Aoife Delaney graduated with a degree in Botany from Trinity College Dublin in 2005, and went on to do an M.Res. in Biodiversity and Conservation at Leeds University, before returning to Trinity to do a PhD on the ecology and hydrogeology of dune slacks. In between the Masters and PhD, she worked for over six years in conservation monitoring and research with BEC Consultants. Her early work focussed on hedgerows, woodlands and rainforest ecology, but she has worked extensively in high quality grasslands and, since 2010, particularly on coastal habitats. Currently, she is employed by RSPB as a conservation scientist on the Darwin Initiative funded project “Building resilient landscapes and livelihoods in Burkina Faso’s shea parklands”, led by Bird Life International, on which Trinity is a partner. Aoife is located in the Plant-Animal Interactions group at Trinity and her role involves determining the relationship between habitat composition and structure and pollination services in Shea in southern Burkina Faso.
Dune slacks are freshwater wetlands found between dry, fixed dune ridges in sand dune systems. The groundwater table is close to the surface and flooding typically occurs in winter. Because of their soil moisture content and plant communities, dune slacks increase the habitat and species diversity of sand dune systems where they occur. Their conservation value has been recognised under the EU Habitats Directive (Council Directive 92/43/EEC), where dune slacks are listed as an Annex I habitat.
The most recent monitoring round for Annex I habitats in Europe identified pollution and abstraction of groundwater as major threats to the conservation status of dune slacks. There is very little information relating groundwater conditions to the wider ecology of sand dunes in Ireland. The effects of changing water levels and water quality on flora of dune slacks has been studied elsewhere, but the invertebrate communities of dune slacks are poorly understood in comparison.
This is an interdisciplinary project, co-supervised by Jane Stout in Botany and the Centre for Biodiversity Research, and Catherine Coxon in Geology and the Centre for the Environment. The research focusses on the relationship between human activities, groundwater and biological communities of dune slacks. Plant and invertebrate surveys of dune slacks in four regions around Ireland will be carried out. Environmental data such as surface water quality, soil chemistry, disturbance and management will also be recorded. This will identify environmental conditions which help to determine the biological communities of dune slacks in Ireland. The effects of land management on groundwater in sand dune systems will be investigated. Water level and water quality data will be recorded from shallow wells in dune slacks in county Donegal. Changes in groundwater over the year will be considered in the context of rainfall data, soil moisture deficit and the available land management information. Ecological surveys will also be carried out at these sites. This study will provide insight into how exploitation of small, coastal aquifers can affect the dune slack ecosystem. This project has clear applications in conservation ecology, but also ties in with research into sand dune hydrology and geomorphology, submerged groundwater discharge and ecosystem services.