Update: Applications are now open for the PhD studentship! Apply here!
A competitive, funded PhDship with me has just been advertised at Plymouth University. Applications close on 5 May and the student will start this autumn. Please forward this on to any bright students who might be interested.
Project title: Connectivity between pelagic and benthic habitats as an indicator of Good Environmental Status
Supervisory team: Dr Abigail McQuatters-Gollop (PU, Director of Studies), Dr Louise Firth (Plymouth University), Dr Nova Mieszkowska (MBA), and Mr David Johns (SAHFOS).
Project outline: Plankton and intertidal organisms are both sensitive to climate change and can be used as indicators to show shifts in community dynamics. Although indicators have been developed for benthic and pelagic ecosystem components, integration between parts of the ecosystem is lacking and an indicator of connectivity between the two habitats is needed. The distribution and abundance of meroplankton therefore can be used as an important predictor of emergent benthic populations and communities. Multi-decadal datasets, are key to developing sensitive indicators of benthic-pelagic connectivity for the assessment of Good Environmental Status. In the Western English Channel, multi-decadal time-series exist for both meroplankton (the SAHFOS Continuous Plankton Recorder) and intertidal organisms (the Marine Biological Association’s MarClim dataset). These datasets, however, have never been used in tandem and their combined potential in enabling the development of functional ecosystem indicators is therefore unexploited.
The successful student will be based at Plymouth University’s School of Biological and Marine Sciences , a centre of expertise in marine ecology and marine policy. He or she will analyse the multi-decadal CPR and MarClim datasets in a novel manner to investigate benthic-pelagic relationships in the Western Channel. Plankton and intertidal samples from Plymouth Sound will be analysed to highlight local variation in the meroplankton and intertidal communities, and links between the Sound and the Western Channel region made to test hypotheses related to regional connectivity. Indicators of benthic-pelagic connectivity will be developed, and the student will perform the first ever assessment of Good Environmental Status of benthic-pelagic connectivity in the western Channel ecosystem, in alignment with the policy needs.
Further project details and application information:
Background to the study: The EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) applies a holistic approach to achieving Good Environmental Status (GES) in European Seas. The MSFD requires the development and monitoring of ecosystem indicators towards environmental targets. Plankton and intertidal organisms are both sensitive to climate change and can be used as indicators to show shifts in community dynamics (Firth et al 2009). Meroplankton, as a plankton functional group, are now an operational pelagic MSFD indicator for the UK and OSPAR (the regional seas convention of NE Europe) (McQuatters-Gollop et al. 2015), and intertidal organisms (e.g. the barnacles Semibalanus balanoides and Chthamalus montagui, the gastropods Littorina littorea and Gibbula umbilicalis) a MSFD benthic indicator (Burrows et al. 2014). Although indicators have been developed for benthic and pelagic ecosystem components, integration between parts of the ecosystem is lacking and an indicator of connectivity between the two habitats is needed. The distribution and abundance of meroplankton therefore can be used as an important predictor of emergent benthic populations and communities.
Issues to be investigated: Although separate plankton and intertidal indicators are used in the MSFD, an indicator of connectivity between the benthic and pelagic systems is needed in order to implement the holistic and functional approach to ecosystem-based management required by the Directive. Rapid environmental and climatic changes, however, are increasingly evident in marine ecosystems and these must be accounted for when developing ecosystem indicators. Time-series data have revealed long-term climate-driven changes in Western Channel benthic-pelagic connectivity (Mieszkowska et al. 2014). Multi-decadal datasets, therefore, are key to developing sensitive indicators of benthic-pelagic connectivity for the assessment of Good Environmental Status (McQuatters-Gollop 2012). In the Western English Channel, multi-decadal time-series exist for both meroplankton (the SAHFOS Continuous Plankton Recorder) and intertidal organisms (the MBA’s MarClim dataset). These datasets, however, have never been used in tandem and their combined potential in enabling the development of functional ecosystem indicators is therefore unexploited.
Aims and objectives: This project aims to develop and assess indicators of benthic-pelagic connectivity in the Western Channel in direct response to current policy needs. The student will analyse the multi-decadal CPR and MarClim datasets in a novel manner to investigate benthic-pelagic relationships in the Western Channel. Plankton and intertidal samples from Plymouth Sound will be analysed to highlight local variation in the meroplankton and intertidal communities, and links between the Sound and the Western Channel region made to test hypotheses related to regional connectivity. These analyses will support the development of benthic-pelagic connectivity indicators, which will then be assessed for Good Environmental Status, in accordance with policy needs.
Methodology: This project will explore relationships between meroplankton from the Continuous Plankton Recorder (CPR- https://www.sahfos.ac.uk/data/our-data/ ) survey and intertidal data from MarClim (http://www.mba.ac.uk/marclim/) to identify links between benthic and pelagic habitats in the Western Channel. These 60-year times-series will be supplemented with plankton and intertidal samples from Plymouth Sound, collected and analysed by the student. The high resolution Plymouth Sound samples will provide information about variability and succession in the local plankton and intertidal communities, and highlight synergies between meroplankton and intertidal dynamics in the Sound and the wider Western Channel ecosystem. All datasets will be analysed with a combination of statistical models (GAMs, GLMs, etc), time-series analysis, and spatial techniques. The supervisory team possess the skills necessary to guide the student through application of these methods to project data. Alignment with UK and OSPAR policy objectives will occur throughout the studentship through direct interaction with UK and OSPAR science-policy expert groups.
Outcome: This project will develop and test novel indicators of benthic-pelagic connectivity for use in the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive, as a direct response to policy needs. The indicators will be both scientifically robust and policy-relevant and therefore of interest to the ecological and conservation communities. The student will perform the first ever assessment of Good Environmental Status of benthic-pelagic connectivity in the western Channel ecosystem, in alignment with the MSFD. Indicators and assessment results will integrate directly into the UK and OSPAR-level MSFD processes. Project results will be highly publishable, with >3 scientific papers expected.
Relevance/significance in a wider context: The indicators developed during the studentship are legally mandated through the MSFD as vital for supporting intertidal and pelagic ecosystem-based management. The project results will thus directly inform UK and OSPAR-level assessments of Good Environmental Status, a clear example of policy impact generation. Project outcomes will be directly integrated into the MSFD policy process through Dr McQuatters-Gollop who chairs the implementation of the MSFD of the UK and OSPAR for pelagic habitats and Dr Mieszkowska who is a member of the MSFD benthic habitats expert group. The student will also receive the opportunity to interact with and shadow the UK and OSPAR pelagic MSFD expert groups, facilitating understanding of the UK and international policy processes.
Student training and opportunity: The student will develop skills in spatial and temporal analysis; analysis of large datasets; statistical techniques; plankton and intertidal taxonomy, sampling and analysis methods; and application of science to policy. Through partnership with PU, SAHFOS and the MBA, the student will undergo training in basic plankton and intertidal taxonomy and will develop an in depth understanding of biological survey techniques and analysis methodologies. The candidate will gain interdisciplinary expertise in plankton and intertidal ecology aspects of science-policy, which will allow him/her to contribute to international research on ecology and conservation. This studentship will reinforce collaboration between PU, the MBA, and SAHFOS, creating a wide scientific network for the student, and inspiring new collaboration with colleagues in the international science and policy communities.
Details of PU research centre affiliation, working environment etc. The studentship will be based in Plymouth University’s Centre for Marine and Conservation Policy Research (MarCoPol), which is part of the Marine Institute, and carried out in close collaboration with the Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science (SAHFOS) and the Marine Biological Association of the UK (MBA). The Marine Institute is the UK’s largest, including over 3000 staff, researchers, and students. In 2015 the Marine Institute’s £4 million Marine Station was opened with state-of-the-art diving, teaching and research facilities. MarCoPol is truly interdisciplinary, bringing together academics from the fields of conservation, policy, sociology, economics, law, business, biology and ecology. The Centre’s team of researchers works on delivering cutting edge scientific evidence into the UK, European and international policy, conservation and decision making processes by working closely with Defra, OSPAR, the International Council on Exploration of the Seas (ICES and others. SAHFOS is an international research and monitoring charity which hosts the Continuous Plankton Recorder (CPR) survey, the longest and most spatially extensive marine ecological dataset in the world. SAHFOS is an internationally-renowned centre for plankton taxonomy and research, and also plays a key role in supporting UK, European and international policy.
Essential requirements: A 1st class or 2:1 in Marine Biology, Oceanography, Conservation Ecology, Marine Policy or related disciplines; an interest in taxonomy and conservation. Desirable requirements: MSc or MRes in Marine Biology, Oceanography, Conservation Ecology, Marine Policy or related disciplines; experience in basic taxonomy and working with large datasets, R, and GIS.
Who to contact for further information (DoS): Please contact Dr Abigail McQuatters-Gollop firstname.lastname@example.org for further information or an informal chat.
General information about applying for a research degree at Plymouth University is available at: https://www.plymouth.ac.uk/student-life/your-studies/the-graduate-school/applicants-and-enquirers
You can apply via the online application form which can be found at: https://www.plymouth.ac.uk/study/postgraduate and click ‘Apply’.
References: Burrows MT, et al. (2014). Geographical limits to species-range shifts are suggested by climate velocity. Nature. 507:492-5. • Firth LB, et al. (2009). Predicting impacts of climate-induced range expansion: an experimental framework and a test involving key grazers on temperate rocky shores. Global Change Biol. 15:1413-1422 • McQuatters-Gollop, A, Johns, DG, et al., (2015). The Continuous Plankton Recorder survey: how can long-term phytoplankton datasets deliver Good Environmental Status? Estuar., Coast. Shelf Sci. 162:88-97. • McQuatters-Gollop, A (2012). Challenges for implementing the Marine Strategy Framework Directive in a climate of macroecological change. Phil. Trans. R. Soc., 370: 5636-5655. • Mieszkowska N, Firth LB, et al. (2014). The role of sustained observations in tracking impacts of environmental change on marine biodiversity and ecosystems. Phil. Trans. R. Soc., 372.