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Elizabeth Chadwick

Dr Elizabeth Chadwick


School of Biosciences

+44 29208 74948
Sir Martin Evans Building, Museum Avenue, Cardiff, CF10 3AX


Research overview

My research focuses on freshwater aquatic systems, particularly the Eurasian otter and British amphibians. I head the Cardiff University Otter Project (CUOP), a research and monitoring project run collaboratively with the Environment Agency. Using the otter as a model species, we address fundamental questions about freshwater systems and population biology. For example, molecular genetic analysis is used to explore the influence of landscape on population connectivity, and to allow epidemiological modelling of recently introduced biliary parasites; stable isotope analysis is applied to investigate nutrient cycling, and volatile analysis of gland material is used to investigate scent communication. Research in amphibian ecology focuses particularly on phenology and climate change, and the effect of environmental cues on behaviour.

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Cardiff University Otter Project is a national scheme collecting otters found dead in England and Wales for post mortem examination. The project was established in 1992 with the aim of using tissues collected from this top predator to monitor aquatic contamination. The opportunities presented by national collection of a European protected species are considerable, and while contaminant monitoring remains a key aspect of the project, a wide diversity of additional research is now undertaken under the umbrella of CUOP.

As a nocturnal and elusive species, the Eurasian otter is extremely difficult to study in the wild. Samples collected from animals found dead therefore form a key resource, enabling us to investigate aspects of their ecology and health that would otherwise be inaccessible. In addition to an intrinsic interest in the species from a conservation perspective, the otter has an interesting ecological role at the interface between terrestrial and aquatic habitats, and is at the top of the freshwater aquatic food chain. It is therefore a useful model organism, and can be used to investigate key ecosystem and population processes.

The project now receives >200 otters each year, from which we collect and archive a wide range of tissues and data. These form an ever-expanding collection of material that is used by national and international collaborators and PhD students.

Further details of our research projects on landscape genetics, chemical communication, parasitology, toxicology, diet, and other aspects of otter biology can be seen on the Otter Project website.

PhD students

Eleanor Sherrard Smith (2009-2013) Macroparasites of the Eurasian otter: distribution, life-cycles and population dynamics.

Eleanor Kean (2008-2012) Scent communication in the Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra) and potential applications for population monitoring.

Geoff Hobbs (2005-2009) Population genetic structure of a recovering otter (Lutra lutra) population in the UK


Key collaborations include:

WILDCOMS (the Wildlife Disease & Contaminant Monitoring and Surveillance network) is a collaborative network formed between the various UK surveillance schemes that monitor disease and contaminants in vertebrate wildlife

Contaminant research is carried out in collaboration with the Predatory Bird Monitoring Scheme(PBMS), particularly with Prof R Shore and Dr Lee Walker, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.

Research into parasitology is in collaboration with various members of CRIPES, particularly Dr Joanne Cable and Dr Sarah Perkins, Prof Richard Birtles (University of Salford) and Prof Ed Guy (Toxoplasma Reference Unit, National Health Wales).

Research into molecular genetics is in collaboration with Prof Mike Bruford (Cardiff University), and research into chemical communication is in collaboration with Dr Carsten Muller (Cardiff University).


Recent / current funders include:

  • NERC
  • Environment Agency
  • Natural Resources Wales
  • RWE NPower
  • Somerset Otter Group


After a degree in Biology at Cardiff University (1997), I returned to Cardiff to undertake a PhD at the Llysdinam field centre with Dr F Slater (1998-2003). The study focused on the breeding phenology and winter behaviour of common British amphibians, looking at temporal and spatial variation in phenology, and assessing how changes in climate might influence behaviour and body condition.

Following a short post-doctoral position in 2003 conducting a scoping study for research in the Cape Verde islands, I took over as head of the Cardiff University Otter Project in 2004. While using the otter as the study species, this has enabled me to develop a diverse range of inter-related research projects. These both further our understanding of this elusive European protected species, and use it as a model organism to investigate key ecological principles and processes.