Dr Debbie Russell

Senior Research Scientist

tel: 01334 467281/1808
fax: 01334 463443
email: dr60@st-andrews.ac.uk
room: 2.07a  (SOI)
Scottish Oceans Institute
East Sands
University of St Andrews
St Andrews
KY16 8LB

General Information

*Please note I am currently on leave until autumn 2017*



I am a research scientist at the Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU) and am affiliated with the Centre for Research into Ecological and Environmental Monitoring (CREEM) where I am spend one day a week.


General Information

I am interested in the marine ecosystem and species at the interface between the marine and terrestrial environments, namely seals and seabirds which are dependent on the marine ecosystem for food but on the terrestrial environment for breeding.  I am particularly interested in interactions on various levels: among different taxa, between species and humans, and between species and their changing environment.



  • Investigation of seal population trends and their drivers.
  • Using a mixture of Bayesian and frequentist methods to analyse harbour and grey seal telemetry data to answer both pure and applied research questions.
  • Investigation of the impact of anthropogenic structures, their construction, operation and decommisioning, on marine predators.
  • Using movement and behavioural data within a state-space modelling framework to define activity budgets.
  • Modelling interactions between seals and fisheries in a spatial context, using state space models.
  • Modelling the effect of climate variation on British seabirds.


PhD students

  • J.Chris McKnight, University of St Andrews. "Effects of tag attachment in a large marine vertebrate". Co-supervised with Dave Thompson and Sophie Brasseur.
  • Matt Carter, University of Plymouth. "How do grey seal pups learn how to forage? Using telemetry data to understand development of foraging behaviour in relation to oceanography and potential disturbance".  Co-supervised with Clare Embling,  Kimberley Bennett and Phil Hosegood.
  • Katherine Whyte, University of St Andrews. “Behavioural responses by seals to offshore energy activities”.  Co-supervised with Gordon Hastie, Len Thomas and Carol Sparling.



  • James Grecian, University of St Andrews. MAPS project funded by INSITE. "Man-made structures and Apex Predators: Spatial interactions and overlap"



  • 2nd year interdisciplinary module "Science Methods"
  • Marine Mammal Biology and Environmental Biology Masters.
    • Quantitative Methods for Ecology
    • Research Methods in Marine Mammal Science



Recent Publications

Hastie, GD, Russell, DJF, Lepper, P, Elliott, J, Wilson, B, Benjamins, S & Thompson, D 2017, 'Harbour seals avoid tidal turbine noise: implications for collision risk' Journal of Applied Ecology, vol Early View. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12981
Metcalfe, K, Collins, T, Abernethy, KE, Boumba, R, Dengui, J-C, Miyalou, R, Parnell, RJ, Plummer, KE, Russell, DJF, Safou, GK, Tilley, D, Turner, RA, VanLeeuwe, H, Witt, MJ & Godley, BJ 2017, 'Addressing uncertainty in marine resource management; combining community engagement and tracking technology to characterize human behavior' Conservation Letters, vol 10, no. 4, pp. 459-468. DOI: 10.1111/conl.12293
Jones, EL, Smout, SC, Russell, DJ, Pinn, E & McConnell, BJ 2017, Review of analytical approaches for identifying usage and foraging areas at sea for harbour seals. vol. 602, Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Peterborough.
Chen, F, Shapiro, GI, Bennett, KA, Ingram, SN, Thompson, D, Vincent, C, Russell, DJF & Embling, CB 2017, 'Shipping noise in a dynamic sea: a case study of grey seals in the Celtic Sea' Marine Pollution Bulletin, vol 114, no. 1, pp. 372-383. DOI: 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2016.09.054
Jones, EL & Russell, DJ 2017, Updated grey seal (Halichoerus grypus) usage maps in the North Sea. vol. OESEA-15-65, Department of Energy and Climate Change.
Lucke, K, Hastie, GD, Ternes, K, McConnell, BJ, Moss, S, Russell, DJ, Weber, H & Janik, VM 2016, 'Aerial low frequency hearing in captive and free-ranging harbour seals (Phoca vitulina) using auditory brainstem responses' Journal of Comparative Physiology A: Neuroethology, Sensory, Neural, and Behavioral Physiology, vol 202, no. 12, pp. 859-868. DOI: 10.1007/s00359-016-1126-8
Hastie, GD, Russell, DJ, Benjamins, S, Moss, S, Wilson, B & Thompson, D 2016, 'Dynamic habitat corridors for marine predators: intensive use of a coastal channel by harbour seals is modulated by tidal currents' Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, vol 70, no. 12, pp. 2161–2174. DOI: 10.1007/s00265-016-2219-7
Russell, DJF, Hastie, GD, Thompson, D, Janik, VM, Hammond, PS, Scott-Hayward, LAS, Matthiopoulos, J, Jones, EL & McConnell, BJ 2016, 'Avoidance of wind farms by harbour seals is limited to pile driving activities' Journal of Applied Ecology, vol 53, no. 6, pp. 1642-1652. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12678
Carter, MID, Bennett, KA, Embling, CB, Hosegood, PJ & Russell, DJF 2016, 'Navigating uncertain waters: a critical review of inferring foraging behaviour from location and dive data in pinnipeds' Movement Ecology, vol 4, 25. DOI: 10.1186/s40462-016-0090-9
Russell, DJF 2016, Activity Budgets:Analysis of seal behaviour at sea. Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
Hastie, GD, Russell, DJF, McConnell, BJ, Thompson, D & Janik, VM 2016, 'Multiple-pulse sounds and seals: results of a harbour seal (Phoca vitulina) telemetry study during windfarm construction' Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology, vol 875, pp. 425-430. DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4939-2981-8_50
Russell, DJF 2016, Movements of Grey Seal That Haul out on the UK Coast of the Southern North Sea. vol. OESEA - 14 - 47 , Department of Energy and Climate Change.
Graham, IM, Cheney, B, Hewitt, R, Cordes, L, Hastie, GD, Russell, DJF, Arso Civil, M, Hammond, PS & Thompson, P 2016, Strategic Regional Pre-construction Marine Mammal Monitoring Programme Annual Report 2016. Annual report for the Moray Firth Regional Advisory Group, University of Aberdeen.
Russell, DJF, Hanson, NN & Thomas, LJ 2016, Marine Strategy Framework Directive. Estimating the European Grey Seal population: Special Committee on Seals. Briefing Paper 16/09. Sea Mammal Research Unit.
Russell, DJF, Duck, CD, Morris, C & Thompson, D 2016, Independent estimates of grey seal population size: 2008 and 2014: Special Committee on Seals. Briefing Paper 16/03. Sea Mammal Research Unit.
Russell, DJF, Wanless, S, Collingham, YC, Huntley, B & Hamer, KC 2015, 'Predicting future European breeding distributions of British seabird species under climate change and unlimited/no dispersal scenarios' Diversity, vol 7, no. 4, pp. 342-359. DOI: 10.3390/d7040342
Russell, DJF, McClintock, BT, Matthiopoulos, J, Thompson, P, Thompson, D, Hammond, PS, Jones, EL, MacKenzie, M, Moss, S & McConnell, BJ 2015, 'Intrinsic and extrinsic drivers of activity budgets in sympatric grey and harbour seals' Oikos, vol 124, no. 11, pp. 1462-1472. DOI: 10.1111/oik.01810
Jones, EL, McConnell, BJ, Smout, SC, Hammond, PS, Duck, CD, Morris, C, Thompson, D, Russell, DJF, Vincent, C, Cronin, M, Sharples, RJ & Matthiopoulos, J 2015, 'Patterns of space use in sympatric marine colonial predators reveals scales of spatial partitioning' Marine Ecology Progress Series, vol 534, pp. 235-249. DOI: 10.3354/meps11370
Hastie, GD, Russell, DJF, McConnell, BJ, Moss, S, Thompson, D & Janik, VM 2015, 'Sound exposure in harbour seals during the installation of an offshore wind farm: predictions of auditory damage' Journal of Applied Ecology, vol 52, no. 3, pp. 631-640. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12403
Russell, DJF, Wanless, S, Collingham, Y, Anderson, B, Beale, C, Reid, J, Huntley, B & Hamer, K 2015, 'Beyond climate envelopes: bio-climate modelling accords with observed 25-year changes in seabird populations of the British Isles' Diversity and Distributions, vol 21, no. 2, pp. 211-222. DOI: 10.1111/ddi.12272
Russell, DJF 2015, Marine Mammal Scientific Support Research Programme MMSS/001/11: CSD5: Changes in at-sea foraging trips of harbour seals and grey seals in south-east Scotland. Marine Scotland.
Russell, DJF, Duck, CD, Morris, C & Thompson, D 2015, Review of parameters of grey seal pup production model: Special Committee on Seals. Briefing Paper 15/03. Sea Mammal Research Unit.
Paterson, W, Russell, DJ, Wu, G-M, McConnell, BJ & Thompson, D 2015, Harbour seal haul-out monitoring, Sound of Islay. Scottish Natural Heritage Commissioned Report No. 894. 894 edn, Scottish Natural Heritage.
Russell, DJF, Brasseur, S, Thompson, D, Hastie, GD, Janik, VM, Aarts, G, McClintock, BT, Matthiopoulos, J, Moss, S & McConnell, BJ 2014, 'Marine mammals trace anthropogenic structures at sea' Current Biology, vol 24, no. 14, pp. R638-R639. DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2014.06.033
Silva, MA, Jonsen, I, Russell, DJF, Prieto, R, Thompson, D & Baumgartner, MF 2014, 'Assessing performance of Bayesian state-space models fit to Argos Satellite telemetry locations processed with Kalman Filtering' PLoS One, vol 9, no. 3, e92277. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0092277
Aarts, G, Jones, EL, Brasseur, S, Rindorf, A, Smout, SC, Dickey-Collas, M, Wright, P, Russell, DJF, McConnell, BJ, Kirkwood, R, Matthiopoulos, J & Reijnders, P 2014, 'Prey habitat model outperforms prey data in explaining grey seal distribution' Paper presented at Annual Conferenec of the European Cetacean Society, La Rochelle, France, 4/04/05, .
Russell, DJF & McConnell, BJ 2014, Seal at-sea distribution, movements and behaviour. Department of Energy and Climate Change.
McClintock, BT, Russell, DJF, Matthiopoulos, J & King, R 2013, 'Combining individual animal movement and ancillary biotelemetry data to investigate population-level activity budgets' Ecology, vol 94, no. 4, pp. 838-849. DOI: 10.1890/12-0954.1
Russell, DJ, McConnell, BJ, Thompson, D, Duck, CD, Morris, C, Harwood, J & Matthiopoulos, J 2013, 'Uncovering the links between foraging and breeding regions in a highly mobile mammal' Journal of Applied Ecology, vol 50, no. 2, pp. 499-509. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12048
Browning, LE, Young, CM, Savage, JL, Russell, DJF, Barclay, H, Griffith, SC & Russell, AF 2012, 'Carer provisioning rules in an obligate cooperative breeder: prey type, size and delivery rate' Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, vol 66, no. 12, pp. 1639-1649. DOI: 10.1007/s00265-012-1419-z
Sparling, CE, Russell, DJF, Jones, EL, Grellier, K, Lonergan, M, McConnell, BJ, Matthiopoulos, J & Thompson, D 2012, Baseline Seal Information for the FTWODG Area. SMRUL-FDG-2012-0 to FTOWDG. SMRU Consulting.
Gargan, P, Forde, G, Hazon, N, Russell, DJ & Todd, CD 2012, 'Evidence for sea lice-induced marine mortality of Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) in western Ireland from experimental releases of ranched smolts treated with emamectin benzoate.' Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, vol 69, no. 2, pp. 343-353. DOI: 10.1139/f2011-155
Russell, DJF & Lonergan, ME 2012, Short note on grey seal haul-out events at-sea.: Special Committee on Seals (12/07). Sea Mammal Research Unit.
Jones, EL, McConnell, BJ, Duck, CD, Morris, C, Hammond, PS & Russell, DJF 2012, Marine distribution of grey & harbour seals around the UK.: Special Committee on Seals (12/06). Sea Mammal Research Unit.
Sparling, CE, Cox, ECH & Russell, DJF 2012, Dogger Bank Seal Telemetry Report: Report SMRUL-ROY-2012-025 to Royal Haskoning and Forewind. SMRU Consulting.
Oswald, SA, Huntley, B, Collingham, YC, Russell, DJF, Anderson, BJ, Arnold, JM, Furness, RW & Hamer, KC 2011, 'Physiological effects of climate on distributions of endothermic species' Journal of Biogeography, vol 38, no. 3, pp. 430-438. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2699.2010.02435.x
Russell, DJF, Jones, EL, Matthiopoulos, J, Duck, CD, Morris, C & McConnell, BJ 2011, SMRU seal telemetry data holdings: Special Committee on Seals. Sea Mammal Research Unit.
Russell, DJF, Matthiopoulos, J & McConnell, BJ 2011, SMRU seal telemetry quality control process: Special Committee on Seals. Sea Mammal Research Unit.
Grellier, K & Russell, DJF 2011, Summary of SMRU seal count and telemetry data from the Humber area: Produced for EMU . SMRU Consulting.
Russell, DJF 2011, Seal Telemetry in the Forth and Tay: Interim Report to FTOWDG by SMRU Ltd. SMRU Consulting.
Russell, AF, Portelli, DJ, Russell, DJF & Barclay, H 2010, 'Breeding ecology of the Chestnut-crowned Babbler: a cooperative breeder in the desert' Emu, vol 110, no. 4, pp. 324-331. DOI: 10.1071/MU10028
Portelli, DJ, Barclay, H, Russell, DJF, Griffith, SC & Russell, AF 2009, 'Social organisation and foraging ecology of the cooperatively breeding Chestnut-crowned Babbler (Pomatostomus ruficeps)' Emu, vol 109, no. 2, pp. 153-162. DOI: 10.1071/MU08065

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