Come do a PhD with me!

Developing meaningful marine biodiversity indicators to support conservation

I’m looking for an exceptional candidate to carry out an interdisciplinary PhDship at University of Plymouth, in collaboration with Plymouth Marine Laboratory and the Marine Biological Association. The PhD is co-funded with Defra and so provides a unique opportunity to gain experience at the science-policy interface. Please contact me for an informal chat at the email address below. Applications close at 12 noon on 20 May 2022.

Supervisory team:
Dr Abigail McQuatters-Gollop, University of Plymouth abigail.mcquatters-gollop@plymouth.ac.uk
Dr Angus Atkinson (PML)
Dr Clare Ostle (MBA)
Dr Sian Rees (UoP)

Apply here

For further information on research studentships at the University of Plymouth and to apply for this position please visit: https://www.plymouth.ac.uk/student-life/your-studies/research-degrees/postgraduate-research-studentships and select the studentship you would like to apply for. Please clearly state the name of the studentship that you are applying for on your personal statement.

Project description

Background

Human activities and climate change are causing widespread alterations to marine ecosystems. At the base of marine foodwebs, changes in plankton communities affect ecosystem services within and beyond the water column, including climate change mitigation and fisheries yield. Policy frameworks now recognise plankton communities as a critical aspect of marine biodiversity. In 2017 plankton indicators were first included in UK/EU marine biodiversity policy assessments, which applied a suite of indicators developed in collaboration with policy-makers to capture aspects of plankton diversity, functioning, and productivity. There is now an urgent need to address key questions on what the observed changes in these indicators mean for natural capital and ecosystem services and how the indicators respond to climate change, including extreme events. Answering these questions is critical for providing robust scientific information to support UK/EU biodiversity policy assessments and inform decision-making, which is urgently required by UK Government post-Brexit.

Methodology

Building on the above plankton indicator development, and working directly with Defra, the student will apply statistical modelling approaches to data from the world’s most extensive plankton network to 1) develop policy-relevant plankton indicators for climate change (including ocean acidification); 2) analyse relationships between plankton indicators, determining which are most robust for inclusion in policy assessments; 3) investigate links between plankton indicators and existing foodweb indicators to understand how these relationships change spatio-temporally, and 4) explore what changes in these indicators mean for natural capital and ecosystem services. This work will be in collaboration with policy working groups and Defra to ensure relevance of outputs to UK/EU marine biodiversity policy frameworks.

Training The studentship provides a diverse range of interdisciplinary skills essential for working across the science-policy interface. They will receive training in spatial-temporal analysis of large datasets, statistical techniques, and application of science to policy through participation in UK and international science-policy workshops, expanding the student’s personal network through working with scientists and key policy stakeholders involved in the UK/EU marine biodiversity conservation community.

Person specification We are looking for a numerate (e.g. R) candidate with an interest in conservation/policy and a 1st or high 2:1 degree in marine/environmental science/biology

Key reading:

McQuatters-Gollop, A., Atkinson, A., Aubert, A., Bedford, J., Best, M., Bresnan, E., Cook, K., Devlin, M., Gowen, R., Johns, D.G., Machairopoulou, M., Mellor, A., Ostle, C., Scherer, C. and Tett, P., (2019). Plankton lifeforms as a biodiversity indicator for regional-scale assessment of pelagic habitats for policy Ecological Indicators, 101: 913-925.
Capuzzo, E., Lynam, C.P., Barry, J., Stephens, D., Forster, R.M., Greenwood, N., McQuatters-Gollop, A., Silva, T., Sonja M. van Leeuwen and Engelhard, G.H., (2018). A decline in primary production in the North Sea over 25 years, associated with reductions in zooplankton abundance and fish stock recruitment. Global Change Biology, 24: e352-e364.
Bedford, J., Ostle, C., Johns, D.G., Atkinson, A., Best, M., Bresnan, E., Machairopoulou, M., Graves, C.A., Devlin, M., Milligan, A., Pitois, S., Mellor, A., Tett, P. and McQuatters-Gollop, A., (2020). Lifeform indicators reveal large-scale shifts in plankton across the North-West European shelf. Global Change Biology, 26: 3482-3497.
Beaugrand, G., McQuatters-Gollop, A., Edwards, M. and Goberville, E., (2013). Long-term responses of North Atlantic calcifying plankton to climate change. Nature Climate Change, 3: 263-267.
Rees, S.E., Sheehan, E.V., Stewart, B.D., Clark, R., Appleby, T., Attrill, M.J., Jones, P.J.S., Johnson, D., Bradshaw, N. & Pittman, S., (2020). Emerging themes to support ambitious UK marine biodiversity conservation. Marine Policy 117: 103864-103864 

Further information:

The problem

Human pressures, including climate change, are changing marine ecosystems, impacting their ability to deliver ecosystem services, such as carbon cycling and food provision, with pelagic systems showing the fastest change. In response, the post-Brexit UK Marine Strategy (which incorporates the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive) applies a holistic approach to managing marine biodiversity,including plankton. Recent biodiversity assessments included 3 indicators for plankton, alongside indicators for the wider marine foodweb such as fish, birds and benthic communities. The assessments, however, did not examine integrative links between plankton indicators, or between plankton indicators and other foodweb indicators. Additionally, the assessments identified responses of plankton communities to climate change and ocean acidification as key evidence gaps. Addressing these gaps is crucial for UK Government and will strengthen the evidence base available to inform UK/EU decision-making around marine environmental management. We urgently need this improved understanding and this studentship will form an interdisciplinary solution during this period of rapid environmental change.

Objectives

The student will use existing plankton and foodweb policy indicators[1,2], along with time-series datasets[3], to:1) develop policy-relevant plankton indicators for climate change (including ocean acidification); 2) analyse relationships between plankton indicators, determining which are most robust for inclusion in policy assessments; 3) investigate links between plankton indicators and existing foodweb indicators to understand how these relationships change spatio-temporally, and 4) explore what changes in these indicators mean for natural capital and ecosystem services.

Method

The NW European shelf has the most comprehensive network of plankton time-series globally, and the supervisory team will provide this unparalleled resource. Building on techniques developed during recent biodiversity policy assessments[3-6], the student will develop plankton indicators for aspects of climate change including temperature, pH(ocean acidification), and climatic oscillations[7]. Statistical approaches[e.g.4-6] will analyse indicator change at multiple spatio-temporal scales, evaluate relationships between plankton indicators and other biodiversity indicators(fish, birds, benthic communities–data available through UK/OSPAR Expert Groups)[4-5], and consider links between plankton indicators and natural capital and ecosystem services. This work is critical to underpinning UK Government’s management decisions around marine conservation and sustainability, and will feed directly into the policy process through the student’s placement at Defra, as well as involvement in UK/OSPAR Expert Groups. This engagement will ensure project outcomes are policy-relevant and can effectively support decision-making.

Training

The student will join a vibrant Plymouth marine research and policy group as part of ongoing collaborations between renowned Plymouth marine institutes (UoP/MBA/PML). This provides hands-on experience, supporting the student in developing skills in time-series analysis, spatial analysis, statistical modelling, and foodweb dynamics. Through the supervisory committee, the student will collaborate closely with UK/OSPAR Expert Groups, which will support the student in technical and ecological aspects of indicator development and policy application. The student will also benefit from a three-month placement with Defra, where they will directly experience the policy aspects of biodiversity assessment. The student will be a member of UoP dynamic Marine Institute and Marine Conservation Research Group.

About Abigail McQuatters-Gollop

Marine biologist, guitarist, cat lover, red wine drinker. I like plankton.
This entry was posted in Marine Conservation, PhdShip, Plankton, Policy, students and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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