting mid-career researchers to help consolidate their teams and conduct pioneering research on topics with methods of their choosing. Part of the EU’s Horizon Europe programme, the round will support staff at 189 institutions.

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