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Aquatic facility gets joint research initiative off to a swimming start

In conjunction with the National Sea Life Centre in Birmingham, the University has created an aquatic facility to allow students, staff and university project partners to answer real world issues associated with marine and freshwater systems. This will help develop vital underwater research.

The space has been designed for dedicated research in animal behaviour, welfare and disease to help fill the gap in zoo and aquarium conservation research and will start by housing tadpoles, reef corals, freshwater mussels and Malawi Cichlids (a species of fish).

Other projects include analysis of the effect of increases in water temperature on feeding rates of reef building corals and the role of protein in tadpole development and the reduction of spindly leg syndrome.

The aquatic research facility is soon going to welcome freshwater swan mussels, along with white clawed crayfish and various sea star species, and may even explore aspects of development in baby sharks and rays.

Dr Michael Sweet, Lecturer in Invertebrate Biology at the University of Derby said:

As far as we are aware, we are the only university to have a dedicated aquatic research facility associated with zoo and aquarium research. Such a facility allows us to design studies with a high level of replication, ensuring any findings are valid and robust and can then be utilised by zoos, aquariums and conservationists for developing management strategies aimed at improving welfare and husbandry for a wide variety of different organisms around the world.

Biological Sciences student Grace Humphrey has been using the facility for her final Masters project to analyse the mating choices of Malawi Cichlids and whether females can detect genetic fitness before mating.

The results concluded that females prefer males who showed more courtship display and colouration. My results also suggest that maintaining a constant, stable temperature in behavioural research is important to record true behaviours. I am really impressed with the development of the aquatic research facility and it has helped me to carry out my project successfully.

The collaboration between the National Sea Life Centre, in Birmingham, and the University of Derby facilitates knowledge exchange. Sea Life hope to develop the partnership by encouraging students at the University to undertake internships with them, working with the animal care team to mutually educate one another with the aims of advancing animal husbandry knowledge, as well as supporting research projects to deliver valuable results for the sector.

University of Derby PhD student James Robson, now Senior Curator at Sea Life London Aquarium, explains:

The importance of this facility cannot be overstated as it will act as a bridge between industry experts from aquariums and zoos, who have spent their lives learning the best ways to care for and control the environment of the animals within their facility, with the expertise of world-renowned researchers and the use of the wider resources within the University of Derby.