Prize Winners at Environ 2019

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


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 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.

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