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Profile (2)

Gaby Peniche, University of Edinburgh…

Profile (2)

Gaby Peniche

PhD student at The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, University of Edinburgh


Gaby Peniche is an ecologist and veterinary nurse who has studied in Mexico, Australia and the UK, and is now working towards her PhD at The Royal (Dick) School in Edinburgh. In her study of Raptor health as an indicator of ecosystem health: development of novel surveillance tools for conservation, she focuses on health-related regional differences in Scottish birds of prey, including golden eagles.

“I've worked for many years on the reintroduction of endangered species,” says Peniche, “focusing on either the ecology or the pathology. My current project mixes these two disciplines and what could be better than helping save the planet while enjoying stunning Scottish Highlands scenery from an eagle’s-eye view?”

Raptors as health indicators

Because they’re at the top of the food chain, raptors are good indicators of ecosystem health. As pollutants bio-accumulate, they reach their highest concentration at the top of the food chain. Decreases in population or disease in lower levels of the food chain also affect higher levels, and because their population densities are lower, drops in numbers are detected more quickly. Raptors are also affected by adverse human practices, so early detection helps to reverse any damage to their populations, as well as those of other species in the ecosystem and the environment.

Biggest achievement?

Says Peniche: “I have had the good fortune to work in various countries and environments with multiple species, and my biggest achievement so far has been to build a personal network of people and learn from them – for example, my current project depends on tapping into this network for collaboration and advice – as well as encouragement.”

Biggest threats?

“The biggest threats are over-exploitation and the unsustainability of our natural resources,” says Peniche. In her opinion, rising populations, materialism combined with unequal distribution of resources, and a lack of understanding of environmental issues drive these threats. “As time goes by, this situation will lead to shortages of resources, even for those who can afford them.” Peniche also cites some specific examples of unsustainability, such as the loss of non-renewable tropical hardwoods, demand for strawberries even in the middle of winter, and supermarkets stocking New Zealand venison in Scotland. “If I had a magic wand, I’d give the whole planet a better education and a kinder heart,” says Peniche.

Future challenges?

10 years from now: Continued reduction of species and natural resources due to loss of habitat and rising global temperatures.

50 years from now: Conglomeration of human settlements in smaller areas due to environmental problems such as loss of water infiltration, reduced soil quality and desertification, as well as flooding and landslides, deforestation, pollution and extreme patterns of rainfall.

100 years from now: If present trends continue, ecosystem functions will collapse, and this will be most evident among the smallest, highest-density species such as detritivores and pollinators.

Endangered species?

If Peniche could save a single species from extinction, it would be an apex predator such as Blakiston’s eagle owl, partly because this would have a positive knock-on effect on other species and habitats, including mountain regions in Russia, China and Japan.

Biodiversity champions?

Peniche is also interested in how the different disciplines of science, conservation, technology and social sciences can work together to counter ecosystem damage. And her “biodiversity champions” would be the unsung heroes who volunteer their time collecting data in the field and making it available to others.


"Profile (2)". Science Scotland (Issue Twenty-one)
Printed from on 06/07/20 11:54:25 AM

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