Postgraduate Research Opportunity

Environmental drivers of food web structure and energy flux in marine ecosystems

Details

Title: Environmental drivers of food web structure and energy flux in marine ecosystems.

Funding: Full time Home fees and a standard tax-free stipend for three years equivalent to the Research Councils UK National Minimum Doctoral Stipend (£15,285 in 2020-21). EU and International applicants are welcome, but will not be eligible for a stipend due to the higher cost of fees for EU/International students.

Application deadline: 28th May 2021. Shortlisted candidates will be invited to interview via Zoom in June 2021.

Start date: October 2021

Duration: 3 years (full time)

Location: Colchester Campus

Based in: School of Life Sciences

Scientific background

Global environmental change is predicted to alter the structure and stability of marine ecosystems with major implications for the sustainability of commercial fisheries. By quantifying changes in food web structure and energy flux to fish predators along large-scale environmental gradients, this PhD will aim to determine the major drivers of trophic complexity and biomass distributions in marine ecosystems.

The proposed network-based analyses and modelling approaches are at the cutting edge of current research and will offer exciting new insights into the fate of marine ecosystems in the face of global change. The study will also provide multiple measures of ecological stability to help highlight vulnerable species, which will ultimately enable more effective ecosystem-based advice.

Research methodology

Body mass data from planktonic, benthic, and fisheries surveys will be used to parameterise an Allometric Diet Breadth Model, which has been used to predict structural properties of food webs to a high degree of accuracy (Petchey et al. 2008).

Interaction strengths will be assigned to the resulting interaction matrices using fluxweb, a recently developed R package for estimating energy fluxes in food webs based on body mass data (Gauzens et al. 2018).

Model predictions of food web structure and energy flux will be validated using an extensive database of >500,000 fish stomachs covering the NE Atlantic. Environmental data, including temperature, salinity, and primary productivity, will be utilised to explain systematic changes in food web structure and energy flux in space and time.

Training

The candidate will join the Ecology and Environmental Microbiology Group at the University of Essex and will also work with researchers at Cefas in Lowestoft. The supervisory team will offer training in a broad skillset related to food web ecology, marine taxonomy, bioinformatics, ecological modelling, and science communication.

There will also be an opportunity to participate in collaborative fieldwork and receive training in the sampling methodologies and survey techniques used to collect the historical datasets available for the project.

Relevant papers

Funding

UK students will have tuition fees covered and will be awarded a stipend of approximately £15,285, increasing each year for the 3 years of funding.

EU and International applicants are welcome, but will not be eligible for a stipend due to the higher cost of fees for EU/International students.

Contact the lead supervisor for more information.

Partners and collaborators

Prof Owen Petchey (University of Zurich), Prof Ulrich Brose (iDiv Germany), Dr Benoit Gauzens (iDiv Germany), Dr Chris Lynam (Cefas), Dr John Pinnegar (Cefas), Dr Michaela Schratzberger (Cefas).

Person specification

We are looking for a candidate who is enthusiastic about global change biology, marine biology, quantitative biology, and ecosystem ecology, with a degree in ecology, environmental sciences, or geography.

How to apply

To apply for this studentship please email Dr Eoin O'Gorman (e.ogorman@essex.ac.uk) with a 2 page CV, cover letter detailing why you are the best candidate for this position, degree transcripts, and references to contact (not needed up front).

The deadline is Friday 28th May 2021. Shortlisted applicants will be invited to interview via Zoom in June 2021.

If you have any informal queries about this opportunity please email the supervisors, Dr Eoin O’Gorman (e.ogorman@essex.ac.uk), Dr Tom Cameron (tcameron@essex.ac.uk), Dr Murray Thompson (murray.thompson@cefas.co.uk), Dr Elena Couce (elena.couce@cefas.co.uk).