PhD opportunity: phytoplankton as indicators of environmental change (ref: 4298)

Deadline application: 10 January 2022, 4:00pm GMT

Interviews period: 28 February – 4 March 2022

Location: Streatham Campus, University of Exeter, Exeter, Devon.

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This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP).  The GW4+ DTP consists of the Great Western Four alliance of the University of Bath, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and the University of Exeter plus five Research Organisation partners:  British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology,  the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory.  The partnership aims to provide a broad training in earth and environmental sciences, designed to train tomorrow’s leaders in earth and environmental science. For further details about the programme please see http://nercgw4plus.ac.uk/

For eligible successful applicants, the studentships comprises:

  • An stipend for 3.5 years (currently £15,609 p.a. for 2022/23) in line with UK Research and Innovation rates
  • Payment of university tuition fees;
  • A research budget of £11,000 for an international conference, lab, field and research expenses;
  • A training budget of £3,250 for specialist training courses and expenses

Lead Supervisor

Dr Karen Tait – Marine Ecology and Biodiversity, Plymouth Marine Laboratory

Additional Supervisors

Dr Adam Monier – Living Systems Institute, Exeter University

Dr Paul Somerfield – Marine Ecology and Biodiversity, Plymouth Marine Laboratory

Mrs Claire Widdicombe – Marine Ecology and Biodiversity, Plymouth Marine Laboratory

Project Background:

Phytoplankton are fundamental to all marine ecosystems and those that depend on them. They sustain oceanic biogeochemical cycles and help to regulate our climate, yet are under enormous threat and change from warming, ocean acidification, eutrophication, extreme weather events and pollution. Understanding the factors influencing the seasonal structure of phytoplankton communities and how this is influenced by environmental change is the key challenge of this PhD.  

Project Aims and Methods:

Within this PhD, you will determine the seasonal signature of key taxa, identify drivers of variability, and  predict the impact of a changing climate on phytoplankton communities. This will be achieved using both morphological (i.e. microscope) and molecular datasets as a means of taxonomic identification, and you will have the opportunity to learn both techniques. You will make use of extensive morphological (30+ year) and molecular (10 year) data collected at the Western Channel Observatory (WCO –https://www.westernchannelobservatory.org.uk/) site L4, and you will be responsible for continued collection of high-quality molecular data sets. DNA-based approaches have the potential to provide unprecedented detail and insight into the ecological connections between taxa and their environment at a fraction of the sampling cost of traditional methods such as time-consuming microscopy, but there is an urgent need for proof-of-concept studies that provide a thorough comparison of data derived from traditional methods.

Within this PhD, you will have a unique opportunity to explore detailed, matching morphological and molecular data sets to identify gaps and synergies, with the aim of developing best practises. There is increasing interest in the use of eDNA as a tool for marine management through the development of biological Essential Ocean Indicators (EOVs) as markers for ocean health. Your data will be mined to determine which key measurements can be used to assess the health of the WCO. You will also have the opportunity to learn and employ novel single cell sorting techniques to isolate individual species for DNA sequencing in order to create detailed DNA reference libraries for local species.

University of Exeter, 27 October 2021. More information.


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