PhD opportunity: modelling diversity of foraminifera in the global ocean

Supervisors: Fanny Monteiro, Daniela Schmidt, Andy Ridgwell

Models are essential in filling the gap in ocean observations and at determining the global influence of climate on the marine ecosystem. Foraminifera are important organisms in the marine environment, both ecologically and as a major carbonate producer (Schmidt et al., 2006), but typically are not represented in ocean models. A few recent studies have started to include foraminifera in biogeochemical models, but they have a limited number of foraminifer types which do not necessarily represent the real ecosystem (Fraile et al., 2009; Lombard et al., 2009). An innovative approach for modelling marine ecosystems is the Darwin model (Follows et al., 2007; Monteiro et al., 2010; Follows and Dutkiewicz, 2011; Monteiro et al., 2011) which has not been applied to foraminifera.

The PhD will include a representation of planktic foraminifera in the global ocean MIT-Darwin model to determine the key ecological trade-offs of foraminifera in relation to calcification, temperature, food sources and size (Schmidt et al., 2004). This work will allow to estimate the influence of ocean acidification, temperature and oxygen stressors on the distribution and diversity of foraminifera in the global ocean and thereby predicting future climate change impact on the marine plankton community and the marine carbon cycle.

The Darwin model accounts for the complexity of the marine ecosystem by letting the environment selects for the fittest organisms from a large randomly-generated population of marine species. The selection occurs thanks to predefined ecological trade-offs (costs and benefits) of marine organisms. This approach has been very successful at representing the diversity of phytoplanktonic populations in the global ocean (Prochlorococcus, nitrogen fixers, diatoms, and there is ongoing work on coccolithophores).

The student will learn how to use and develop parts of a complex marine ecosystem model. The involved statistical and modelling skills will be highly transferable to a wide range of jobs. Furthermore the student will get a solid knowledge on marine plankton ecology and physiology including biomineralisation. The student will be part of the vibrant Palaeobiology group and the dynamic Bridge climate modelling group. The supervisors are part of the UK-wide Ocean acidification research program which will enable the student to participate in any additional training and meetings offered by this program.

To apply.


  • Follows, M.J., Dutkiewicz, S., Grant, S. and Chisholm, S.W., 2007. Emergent Biogeography of Microbial Communities in a Model Ocean. Science, 315(5820): 1843-1846.
  • Follows, M. & Dutkiewicz, S., 2011. Modeling diverse communities of marine microbes. Annual Review of Marine Science, 3(1), pp.427–451.
  • Fraile, I., Mulitza, S. and Schulz, M., 2009. Modeling planktonic foraminiferal seasonality: Implications for sea-surface temperature reconstructions. Marine Micropaleontology, 72(1-2): 1-9.
  • Lombard, F., Labeyrie, L., Michel, E., Spero, H.J. and Lea, D.W., 2009. Modelling the temperature dependent growth rates of planktic foraminifera. Marine Micropaleontology, 70(1-2): 1-7.
  • Monteiro, F.M., Dutkiewicz, S. and Follows, M.J., 2011. Biogeographical controls on the marine nitrogen fixers. Global Biogeochem. Cycles, 25(2): GB2003.
  • Monteiro, F.M., Follows, M.J. and Dutkiewicz, S., 2010. Distribution of diverse nitrogen fixers in the global ocean. Global Biogeochemical Cycles, 24: 1-16.
  • Schmidt, D.N., Lazarus, D., Young, J. and Kucera, M., 2006. Biogeography and evolution of body-size of marine plankton. Earth-Science Reviews, 78: 239-266.
  • Schmidt, D.N., Renaud, S., Bollmann, J., Schiebel, R. and Thierstein, H.R., 2004. Size distribution of Holocene planktic foraminifer assemblages: biogeography, ecology and adaptation. Marine Micropaleontology, 50(3-4): 319-338.

Bristol University, 13 November 2012. More information.

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