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Research at St Andrews

Saana Isojunno


Saana Isojunno
Postal address:
School of Biology
Bute Medical Buildings
St Andrews
United Kingdom


Direct phone: +44 (0)1334 46

Research overview

I’m a behavioural ecologist with a keen interest in predator-prey interactions and foraging energetics. I use on-animal sensors and time series models to quantify activity states, time budgets and proxy locomotion costs of free-ranging animals. I’m particularly interested in the drivers of individual responsiveness and vulnerability to environmental uncertainty and anthropogenic disturbance (conservation behaviour).

For my PhD and postdoctoral research so far I’ve focused on how and why cetaceans respond to whale-watching and navy sonar, using bioacoustics and biologging as tools. I’m currently working in Prof Patrick Miller’s lab as the named postdoc under two projects:

"Interpreting the biological significance of behavior associated with 3S experimental sonar exposures". For this project, I estimated activity-time budgets to contrast the magnitude of foraging time trade-offs under simulated predation risk (playback of mammal-eating killer whale sounds) and exposure to anthropogenic noise (1-2kHz navy sonar) in a comparative study across four different cetacean species. The state-switching model development was funded by the Mocha project (PIs Catriona Harris and Len Thomas) which aimed to showcase hidden Markov models as a method to integrate multiple streams of sparse time series data in behavioural response studies. I’m also investigating whether respiratory behaviour detected from onboard tag sensors can be linked to diving behaviour and indicate any energetic or physiological cost of behavioural responses to sound exposures.

"3S3 – Behavioural responses of sperm whales to naval sonar – Comparing responses to continuous active sonar (CAS) and pulsed active sonar (PAS), and disentangling received level from range as the response driver". I will lead two core deliverables for this project: contrast activity time trade-offs and response duration to CAS vs PAS exposures, and test hypotheses about masking of terminal echolocation sounds (buzzes).

On the field, I have worked with a range of cetacean species (harbour porpoise, sperm whale, pilot whale, northern bottlenose and humpback whale). My roles have included survey design, tagging (ARTS and cantilever pole), and working as a DTAG and acoustic technician.

In the future, I hope to integrate more individual-level traits (e.g. age-sex) and ecophysiology in my research to better understand individual and species behavioural plasticity to cope with anthropogenic stressors. For example, I was very excited to be a part of a team to estimate body density as a proxy for body condition from accelerometer data of  gliding beaked whales. I developed models in a hierarchical Bayesian framework to simultaneously estimate tissue vs. air density using expected hydrodynamic relationships between acceleration, drag and buoyancy forces (Miller et al., 2016).

Please don’t hesitate to get in touch  – I would be especially interested in ideas for collaborations across disciplines.

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