Faces of the Sea - Dr Elvira De Eyto, Zoologist, Marine Institute
For the past 18 years, Dr Elvira de Eyto's role at the Marine Institute in Newport, Co Mayo has focused on the long-term monitoring of the Burrishoole catchment ecosystem, to track and help understand changes in the environment.
With a strong interest in science and maths at school, Elvira choose to study natural science at Trinity College in Dublin, and specialised in Zoology in her final two years.
"I really enjoyed the lectures in zoology on evolution and taxonomy. When I wasn't in the classroom, I did a lot of scuba diving, and I really liked observing all the marine life we have around the coast of Ireland, and beyond. The underwater world around Ireland is more spectacular and beautiful than most people expect," Elvira said.
Following her degree, Elvira completed a PhD in Freshwater Biology in Trinity College Dublin, while working on a lake monitoring project funded by the Environmental Protection Agency.
"During that time, our research group sampled 30 lakes around Ireland every month for two years, and I studied these tiny little freshwater crustaceans, called chydorids. When I finished my PhD, I did a two-year postdoctoral contract with the same research group, but this time looking at lake ecological status as part of a European project," Elvira said.
Another postdoctoral project brought Elvira to the Marine Institute in 2002. The EU funded project focused on the impact of farm escapes on wild salmon specifically on their immunogenetics – the relationship between the immune system and genetics.
The research station in the Burrishoole catchment has been in place since 1955, and has been operated by the Marine Institute since 1999. Sea entry traps, known locally as the Mill-Race and Salmon Leap traps, have monitored the downstream and upstream movement of these fish species since the 1970s.
"Our primary role is the collection and maintenance of long term datasets describing diadromous fish stocks, such as Atlantic salmon, European Eel and Trout, and their habitats. The Burrishoole catchment is one of the few places in the world where we can get a full census of these species," Elvira said. "While the main work of the research station has always been focussed on fish, scientists working in Burrishoole were acutely aware of the role of climate and catchment processes in determining fish production."
Elvira's role at the Marine Institute has focused on the long-term ecological monitoring of the Burrishoole catchment. An extensive monitoring program encompassing many aspects of the aquatic environment is now maintained by the Marine Institute team, and includes data collection on weather, water quality, floods and plankton.
"These data help us understand whether the ecosystem is changing, and if so, what the causes might be. It's important to understand how different variables in an ecosystem affect and influence each other, and to ensure the ecosystem is healthy."
Long-term monitoring is especially important for exploring the complex interactions that are prevalent in all ecosystems. Elvira says that long-term ecological research is really rare, particularly in Ireland, but is crucial in understanding how the world is changing.
"The work we do is really valuable on a national and global scale. It is very satisfying to be part of a team that collects, analyses and disseminate these datasets which document the rapid rate at which our world is changing," Elvira said.
The first long term monitoring instruments installed in Burrishoole in the late 1950s included a weather station (in partnership with Met Éireann) and a paper chart recorder of the surface water temperature of Lough Feeagh.
"These data now form one of the longest running continuous records of lake surface water temperature in the world and are used to assess the impact of our warming climate on lake temperature."
Elvira says that the data being collected at the Burrishoole catchment is contributing to research projects across Europe and the globe.
"It's amazing that data from this small research station in the west of Ireland is being shared and used around the world, to answer scientific questions at a very large scale. I'm very happy that I am able to facilitate that."