Dr Keith D. Farnsworth                                      Keith (quite some time ago)

  Reader in Theoretical Biology

School of Biological Sciences,
Queen's University Beflast MBC 97 Lisburn Road,
Belfast BT97BL,
United Kingdom.

Email: k.farnsworth (at) qub.ac.uk

BSc. (Hons) Astrophysics, University of London 1984
MSc. Acoustics, Southampton, 1985;
PhD. Mathematical Biology, Edinburgh 1994
MSc. Public Health Epidemiology, Aberdeen 2002

Here is a list of highlighted Publications    the full set is available on Google Scholar

Please take a look at my Research Team page.

Research Activity

There are two branches to my research: a) the biological theory highlighted on the website this page is part of and b) the applied science of fisheries management.

What is Life?

The first is developing a general and rigourous definition of the process of living and deriving ecological consequences from this. It entails an explanation of how living is the result of a nested structure of computations, the function of each being to make itself. This more theoretical research is never the less intended to answer quite practical questions such as: what is biodiversity and how does it contribute to the ecological functions upon which our lives ultimately depend and how can this be developed into an objective valuation of the living environment. To answer such questions, I believe we need rigourous definitions for living, function, information and value, all of which ought to be quantifiable. On the way to that and more deeply, I hope to contribute to the fundamenatal understanding of what life is and why it is the way we find it. The answers have big implications for questions about the likelihood and nature of life throughout the universe and why and how it developed on the Earth's surface. One of the hoped for side-effects of this research is to unite biology with the physical sciences, removing the schism which implies that biology violates physical laws, allowing biology to be a natural extension of physics. In this view, biological systems are a special case of physical systems, keeping themselves far from thermodynamic equilibrium by converting energy from low to high entropy states and perpetually creating and remodelling themselves as embodied information is processed, created and retained. It's just a suggestion, of course.

Sustainable Fisheries Management

The other branch of my work involves the application of ecological theory to practical problems of current real-life importance. A lot of it now concerns fisheries science - vital work if we are to save the world's fisheries from the global collapse for which many believe they are heading. A major part of this work is pursued through European Union and Irish Government funding, previously : An Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management, but also includes an  Irish  Science Foundation project and two European Union FP7 consortium projects. In general, my team and I are using a variety of theoretical approaches to find real-world solutions to some of the major ecological problems that we face. This work is also being used to create new theories of organism distribution, predator-prey dynamics, life history, and evolution.

Applications to Global Food Security

We need to understand marine ecosystems a lot better to avoid over-exploiting them.
My work, in collaboration with the Irish Marine Institute, Danish Technical University and others, contributes to this by reinterpreting predator-prey and competition dynamics in far more realistic terms than previous models allowed. This is needed to provide a scientific underpinning to the reform of fisheries management: one that takes proper account of the complex dynamics of real marine food-webs. For example, we are developing new ways to characterise and monitor the 'health' of fish communities in terms of population size and structure. This has led to an explanation of how life-history of fish can be changed by selective fishery and on the rate of evolutionary change (for example, in the Baltic cod). Using size-structured community models we  are examining the quality of ecological indicators for use in fisheries management and investigating interaction between industrial ‘forage’ fisheries producing fishmeal and premium ‘for the plate’ fisheries. We are extending this work to address the highly topical problem of designing and assessing spatial management such as 'closed areas' and other new conservation measures in commercial fisheries and also to objectively assess the interactions between large marine predators such as seals and capture fisheries.

In a major collaboration, funded by Science Foundation Ireland, with Prof David Reid (Marine Institute, Ireland) and Dr Sarah Kraak (Thünen Intitut, Germany), we are helping to devise an alternative to the stock quota system of the Common Fisheries Policy. This alternative is the Real Time Fisheries system, developed by Reid and Kraak (for which a consortium project page can be found here). The project is called:

Creating the knowledge for precision fisheries management: spatially aware "nudging" to achieve Maximum Sustainable Yield using real-time fisheries incentives.

We aim for maximum productivity of commercial fisheries, constrained by the law (including the Marine Strategy Framework Directive), ensuring ecological sustainability. Paralleling precision farming, spatial ecological data and models enable maximisation of fishing yield within ecological constraints, to the finest possible spatial scale. This project develops the scientific tools to support an incentive scheme that guides fishers to achieve maximum sustainable yields, accounting for  ecological variability in time and space as well as stock status. Using ecological data to calculate maps of real-time incentives, leaves fishers free to determine their best spatial distribution of effort to maximise profit sustainably.

Previous work under the Beaufort Award Scheme developed realistic mathematical models of fish-communityies undergoing fishery exploitation and used to calculate recovery times, sustainable yields, interactions among fishery types and interactions with other marine organisms, as well as developing an understanding of stakeholder interests and their interactions (see list of publications for more detail).