Arron Watson profile picture

Arron Watson

University of Birmingham


Monitoring and prediction of biodiversity loss with the use of artificial intelligence


  • Dr Jiarui Zhou, University of Birmingham
  • Dr Luisa Orsini, University of Birmingham
  • Dr Scott Hosking, The Alan Turning Institute and British Antarctic Survey
  • Dr Kerry Walsh, Environment Agency
  • Dr Glenn Watts, Environment Agency

PhD Summary

Lack of understanding of the interlinked processes underpinning ecosystem services has led to mismanagement, with negative impacts on the environment, the economy and our own wellbeing. Managing biodiversity whilst ensuring the delivery of ecosystem services is a complex problem because of limited resources, competing objectives and the need for economic profitability. Protecting every species is impossible. We need a whole-system, evidence-based approach in order to make the right decisions in the future. Continuous temporal data, including palaeoecological, chemical, and environmental data collected from sedimentary archives will used to establish past correlations that inform ecological process-based models. We will develop Emulators that ‘learn’ from past correlations, and forecasts of biodiversity and ecosystem functions with measured uncertainties.

Previous activity

I finished a master’s in research (MRES) in 2018 as a mature student, I then went on to be a full-time scientific research assistant at the University of Reading focused on terrestrial ecology and systems until moving into industry in 2019. I joined the Environment Agency in 2019 as an Analysis and Reporting Officer which I am currently today (part time), now focused on freshwater ecology with some marine ecology. My specialisms are entomology, remote sensing, and data analytics.

Why did you choose doctoral research?

I believed it was the best career path for me. I have always stayed close to research even when moving into industry, co-authored a publication along with advising on others. I wanted to grow my skills and research abilities and a PhD was the best option for me. With a very supportive employer, I decided to take a part time contract and undertake a PhD part time. I chose this specific PhD due to the skills and research involved, I am passionate about freshwater science which it focuses on along with an ambition to become a data scientist. Furthermore, a big part of the PhD focuses on DNA a growing research area in freshwater regulation, skills I do not have and wish to obtain.

Why did you choose CENTA?

CENTA interested me because of the collaboration between organisations and disciplinary working. Working in industry alongside a PhD means I wanted to find a type of studentship which would support that cross working, allow additional training and placements beyond my conventional learning and allow me to think big about where I would like to develop my skills. I feel honoured to have passed the recruitment process which isn’t easy and thank CENTA for recruiting me as a part time student.


Future plans

I hope that my part time PhD will help me become a research scientist and become someone who helps influence policy change. I also want to become a trainer for my organisation delivering workshops in data science, DNA and other subjects relevant to my PhD training. I want to be part of the protection of freshwater systems in the light of climate change and believe my time and career would be best served within the Environment Agency or a similar government agency.