UHI appoints pioneering director to lead expansion of its environmental research at Highland campus

Dr Bernd Hanfling.

UHI Inverness has appointed a director to lead research on biodiversity and freshwater conservation.

Bernd Hänfling will specialize in expanding his research on environmental DNA and molecular biodiversity monitoring.

Dr Hänfling joins UHI Inverness from the University of Hull, where he was Reader in the Department of Biological and Marine Sciences and Director of Postgraduate Studies.

With interests in ecology and evolution, Dr. Hänfling pioneered the development of environmental DNA (eDNA) approaches to monitor fish communities.

“I want to work closely with stakeholders to support the work they do in the interest of biodiversity and to develop the tools they need to provide the evidence base for management decisions.”

He has over 20 years of experience in the development and application of molecular tools for biodiversity and ecological research.

His appointment coincides with a program of major investment in laboratory facilities at UHI Inverness, the trading name of Inverness College, which will double existing capacity for molecular biodiversity monitoring. This will include increased use of eDNA and metabarcoding to identify and measure the abundance of a species in an ecosystem and the ecological impact of environmental changes.

Dr Hänfling will oversee freshwater biodiversity and conservation research at UHI Inverness, which will extend current work on rivers and lochs to the application of molecular approaches in all aquatic and terrestrial habitats.

Molecular biodiversity monitoring is playing an increasingly important role in many water or land conservation projects and environmental impact assessments, helping land managers with the tools to understand the impact of any changes they make. This data helps them make decisions in the best interest of biodiversity, including the conservation of vulnerable species.

This type of research is essential to the success of rewilding projects, including the restoration of woodlands and wetlands, as well as the management and reintroduction of species.

Dr Hänfling, Fellow of the Freshwater Biological Association and founding member of the UK-DNA Working Group, a think tank for translational research in the field of DNA-based biomonitoring, said: “I am delighted to join UHI Inverness and I feel privileged to work in the Highlands and Islands, where there is so much potential for molecular biodiversity monitoring to support the phenomenal work going on in this region to improve habitats, species and ecological processes.

“I want to work closely with stakeholders to support the work they do in the interest of biodiversity and to develop the tools they need to provide the evidence base for management decisions.

“My vision is to develop molecular biodiversity monitoring approaches that can be applied at the landscape scale in both aquatic and terrestrial environments.”

UHI Inverness researchers are already involved in a number of

biodiversity monitoring projects. On the Laxford River, Sutherland, researchers are working in partnership with the Atlantic Salmon Trust and Grosvenor’s Reay Forest Estate to restore salmon and sea trout populations by improving the quality of the river’s habitat. In another project, researchers are working with NatureScot to test the use of eDNA methods to monitor the presence of beavers and their effects on natural systems.

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