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Postdoctoral Fellows

Dr Theoni Photopoulou

Office: PD Hahn 6.74

Research Interests:Statistical Ecology, Animal Movement Modelling

Biographical Information

  • Postdoctoral Research Fellow (2012-2013) Centre for Social Learning and Cognitive Evolution, School of Biology, University of St Andrews, Scotland.
  • PhD in Biology and Statistics, University of St Andrews, Scotland (2008-2012) “Diving and depth use in seals: inferences from telemetry data using regression and random walk movement models”. Supervisors: Jason Matthiopoulos (University of Glasgow), Len Thomas (CREEM, University of St Andrews), Mike Fedak (SMRU, University of St Andrews)
  • MRes Environmental Biology, University of St Andrews, Scotland (2006-2007) “Behavioural changes of a long-ranging diver in response to oceanographic characteristics”. Supervisors: M. Biuw (NINA, Norwegian Institute for Nature Research), L. Thomas (CREEM, University of St Andrews)
  • BSc Hons Marine & Environmental Biology, University of St Andrews, Scotland (2002-2005) “Shore-based observations of the occurrence and movement patterns of dolphins on the north coast of KwaZulu/Natal, South Africa”. Supervisors: Phil Hammond (SMRU, University of St Andrews), Peter Best (MRI Whale Unit, University of Pretoria)

Research Interests

The area of science that excites me most is figuring out new and useful ways of analysing ecological data to discover more about animals, particularly marine animals, and how they go about their lives and are successful in persisting in a dynamically changing world. More specifically, my main interest is animal movement ecology. I’m interested in how animals distribute themselves in space, navigate, forage and interact with physical features of the environment.

For my PhD I worked on diving behaviour and ecology of seals, using data collected remotely using animal-attached instruments. These data make it possible to study the lives of free-ranging animals but also pose considerable challenges, specific to the remote collection and transmission of data. I still have strong collaborative links with colleagues at the University of St Andrews, and Glasgow University with whom I work on movement modelling of marine mammals, mainly seals.

At UCT I have worked primarily on developing state-space and Hidden Markov models for raptor movement data, and I am collaborating with people from the Animal Demography Unit.

I also have various little side projects I work on from time to time, that do not relate to movement ecology. For example, I have been collaborating with Philip Ebert, from the Philosophy Department at the University of Stirling, Scotland, on the perception of risk under uncertainty.


  • Photopoulou T, Fedak M, Matthiopoulos J, McConnell B and Lovell P. 2015. The generalized data management and collection protocol for Conductivity-Temperature-Depth Satellite Relay Data Loggers. Animal Biotelemetry 3: 21
  • Photopoulou T, Lovell P, Fedak, MA, Thomas L, Matthiopoulos J. 2015. Efficient abstracting of dive profiles using a broken-stick model. Methods in Ecology and Evolution 6: 278–288
  • Photopoulou T, Matthiopoulos J, Thomas L and Fedak M. 2013. Spatial variation in maximum dive depth in gray seals in relation to foraging. Marine Mammal Science 30(3): 923-938 (doi 10.111/mms.12092)
  • Photopoulou T, Best P, Hammond, PS, Findlay K. 2011. Movement patterns of coastal dolphins in the presence of a coastal current: shore-based observations at Cape Vidal, South Africa. Special Issue on the Conservation Biology of Marine Mammals in Africa. Journal of African Marine Science 33(3): 393-401

Conference Proceedings

  • Ebert PA and Photopoulou T. 2013. "Bayes' beacon: avalanche prediction, competence and evidence for competence. Modelling the effect of competent and incompetent predictions of highly improbable events". In: Proceedings, 2013 International Snow Science Workshop (ISSW), Grenoble, France. Montana State University. pp. 363-70.