Cathy King

        Photo of SAMS PhD student Cathy King

PhD student

I’m a middle-aged mum, doing my PhD part-time (2015-2020) based at SAMS, ideally located in the most beautiful place on earth – the west coast of Scotland.

Previously, I was SAMS Communications Officer (Jan 2012-Dec 2014), and have a mixed background of plant science, journalism, and some other bits and bobs.

Contact details:

A 100-year record of changing toxic algae in Scottish coastal waters related to change in land use and temperature

HAB-forming dinoflagellates have been affected by climate change. Some species within the Alexandrium tamarense species complex are potent producers of PSP toxins worldwide, including Scottish waters. Routine monitoring of PSP toxins in shellfish around Scotland began in 1991, and since then there have been closures of shellfish sites almost every year. Currently, the Scottish Government is promoting the expansion of the shellfish industry to nearly double its size by 2020, but there is no mechanism to assess the vulnerability of new sites to the impacts of HABs or climate change.

Regional sea surface temperature analyses from 1880 to the present show that temperatures are increasing. However, datasets showing changes in HAB frequency and toxicity cover a much shorter time frame: along Scottish coasts, monitoring for PSP toxins started in 1991 and of Alexandrium spp. in 1996. To address this shortfall in data, this new project will examine dinoflagellate cyst numbers in the sediment record to show changes in species composition over time to compare with changes in climate.

In 2015, we set up a sediment trap in shallow, coastal waters in Shetland and samples have been collected weekly since. Dinoflagellate cysts found in the sediment trap are the link between dinoflagellate cells in the water column and the cysts that fall to the seabed. A sediment trap can therefore be used to find out the rate of encystment, and to give us more information on particle flux, bloom dynamics and the ecology of toxic species. This is particularly important because dinoflagellate life cycles and population dynamics remain poorly understood.

In 2015, we collected sediment samples using a Craib corer and Van Veen grab from 21 stations along the west coast of mainland Shetland. Dinoflagellate cysts will be extracted from those sediment samples and tested for their long-term viability. If large-scale viability is proven, cyst accumulations in certain depositional environments could be acting as seeds beds for blooms. By mapping the seed beds, it would be possible to evaluate the potential risks associated with HABs and climate change, to then inform the aquaculture industry on future siting of activities.


Professor Keith Davidson, SAMS

Dr. Eileen Bresnan, Marine Scotland Science

Professor Bill Austin, University of St Andrews

Professor Jane Lewis, University of Westminster

Professor Barrie Dale, University of Oslo (unofficial)


Marine Alliance for Science & Technology for Scotland (MASTS)

The Scottish Government via Marine Scotland Science (MSS)

University of the Highlands and Islands



University of the Highlands and Islands / University of Aberdeen

Peer-reviewed publications

Winterton, C., Richardson, J.E., Zamora, N., Hollingsworth M., Clark A., Pennington, R.T., (2014). Historical biogeography of the neotropical legume genus Dussia: the Andes, the Panama isthmus and the Chocó. Paleobotany and Biogeography: A Festschrift for Alan Graham in his 80th year. Chpt 14.

Pendry, C. & King, C. (2011). An account of Eriobotrya (Rosaceae). Flora of Nepal: Vol.3, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.

Conference talks

Pennington R.T., Lavin M., Hollingsworth M., Clark A., King C., Skema C., (2010). Species-level sampling in papilionoid legume phylogenetics can illuminate cryptic diversity, morphological characters and the evolutionary process. Conference paper at Fifth International Legume Conference, Buenos Aires.

Poster presentations

Jessica Clarke, William Austin, Craig Smeaton, Cathy Winterton, Eileen Bresnan, Keith Davidson, Elena Lo Giudice Cappelli (2017). Long term net gains in coastal blue carbon stocks: A search for terrestrial drivers? EGU General Assembly, Vienna, April 2017.

Cathy Winterton, Keith Davidson, Eileen Bresnan & Bill Austin (2016). A 100-year record of changing toxic algae in Scottish coastal waters relating to climate change. Aquaculture Europe, Edinburgh, Sept 2016.

Bill Austin, Craig Smeaton, Cathy Winterton, Keith Bennet (2016). The loss of Scottish peatlands: Implications for long-term net gains in coastal Blue Carbon stocks. EGU General Assembly, Vienna, April 2016.

Cathy Winterton, Bill Austin, Eileen Bresnan & Keith Davidson (2015). A 100-year record of changing toxic algae in Scottish coastal waters relating to climate change. E-poster for MASTS ASM, Glasgow, Sept 2015.

Cathy Winterton, Bill Austin, Eileen Bresnan & Keith Davidson (2015). A 100-year record of changing toxic algae in Scottish coastal waters relating to climate change. Poster for the Harmful Algal Bloom & Climate Change scientific symposium, Gothenburg, Sweden, May 2015.

Cathy King, James Richardson, Nelson Zamora, Michelle Hollingsworth, Alex Clark, R.Toby Pennington (2010). Phylogeny of Dussia (Leguminosae) illuminates the affinities of the Chocó, the influence of the Andean uplift and closure of the Panamá Isthmus. Poster for Young Systematists’ Forum, NHM (2010).

Fieldwork experience

Shetland, 2015 – collecting sediment samples using a Craib corer and a Van Veen Grab. We also set up a shallow water sediment trap, which is still going strong (Spring 2017).

Lynn of Lorne, 2015 – a few day trips helping collect sediment cores for other scientists.

Belize, 2009 – 2-week tropical, fieldwork course.

Public engagement experience

Irregular blogging since March 2015 as 'Seafroth'

Jan 2015: SAMS news reporter -

2010: Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE), Public Engagement Course – included presenting and demonstrating twice to the public, once as a group, and once individually

2009 & 2010: Doors Open Day guide of RBGE herbarium.

Media coverage

May 2015 -

Feb 2015 -

Professional memberships

ECSA: Estuarine & Coastal Sciences Association

ISSHA: International Society for the Study of Harmful Algae

Challenger Society for Marine Science

British Phycological Society

IMarEst: Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology

Professional training courses

March 2012 – 3-day Broadcast Media training course, Glasgow/Edinburgh


Communications Officer. SAMS: 3 years

Research Fellow. Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh: 6 months

Herbarium Specimen Digitiser. Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh: 2 years

Trainee Horticultural Technician. Cambridge University Botanic Garden: 1 year

Student gardener. Tresco Abbey Garden: 1 year

Gardener. The Gardening Girl (self-employed): 2 years

Assistant Marine Manager. Dean & Reddyhoff Marinas Ltd: 2 years

Scientific Diving Technician. NERC (at SAMS): 4 months

Journalist, Arab World Affairs. Various including BBC, Al-Jezeera, Discovery Channel, the Daily Star Lebanon, the Jordan Times: 7 years



2009  MSc Biodiversity and Taxonomy of Plants. University of Edinburgh

1994  BA (Hons) Arabic Studies. University of Leeds

2008 Cert of HE Practical Horticulture and Plantsmanship. University of Cambridge Institute of Continuing Education

2007 Studentship Practical Horticulture. Tresco Abbey Garden, Isles of Scilly

2006 City and Guilds Certificate in Gardening (Level 2). Truro College

2006 Royal Horticultural Society Certificate. RHS Level 2. Duchy College, Cornwall