Dr Debbie Russell

Dr Debbie Russell
Senior Research Fellow



I am a senior research fellow 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

source: symbiosis


Recent publications listed in research@st-andrews
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
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.
Russell, DJF 2016, Activity Budgets:Analysis of seal behaviour at sea. Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
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 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.
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
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, .
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
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, 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

Contact Details:

Dr Debbie Russell
Scottish Oceans Institute
East Sands
University of St Andrews
St Andrews
KY16 8LB

tel: 01334 467281/1808
fax: 01334 463443
room: 2.07a



Centre for Research into Ecological & Environmental Modelling
Sea Mammal Research Unit
School of Biology
National Centre for Statistical Ecology
Centre for Biological Diversity
Scottish Oceans Institute

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The Secretary
Scottish Oceans Institute
Institiud Chuantan na h-Alba
Gatty Marine Laboratory
East Sands St Andrews
KY16 8LB

tel: +44 (0) 1334 463472
fax: +44 (0) 1334 463443