Working towards the monitoring and protection of aquatic species
An opportunity for a fully-funded PhD studentship is currently being offered by the School of Life Sciences at University of Essex in partnership with University of Exeter and Natural England. Closing date for applications is Monday 20th November 2023 at 10am. Interviews will be on Friday 1st December 2023 – please note this date. Send cover letter and cv to: email@example.com.
PhD advertised and managed by the following supervisory team:
- Dr Michelle Taylor, University of Essex, Director of Marine Biology and President of the Deep-Sea Biology Society.
- Dr Boyd McKew, University of Essex. Senior Lecturer and Deputy Dive officer, who brings 20 years of molecular ecology experience.
- Dr Lucy Woodall, University of Exeter / Nekton. Dr Woodall has been researching seahorse ecology and evolution for over 15 years and is a founding member of the IUCN SSC Seahorse, Pipefish, and Seadragon Specialist Group (SPS SG).
- Dr Hazel Selley, Natural England Senior Specialist in Marine Ecology with focus on seahorse species, seagrass beds, and marine nature recovery.
Background to the PhD
Two species of seahorse can be found breeding in UK waters – the short snouted seahorse Hippocampus hippocampus and long snouted or spiny seahorse Hippocampus guttulatus. Both species have been protected under the Wildlife & Countryside Act (1981) since 2008. Assessing seahorse populations by traditional methods such as SCUBA diving is notoriously difficult as they live cryptically in a range of habitats. The successful application of eDNA and / or acoustic monitoring will enable more frequent routine sampling which can reduce harm from coastal development and aid conservation of the species.
This exciting PhD studentship focuses on the development and application of environmental DNA (eDNA) and acoustic monitoring as techniques for investigating elusive and cryptic seahorse species in English waters. Recently developed techniques to capture and analyse free-floating DNA, known as environmental DNA (eDNA), have the potential to provide a rapid and robust method for determining the presence and distribution of aquatic species. Acoustic monitoring may also have potential to provide safe and more affordable detection in coastal areas. These two methods provide tools linking spatial and temporal occurrence.
This project can develop better tools to detect the seasonal, temporal and spatial distribution of these elusive but charismatic fish. Using these novel methods for the monitoring of seahorses populations in UK waters could generate vital data which will further our understanding of environmental parameters which seahorses require to thrive.
The aims of this project are to:
- Develop and validate an eDNA technique using sediment samples for the identification and quantification of target fish species.
- Develop and validate acoustic techniques for detecting target fish species.
- Apply these novel techniques to evaluate existing species distribution models.
- Application of these novel techniques for tracking potential changes in species distributions.
Supervision team and research environment
This PhD is a joint initiative between Dr Michelle Taylor and Dr Boyd McKew at University of Essex (PhD host institute), seahorse experts from the IUCN Species Group via Dr Lucy Woodall at University of Exeter and Dr Hazel Selley at Natural England, who have a long time interest in UK seahorse conservation. The nature of this applied research can also link with ground truthing habitat suitability modelling completed by partners at CEFAS and the project will allow the successful candidate to develop strong links with collaborators.
The student will have regular meetings with Dr Taylor and input from other members of the team in response to the specific needs of the student and the research. This studentship adds to an existing research project, the student will be joining the research team and benefit from working closely together in the laboratory to develop these novel eDNA techniques.
The student will also benefit from time spent with the University of Exeter / the South West of the UK developing acoustic monitoring skills and testing techniques.
The student undertaking this project will receive in-depth training in ecological and genetic survey techniques; DNA extraction, using DNA markers, real time PCR, sequence analysis, acoustic species surveying, and experience of working closely with strategic collaborators.
We are looking for a highly motivated and enthusiastic student capable of working independently with a broad interest in ecology and conservation. They should be willing to learn and develop the interdisciplinary skills required for this project. Although the successful student will receive in-depth training it is desirable that applicants have some experience of molecular work. The successful applicant will be working primarily in an academic environment, supported by a range of experts and engaging with collaborating organisations, and regulatory bodies to whom this work will be of interest.
Applicants must have a good honours degree (2.1 or equivalent) in Biological or Environmental disciplines ideally with good knowledge of marine ecology and monitoring techniques. A relevant Masters qualification is desirable, but not essential if the applicant has relevant research experience. If the language of first degree or Master’s degree is not English, a recognised English language qualification is required. Funding is provided on a Home Fees basis and as such applicants must be ordinarily resident in the UK, and eligible for UK home fees status. Successful applicants would be required to safely and effectively
participate in fieldwork for sampling and testing techniques which could involve working on the shore, in estuaries and on boats, experience / enthusiasm for this type of fieldwork are beneficial.
Why choose this PhD?
- Provides in-depth training in ecological and genetic survey techniques; DNA extraction, using DNA markers and bioinformatics.
- Is a great opportunity to work closely with strategic collaborators in a research capacity, helping to guide practical conservation projects to safeguard aquatic ecosystems and influence policy.
- Will generate vital data regarding seahorse species in UK waters which will contribute directly to the protection of this cryptic, data deficient species.
- To join a strong research centre with excellent facilities including laboratories at University of Essex and spend time developing skills in acoustic work and monitoring with the University of Exeter.
Finance for this PhD is secured but subject to contracts (currently underway).
For an informal discussion about the studentship, please contact Dr Taylor: Michelle.firstname.lastname@example.org or Dr Woodall: L.Woodall@exeter.ac.uk.