Information for Applicants
Bangor University Projects
CDTS203: The effect of anchoring disturbance on seabed ecosystems
Environmental management aims to achieve desirable ecosystem states and avoid adverse or degraded ones. This makes it vital to understand the effect of all different pressures that may be negatively affecting the ecosystem. Large ships (e.g. container vessels and tankers) frequently anchor in coastal areas for operational reasons, and some bays have a continuous presence of very large commercial vessels year-round. Such vessels can use very heavy anchors (10s of thousands of kg) which dig into the seabed, and very heavy chains, with diameters of over 1m and a weight of several 100s of kgs per m length are not unusual. At anchor, these ships move around on the wind and tide, and when the anchor is retrieved, the anchor and chain will disturb the seabed and impacting the fauna living in and on it. Although the effect of anchoring by yachts on seagrass beds and cruise ships on coral reefs has received some attention, we know virtually nothing about the effect of large commercial vessels on sedimentary seabed ecosystems. These impacts are of concern to organisations like Natural Resources Wales, Natural England and UK Harbour authorities that have to ensure that coastal seabed ecosystems are in a good state.
Aims and objectives
This aim of this PhD is to quantify the impact of anchoring on sedimentary seabed ecosystems on local and regional scales. This requires developing, remotely-sensed, measures of anchoring disturbance using Automatic Identification System data (AIS), and estimating the effect of anchoring disturbance on the biodiversity of the seabed ecosystem from survey data. After this relationship has been established, it can be combined with remotely-sensed maps of anchoring disturbance to make regional predictions of the impact of anchoring on the seabed. These assessments will feed into the assessment of seabed integrity that are needed for the UK Marine Strategy (UKMS) and the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive. The PhD student will therefore integrate the disciplines of marine ecology, remote sensing, big data for applied marine management.
The student will develop methods to estimated anchoring disturbance of the seabed using AIS data. The effect of anchoring on fauna will be estimated using several existing datasets, and the student will also collect new data on boat-based surveys. This understanding will then be used to provide a regional scale assessment of the impact of anchoring on seabed integrity. The student will be trained in these techniques, and will undertake a placement at NRW, who provide evidence-based advice on ecosystem management.
The project will be supervised by Prof Jan Geert Hiddink at Bangor University, Dr Matthew Witt at Exeter University, Dr Adel Heenan at Global Fishing Watch and Mike Camplin at Natural Resources Wales.
CDTS213: SaltNoR – saltmarshes for nitrogen removal: managing and creating saltmasrshes to help the UK achieve nutrient neutrality
Nutrient pollution of the UK’s coasts is a growing environmental and economic issue – detrimentally affecting habitats, wildlife and livelihoods. This project will calculate the full potential of saltmarshes as Nature-based Solutions (NbS) harnessing theory biogeochemical processes to remove excess nitrogen from water, in both existing and newly created saltmarsh ecosystems. Additionally, this project will provide analysis of the policy and legislative opportunities, and barriers, for delivery of coastal restoration projects aiming to reduce nutrient pollution.
There is no doubt that this project will have real-world impact, leading to nutrient neutrality mitigation payment schemes enabling the restoration and creation of internationally important wildlife habitats: saltmarshes
Aims and Objectives
Although it is known that saltmarshes sequester nitrogen through sediment burial and remove it by denitrification, the full extent of these processes have not yet been fully studied. Our project will rectify this by 1) providing evidence grade data of current nitrogen removal rates of saltmarshes 2) calculating maximum removal rates and 3) analysing the potential newly created saltmarshes have for nitrogen removal. The latter will consist of looking at two different creation techniques: traditional management realignment and a novel “drag box” method using dredged material (Figure 1). Finally, a policy framework for the delivery of coastal restoration projects for nitrogen removal will be prepared.
Not only will the successful candidate have access to a range of supporting facilities, equipment and technical advice (including use of, and training in wetland biogeochemistry, saltmarsh ecology, landscape management and habitat creation practises, and policy frameworks), they will be supervised by scientists at Bangor University, UKCEH and WWT with the combined expertise and experience to ensure project delivery. In addition, we will work closely with all of our Associate Partners throughout to ensure the project is informed by, and delivers, relevant evidence grade data and a policy framework suitable for use by policy makers and practitioners.
The project will be supervised by Christian Dunn at Bangor University, Angus Garbutt at the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Olly van Biervliet Principal Research Officer at Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and Tom Godfrey at Land & Water.
The novel “drag box” system which will use dredged material to form new saltmarshes.
CDTS217: Boosting saltmarsh management for fisheries species
Coastal saltmarshes are central to environmental and social resilience, but are threatened by land conversion and climate change. Marshes are thought important to fisheries species, yet there is an absence of research from Europe, including fundamental knowledge on biodiversity, abundances and the governance systems that protect marshes for fish. Marshes are a priority habitat for restoration, but restoration is expensive and data is needed to demonstrate their ecosystem-service values, including for fisheries. You will sample saltmarsh fish across the UK to understand the importance of marshes and establish the causes for variation in biodiversity and abundances, including between natural and restored sites. You will couple environmental research to socio-environmental work, to establish which players and governance systems have a stake in marsh management. Your work will culminate with dynamic workshops, to identify the best ways to managing marshes for fisheries species. Join us to boost the environmental management of a critical coastal ecosystem.
Aims and Objectives
This PhD will address critical questions to managing saltmarshes for fisheries species, using environmental and social science techniques. You will sample marshes to ask: Is there a north-south gradient in the importance of British marshes to fish and prawns, and what are the causes? Can restoration replicate the biodiversity and abundances seen at natural sites, and which marsh features boost habitat quality? How important are marshes to fish? Saltmarsh conservation targets will not be achieved without understanding the governance system. We expect marsh-fish relations to be under-represented in governance. Are we right? We believe the route to boosting marsh management for fisheries species is through identifying opportunities for future saltmarsh management. You will use workshops with marsh managers and stakeholders to identify that route to boosting marsh management.
You will receive environmental and social science training to strengthen your capacity for solving multidisciplinary challenges to environmental management. We will train you in saltmarsh field and laboratory approaches, taxonomy, and RNA/DNA analyses. You will gain skills in GIS mapping and digital elevation modelling to establish marsh landscape shapes. You will be taught sociological approaches, such as semi-structured interviews to surveying stakeholder insights and governance structures. You will learn how to distil your findings into governance recommendations for the stakeholder community. Training will include placement with the Wildfowl and Wetlands trust.
The project has four chapters: (a) Governance and stakeholder mapping, (b) UK-wide sampling of saltmarshes, (c) Lab-based assessment of marsh nursery importance and (c) Assessing barriers to managing marshes for fisheries speciesThe project will be supervised by Dr Martin Skov (lead) is a marine ecologist with Bangor University and an expert on coastal wetlands. Dr Océane Marcone is a social scientist with Plymouth Marine Laboratory. Dr Hannah Robson is a wetland fish biologist, who will teach management perspectives and host you at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust. Ben Ciotti is a fish biologist at the University of Plymouth, who will supervise the RNA/DNA analyses.
CDTS219: Can trait-based approaches inform habitat mapping and ecosystem function, process and services in benthic communities
The project combines benthic ecology, functional ecology, social science and economics in the development of sustainable evidence-based tools for policy makers managing sustainable marine resources. This PhD seeks to answer whether functional trait-based approaches can yield ecologically sound indicators to assess benthic ecosystem function impacts from offshore wind installation and inform marine natural capital and services. The development of offshore renewable energy installations leads to an increasing number of man-made structures in the marine environment. Sensitivity of benthic communities to OWF impacts have been shown to be higher than previously thought, highlighting the need for increased understanding of changes in ecological functioning and cascade effects. The project is transdisciplinary, spanning natural science, social science and economics, and the candidate will ideally have experience or a strong interest in each of these disciplines.
Aims and Objectives
The overarching approach will be to define and quantify the following benthic relationships:
OWF —> Functional Traits —> Ecosystem Process —> Ecosystem Services & Benefits and will address the following questions: Firstly, can applying trait analyses to existing OWF benthic community datasets reveal functional community changes between pre, post & operational construction phases. Secondly, can these changes be linked to changes in ecosystem process provision and lastly, can modelling of functional change inform ecosystem services and natural capital assessments. Linking these functions to ecosystem service delivery, and understanding how these linkages change under different biodiversity regimes and at different scales is of key importance. Developing an understanding of the mechanisms supporting these linkages is an underdeveloped but much needed area of research.
The student will be trained in benthic community data and trait-based approaches and analyses gaining analytical skills in R. The project will undertake several placements with collaborating organisations who provide evidence-based advice on ecosystem management, to focus thesis and research outputs.
The project is structured around several thesis outputs (3 data chapters, 1 review chapter and 1 synthesis chapter), culminating in several peer-reviewed articles.
The project will primarily be supervised by Dr Craig Robertson (Bangor University, lead supervisor), and Dr Stephen Watson (Plymouth Marine Laboratory, second supervisor) and Dr Philip Turner (The Crown Estate, co-supervisor), with support from Profs Jan Hiddink and Nicola Beaumont.
Heriot-Watt University Projects
CDTS201: Evaluating environmental and economic implications of management measures for the UK scallop fishery
The scallop sector is one of the highest value commercial fisheries in the UK and supports a productive catch sector and processor businesses. Despite their economic relevance, the UK scallop fisheries lack robust management regimes to regulate effort and landings and minimize impacts on target and non-target species. The UK’s withdrawal from the EU represents an opportunity to prioritise and re-structure future UK fisheries management.
Aims and objectives
The proposed project will generate an evidence-base on the environmental, social and economic consequences of different harvest strategies and management measures for the UK scallop fishery.
The project is multidisciplinary and cuts across the disciplines of biology and ecology, sociology and economics. The candidate will have the opportunity to learn and develop numerical skills and engage with members of the scallop dredging industry to determine the drivers (social, environmental and economic) of fishers’ spatial behaviour and their preference of management measures for scallop stocks. During this project the candidate will benefit from working with fisheries science authorities (CEFAS, MSS) advising UK government on scallop fisheries management in the UK. Ultimately, the knowledge gained through this PhD will help inform future fisheries management decisions to improve the management of scallop stocks.
Year 1 – 2
- Develop understanding of the scallop stocks in different study areas around the UK
- Determine the drivers (social, environmental and economic) of fishers’ behaviour that influence fishers’ choices of where, when and why they fish where they do and determine their preference for management measures of scallop stocks
Year 3 – 4
- Carry out environmental and economic evaluations of a range of management scenarios identified during earlier work in this PhD proje
- Make recommendations on management measures to improve the management of scallop fisheries currently being developed under Fisheries Management Plans (FMPs)
The project will be supervised by Dr Marija Sciberras from Heriot-Watt University, Dr Lynda Rodwell from the University of Plymouth and Dr Gwladys Lambert from CEFAS who bring expertise in ecological impacts of benthic fisheries, numerical and economic modelling. The candidate will receive further support from Dr Michael Bell and Dr Karen Alexander from Heriot-Watt University on biological and sociological aspects of the project.
Commercial UK scallop fishery
CDTS211: Mobilising cultural heritage in UK marine fisheries
Lead Supervisor: Ian Baxter (email@example.com)
2nd Supervisor: Ruth Thurstan (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Associate Partner: Historic England (https://historicengland.org.uk/research/current/discover-and-understand/coastal-and-marine/)
Maritime cultural heritage is embedded in the practice of small-scale fishing: traditional ecological knowledge, maritime landscapes, historic landing places, traditional vessels, and all their associated skills and material culture. The fishing sector is going through transitions post-Brexit on top of environmental, generational and technological changes that are likely to further diminish the tangible and intangible heritage of fishing. How can we use this cultural legacy to drive greater sustainability within fisheries management before it is too late?
Aims and objectives
The research questions the project will address include:
- Investigation of the historical and cultural practices and knowledge that continue to exist and be associated with UK fishing communities, as well as practices that no longer take place, but which exist in memory, through associated activities, and embodied in historic artefacts, buildings and landscapes. Approaches will also explore why and how evidence of fishing practices have changed (or remained the same) over time.
- Assessment of the benefits that were or are gained from these practices at the individual and community levels, including economic, cultural, built environment and provisioning benefits.
- Exploration of the values and narratives associated with continuing traditions and/or heritage practices within fishing communities, and to what extent these differ across communities.
This project is impact-oriented and is co-developed with Historic England as a CASE partner. To ensure that the work and outputs are in close alignment with Historic England’s (and other partner) needs, the student will work closely with Dr Antony Firth of Historic England as a co-supervisor on the project. The PhD candidate will initially train in cross-disciplinary approaches (exact training will depend upon their background and existing skill set), including conducting an internship (in person or online) with Historic England to understand the CASE partner’s perspectives, data needs, to generate fishing community contacts and identify existing archival or material sources known to Historic England. Training will also be undertaken as part of the CDT SuMMeR cohort, including access to relevant allied training via Heriot-Watt University (School of Social Science and Lyell Centre) and University of Exeter (Centre for Ecology & Conservation and ExeterMarine) research and doctoral training networks.
The initial stage of the project will refine the focus of the research, undertake literature review work and pilot case study fieldwork, as well as beginning to create a network of engagement partners. This will be followed by a period of fieldwork in a small number of case study locations. These will inform not only a final thesis submission but also practical / impact-focussed outputs of use for Historic England and partner organisations and stakeholders to support fishing heritage and historic environment connectivity and opportunities.
The project will be supervised by Dr Antony Firth (Head of Coastal & Marine Strategy, Historic England), Dr Ruth Thurstan (Senior Lecturer in Marine Social-Ecological Systems, University of Exeter) and Professor Ian Baxter (Professor of Historic Environment Management, Heriot-Watt University) (Lead Supervisor).
Marine Biological Association Projects
CDTS208: Quantifying ecological impacts and changes to ecosystem services as a result of seaweed aquaculture
Cultivation of microalgae and macroalgae (i.e. seaweeds) currently contributes about 20% of total global aquaculture biomass and is rising rapidly at 8% per year. Seaweed products are used by a range of industries including pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, agriculture and human food. Seaweed farming in the UK, as elsewhere, has increased in recent years, although still in its infancy. Two major limitations to continued expansion relate to a lack of information on the local impacts of cultivation, and an assessment of the socioeconomic and ecological benefits of seaweed farming.
This project will operate at the interface between fundamental ecology and applied research within a commercial environment, with significant input from non-academic partners. Specifically, the project will examine whether seaweed farms promote local biodiversity, attract and support commercially-important fisheries species, and contribute to local carbon uptake and sequestration. The work will also examine the social/economic benefits and challenges of seaweed farming and translate the findings to facilitate policy and decision making.
Aims and objectives
The overarching aim of the project is to quantify the ecological impact and changes to ecosystem services as a result of a seaweed farm. This overarching aim will be met by addressing the following, targeted questions:
1. How does seaweed farming influence local biodiversity and habitat structure?
2. Do seaweed farms provide favourable habitat for fisheries species?
3. Does seaweed farming contribute to local carbon sequestration?
4. What are the social and economic impacts (positive and negative) of a seaweed farm?
5. What is the potential for seaweed farming to contribute to (and leverage from) contribution to UK economic, biodiversity and climate targets?
Q1-3 will require primary data collection at two farm sites in Cornwall (UK), using a range of approaches including benthic surveys, video/potting techniques and sediment coring. Q4-5 will involve synthesising data collected during the project along with existing evidence from the literature and information garnered from a range of stakeholders. Together, this will provide a robust evaluation of the stacked ecosystem service benefits of seaweed farming.
In addition to opportunities through the CDT, the successful candidate will receive training in taxonomy, sampling techniques, sediment biogeochemistry and statistical approaches. There will be opportunities to engage with industry and government agencies through the network of partners.
Following an initial period of training, information gathering and planning, targeted surveys will be conducted during seaweed growing seasons at two farm sites, over two years. Fieldwork will be interspersed with periods of sample processing and analysis, data exploration, and synthesis of existing information on socioeconomic impacts of seaweed farming. It is anticipated that the project will lead to several high quality scientific outputs as well as the development of tools to assist with decision-making, thereby having ‘real world’ impact.The project will be supervised by Dr Dan Smale (MBA), Dr Siân Rees (UoP), Dr Emma Sheehan (UoP) and Dr Ross Brown (Exeter), with significant input from project partners at The Crown Estate, the MMO, Cornish Seaweed Company and Biome Algae.
Plymouth Marine Laboratory Projects
CDTS205: Testing the potential of seaweeds and seagrasses to improve water quality
2nd Supervisor: Michiel Vos (email@example.com)
Associate Partner: Marine Conservation Society (www.mcsuk.org)
The U.N. Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets on Health (Goal 3), Water quality (Goal 6), and Life under water (Goal 14) are all relevant to the study of waterborne pathogens such as Vibriosand E. coli. Understanding the factors that determine the distribution, survival and growth of these pathogens is particularly important for SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation), which has the aim to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”.
In this PhD, you will undertake pioneering transdisciplinary research to explore waterborne pathogens in coastal waters, specifically in relation to the presence of seaweeds and seagrasses. You will use field and lab experiments to investigate the mechanisms driving positive or negative associations between pathogenic microbes and seaweeds and seagrasses and explore nature-based solutions to mitigate the problem of poor water quality. You will use-satellite-based tools to map pathogen risk in the presence and absence of seaweed and seagrass habitats.
Aims and objectives (What research questions the project will address)
In this PhD you will address the following questions:
- What is the extent of association of pathogenic microbes with seaweeds and seagrasses and the surrounding water in Marine Protected Areas?
- Can seaweeds and seagrasses be used as nature-based solutions to remove microbiological contamination and improve water quality?
- How can we use the data obtained from research question 1 and 2 to develop risk-based satellite maps?
You will work with an interdisciplinary supervisory team, comprising marine chemical ecologists, microbiologists and remote-sensing scientists, alongside associate partners at the Marine Conservation Society and Environment Agency. This PhD will provide a future research leader with an exciting, dynamic, and challenging transdisciplinary project. You will have access to excellent training opportunities in a wide range of employable skills (e.g., writing, communication, time management) and scientific practice (e.g., transdisciplinary working, experimental design, data management, computer programming, statistics).
The project will primarily be based at PML (Plymouth), with some time to be spend at University of Exeter, MCS and EA.
The project will be supervised by Drs Mahasweta Saha (PML), Michiel Vos (UoExeter), Gemma Kulk (PML), Shubha Sathyendranath (PML), Laura Foster (Marine Conservation Society) and Jonathan Porter (Environment Agency).
CDTS205: Testing the potential of seaweeds and seagrasses to improve water quality
CDTS210: Current and future ecosystem services provided by sandeels in the Celtic Seas
Lead Supervisor: Dr Samantha Garrard (firstname.lastname@example.org)
2ndSupervisors: Dr Benjamin Ciotti (email@example.com) and Professor Nicola Beaumont (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Associate Partners: Joanne Bayes and Dr Jacob Bentley (Natural England)
Background: This is an exciting opportunity to take part in a transdisciplinary PhD which will provide the post-holder with a wide range of skills to enable them to become an innovative, solution-driven researcher or practitioner, working at the science-policy interface. The project will cross the boundaries of natural, social and economic science to build on previous work and provide a holistic assessment of the provision of sandeel ecosystem services in Celtic Seas.
Sandeels (Ammodytidae) are a key genus of forage fish within the Celtic Seas, and the UK as a whole. They provide a vital trophic link between zooplankton and higher predators including several commercial fish species, seabirds, seals, and cetaceans. There is some evidence that predation on sandeels is linked to greater body condition in predatory fish. They provide multiple environmental and societal benefits, and understanding these will help communicate the potential impact of appropriate management and protection of their populations and habitat.
Aims and Objectives
The project will build on a previous North Sea Assessment, reducing model uncertainty and incorporating 1) fishing pressure, 2) climate change, 3) MPAs, and 4) plastic pollution into the natural capital assessment. The project will focus on four main objectives:
1) To review the ecosystem services provided by sandeels in the Celtic Seas;
2) To assess how those services will be impacted by future climate change/ plastic pollution scenarios.
3) To determine the contribution and nutritional importance of sandals to the diet of key commercial fish species;
4) To produce a natural capital account for sandeels in the Celtic Seas.
This work will provide a case study for the ICES Workshop on Assessing Capacity to Supply Ecosystem Services, ensuring dissemination at the science-policy interface.
The successful candidate would be expected to have basic laboratory skills, knowledge of marine biology/ ecology, and a passion for the sustainable management of marine resources.
The post-holder will be primarily based at Plymouth Marine Laboratory where they will join a growing cohort of PhD students, and will learn valuable academic, policy and consultancy career skills (e.g. transferable writing and presentation skills, good laboratory practice, time management). They will be trained in ecosystem service assessments by Dr Samantha Garrard and Professor Nicola Beaumont (Plymouth Marine Laboratory), develop skills in fisheries research and DNA metabarcoding with Dr Benjamin Ciotti (University of Plymouth), and skills in natural capital accounting and ecosystem modelling with Jo Bayes and Jacob Bentley (Natural England). The post-holder will also benefit from attending training in the Ecopath with Ecosim food web modelling suite, provided by Natural England at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) London office: Nobel House, and attending ICES working group meetings.
Current and future ecosystem services provided by sandeels in the Celtic Seas
University of Exeter Projects
CDTS204: Predicting regional vulnerability of threatened seabirds to offshore wind energy developments
Rapid expansion of offshore wind energy developments is necessary to tackle the climate crisis and to meet net zero targets. However, wind turbines may also have a negative impact on biodiversity, including species that are already struggling, such as seabirds. One favoured compensation option for balancing increased adult mortality is enhancing juvenile recruitment through the construction of artificial nesting structures. This studentship will characterise seabird nesting and foraging niches to inform the placement of offshore wind farms and artificial nesting structures and ensure long-term species protection under climate change. This multidisciplinary project will use animal tracking to characterise nesting and foraging habitat, as well as projection modelling to link current and future seabird nesting and foraging with the placement of offshore wind farms and artificial nesting structures. This project will improve methods used to understand the ecological consequences of offshore wind and mitigate impact.
Aims and objectives
The project aims to characterise the year-round ecological niche of kittiwakes throughout the North Atlantic; identify suitable areas for offshore wind farm licensing and construction of offshore and onshore artificial nesting structures to maximise species protection; and assess the impact of windfarms and artificial nesting structures on long-term species resilience under climate change.
The student will receive training in the analysis of animal movement data, ecological niche modelling, ocean and climate projection modelling, impact assessment analysis, and marine spatial planning approaches.
The project will be desk based, making use of existing datasets. It will suit a student keen to develop several different strands of analytical skillsets and expertise. The studentship will be based at the University of Exeter’s Cornwall Campus in Penryn and supervised by Dr Richard Sherley (University of Exeter), Prof. Simon Neill (Bangor University), Dr Catherine Horswill (Zoological Society of London), Sion Roberts (The Crown Estate), Dr Alice Trevail (University of Exeter), and Prof. Stuart Bearhop (University of Exeter)
CDTS207: Marine mammal bycatch in southwest England: Taking a holistic approach to assess causes, impacts and evidence based-solutions
2nd Supervisor: David Woolf (email@example.com)
Associate Partner: Cornwall Wildlife Trust (www.cornwallwildlifetrust.org.uk)
Accidental entrapment of marine mammals in commercial fisheries, bycatch, is the greatest direct cause of marine mammal injury and death around the world and understanding its drivers is key to the development of successful mitigation measures. Using a transdisciplinary approach, this project aims to develop a method to understand which fisheries pose the greatest risk to marine mammals in southwest waters, and in parallel co-develop with fishers potential measures which could be implemented to reduce the threat. The waters off the Southwest of England and Wales coasts, particularly Cornwall, have been identified as a hotspot for marine mammal bycatch, yet there is currently limited information on the main drivers and information, such as spatial overlap between species distributions and fisheries, and the types of gear used are essential for informing policies aimed at managing the threat.
Aims and objectives
This project would take an interdisciplinary approach to informing our understanding of extent and causes of marine mammal bycatch in southwest waters by i) determining whether additional forensic evidence of bycatch could be gathered during investigation of strandings to help improve data collection and diagnoses, ii) developing methods for identifying potential factors that may influence spatio-temporal patterns of bycatch-related strandings and iii) developing policy options to support design improvement and potential solutions where gaps exist.
This PhD will provide a future research leader with an exciting, dynamic and challenging project in which they will learn advanced scientific skills in experimental design, data management, statistics and translating research into practice. The supervisory team and the Centre for Doctoral Training in Sustainable Management of UK Marine Resources (CDT SuMMeR) will provide a holistic training platform, providing excellent interdisciplinary training opportunities in a wide range of employable skills (e.g. statistics, writing, communication), and the student will have full access to the outstanding training opportunities offered through the Exeter Graduate School ‘Effective Researcher Development Programme’. The student will have access to world-class research facilities and the supervisory team are committed to providing the student with a comprehensive training experience, encouraging publication of their work in high-quality journals and research dissemination via international conferences and outreach activities.
The student will also have the opportunity to observe post-mortem examinations of stranded marine animals through the work of CSIP. This will allow them to gain an in-depth understanding of the biology, physiology and threats that vulnerable marine species face in UK waters, as well as the pathological process which post-mortem examinations and associated sampling involve. This will not only facilitate knowledge exchange, it will also offer the student the chance to build their research network. It is important to note that these activities will be carried out even when the student is forging ahead with other workstreams and training. The student will receive key skills training, and will be embedded in the SMMR CDT, the UoE and PML community, and benefit from collaboration with the associated partners.
In order to ensure co-creation of the project with the partners, the student will be supported in developing the project structure in the early stages.
The project will be supervised by Dr Sarah Nelms and Professor Brendan Godley at the University of Exeter, Dr David Woolf at Heriot-Watt University, Professor Nicola Beaumont and Dr James Clark at Plymouth Marine Laboratory, Ruth Williams at Cornwall Wildlife Trust, Rob Deaville and James Barnett at the Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP) at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).
CDTS209: Fisheries governance in an inclusive and sustainable blue economy
Lead Supervisor: Louisa Evans (firstname.lastname@example.org)
2nd Supervisor: Mel Austen (email@example.com)
Associate Partner: DEFRA (https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-for-environment-food-rural-affairs) and Marine Management Organisation (https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/marine-management-organisation)
The blue economy is expected to double in value to USD 3 trillion by 2030, globally. Rapid expansion of diverse sectors (aquaculture, coastal tourism, shipping, mining and offshore renewables) can displace or dispossess ‘traditional’ maritime sectors of the ocean resources they depend upon. In particular, (small-scale) fisheries are “subtly and overtly squeezed for geographic, political and economic space” with important implications for governance processes (e.g., trust, participation and compliance) and outcomes (livelihoods, food security and sustainable management of resources). In the UK, there is strong growth predicted in offshore renewables and aquaculture sectors alongside expanding conservation and protection of marine space through, for example, Marine Conservation Zones and Highly Protected Marine Areas all of which is escalating tensions within fisheries and marine governance. This doctoral research responds to a desire by fisheries and marine managers and policy-makers in the UK to re-set relationships with fisheries stakeholders and, in turn, improve levels of engagement and collaboration in policy development and implementation, particularly as impetus on nature recovery and net zero strengthens.
Aims and objectives
The aim of this research is to understand fishers’ and industry experiences of and responses to ‘spatial squeeze’ and potential displacement within the UK’s blue economy, and to identify opportunities for trust-building and improved collaboration in fisheries and marine governance. The research is guided by four objectives, to:
1. Create an evidence map of existing initiatives to document spatial squeeze of fisheries and its social, cultural, economic and ecological impacts in the UK.
2. Collect primary data on the social impacts and everyday experiences of spatial squeeze, including its implications for trust in marine governance processes at multiple levels.
3. Identify and analyse the governance processes and stakeholder strategies which mediate conflict and build trust.
4. Co-create a road-map to re-build and strengthen trust and collaboration in fisheries and marine governance.
In addition to core interdisciplinary training the post-graduate researcher will undertake advanced training in evidence synthesis and mapping and creative approaches such as transformative scenario planning (see work by Adam Kahane).
Year 1: Review academic literature and UK policy documents, refining research design, and begin systematic evidence mapping to identify how spatial squeeze is currently being documented and evaluated in the UK.
Year 2: Secondments with DEFRA and MMO to understand existing policy challenges. Mixed-methods research using surveys and interviews in two multi-level case studies (Marine Spatial Prioritisation and Fisheries Management Planning) to evaluate: the social impacts and everyday experiences of spatial squeeze; levels of trust among stakeholders, and; the strategies and processes that can mediate conflict and build trust.
Year 3 and 4: Experiment with future-looking participatory and creative approaches to co-create a road-map towards more trusting collaboration in UK fisheries and marine governance. Write up and submit PhD thesis. Develop a publication strategy.
The project will be supervised by Dr Louisa Evans (University of Exeter), Professor Mel Austen (University of Plymouth), Dr Edward Hind-Ozan (DEFRA), Dr Aisling Lannin (MMO).
CDTS215: Developing a novel system to monitor the status of coastal ecosystems in South West England using a complementary approach: from remote sensing to marine top predators
2nd Supervisor: Lauren Biermann (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Associate Partner: Cornwall Wildlife Trust (www.cornwallwildlifetrust.org.uk)
Marine top predators have long been proposed to have the potential to serve as ‘sentinel species’ yet most of our efforts to gather ecosystem-level information from marine top predators remain limited to linking variability in individual success and mortality rates to shifts in the ecosystem productivity regime. This is likely due to the limited understanding that we have of the role of marine top predators in marine biogeochemical cycles, transfer of biomass, patterns of biological productivity, and nutrient fluxes. We propose to develop an ecological monitoring system of the coastal marine ecosystem in South West England by combining approaches: bottom-up (remote sensing) and top-down (biogeochemical markers in marine top predators). By combining these two perspectives of ecosystem monitoring, we will gain a better understanding of how changes at the base of the ecosystem are dispersed through the trophic web until they reach top predators. We will be able to determine the sources and pathways of carbon that support the populations of pelagic fish and marine predators (trophic fluxes), allowing us to empirically link a particular perturbation in the area with the components of the ecosystem that might be affected (e.g.: the effects of temperature anomalies or Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) on fish stocks and marine predators).
Because we are aiming at obtaining a better ecological understanding of mid-trophic species by using this combined monitoring approach, this project will have a direct effect on ecosystem and fisheries management, improving our ability to make better decisions about fishing stocks and other human economic activities in the area that depend on the marine ecosystem.
Aims and Objectives
This research project aims to:
1) To develop a complementary ecological monitoring system that incorporates information at the base and top of the trophic web
2) To evaluate the use of top predator’s tissue samples to document variation at the base of the trophic web
3) To contrast and validate the changes detected in marine predators with information on the base of trophic web obtained from remote sensing.
We are looking for a student with a background in marine or terrestrial ecology, ecological modelling, and/or oceanography. The successful candidate ideally will have excellent quantitative and analytical skills and will demonstrate a strong interest in foraging ecology, trophic webs, bottom-up / top-down controls and oceanography. Expertise in programming in R, Matlab, and/or Python and statistical analyses is indispensable. Experience working with stable isotopes and satellite data.
The student will gain a unique set of professional skills, including The student will have the opportunity to develop their own ideas and questions and take true ownership of the project
By using a multidisciplinary approach that combines ecosystem-wide remote sensed data with biogeochemical tracers (Compound-Specific Stable Isotope Analysis of amino acids, CSIA-AA) from marine top predators, we will be able to identify changes in the coastal marine ecosystem such as shifts in the composition of the community of primary producers. This study will take advantage of the excellent collection of top predator tissues archived by the Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP) and the Cornwall Wildlife Trust’s Marine Strandings Network in Southwest England to run CSIA-AA from local marine top predators (pinnipeds and cetaceans) over the last decade to investigate changes in the community of primary producers. The second part of this PhD project will be to analyse a range of remote sensing products that correspond to time periods when tissue samples were collected. Finally, the PhD student will be able to contrast and validate the changes detected in marine predators with information on the base of trophic web, consolidating a comprehensive environmental monitoring system that uses both information on the physical and biological drivers as well as the integrated information at the top of the trophic web, allowing us to get a better understanding of the structure and dynamics of the coastal ecosystem
The project will be supervised by Dr Luis Huckstadt at University of Exeter alongside Dr Lauren Biermann at Plymouth Marine Laboratory and Ruth Williams, Marine Conservation Manager at Cornwall Wildlife Trust. Stuart Bearhop at University of Exeter and Rob Deaville from the Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP) at the Zoological Society of London will also offer supervision.
University of Plymouth Projects
CDTS206: Combining local fisheries knowledge with novel ecological survey methods to identify and understand critical elasmobranch habitats and their threats
Lead Supervisor: Emma Sheehan (email@example.com)
2nd Supervisor: Rachel turner (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Associate Partner: Natural England (https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/natural-england)
Elasmobranchs (sharks, skates and rays) are an iconic groups of species, however, overfishing and poor management has driven around 40% of NE Atlantic species to be threatened with extinction. MPAs represent an effective conservation strategy, however, to be successful, they must be designed to encompass critical elasmobranch habitats (e.g. hotspots, nursery-grounds). A key step towards this is advancing our understanding of critical elasmobranch habitats and underlying environmental drivers. This project will integrate novel, cutting-edge elasmobranch field survey techniques (drifting baited cameras) with social science (e.g. semi-structured interviews) to identify critical elasmobranch habitats and threat overlap.
Aims and objectives
Aim: Combine Local Fisheries Knowledge with data collected from novel survey methods to identify and understand critical elasmobranch habitats and threats.
O1. Summarise local knowledge from marine resource stakeholders about critical elasmobranch habitat-use and threat overlap within south-west UK.
O2. Test and optimise pelagic BRUVs in known pelagic shark hotspots.
O3. Use findings from O1 to identify and survey priority sites with BRUVs, acoustic telemetry and oceanographic instruments to determine elasmobranch relative abundance, distribution and underlying drivers.
O4. Combine information from O1-O3 to compare historic and present-day populations and review the risks, benefits, opportunities for monitoring, and mitigation strategies in the south-west.
O5. Conduct an industry solution focused field experiment to determine the effectiveness of e.g. a bycatch deterrent (identified through O4).
The candidate will be trained in: semi-structured interviews, participatory mapping, BRUV (pelagic and benthic), ROV, acoustic telemetry and oceanographic surveys and will gain their personal home office tagging licence. The successful candidate will have access to state-of-the-art facilities and technical support at the University of Plymouth and will receive training in a variety of geostatistical models in the R statistical suite to model animal movement and abundance data with oceanographic variables. Crucially, the candidate will learn on placement with Natural England’s senior marine advisors about translating socio-ecological and oceanographic data into impactful management and policy.
The candidate will be based at the University of Plymouth within a lively marine research focused environment with direct access to research vessels, laboratories and field-survey equipment. The city is centrally placed in the south-west with easy access to a number of fishing ports across Dorset, Devon and Cornwall. The PhD data collection activities will be split between working at sea off fishing boats, and travelling to meet stakeholders around the south-west. The Natural England partner is based in Exeter which is only a short commute away where the student will be based for a 3 month placement during their PhD.
The project will be supervised by Dr Emma Sheehan, Associate Professor of Marine Ecology (University of Plymouth, lead supervisor), Dr Rachel Turner, Senior Lecturer in Environmental Social Science (University of Exeter), Dr Alec Moore, Fisheries Ecologist (Bangor University), Dr Ben Ciotti, Fisheries Ecologist (UoP), Dr Philip Hosegood, Associate Professor in Physical Oceanography (UoP), with Associate Partners Natural England.
CDTS212: Linking organism traits to ecosystem service mapping to inform natural capital-based management approaches to the offshore marine environment
Increasing human use of the marine environment and competition for space from industries such as fishing, aquaculture, marine renewables, mining, oil and gas extraction and cable laying, have led to significant challenges of habitat loss and degradation. These challenges are compounded by the effects of climate change, including ocean acidification, warming, and deoxygenation, on marine species. The loss of species and habitats can lead to changes in, or loss of, ecosystem function and ultimately impact the services provided by the ecosystem.
These ecosystem services are critical to supporting human health and well-being and thus should be, but are not yet, considered in marine environmental management fora. One of the challenges is that our understanding about the links between biodiversity and individual ecosystem services remains incomplete. Research in the terrestrial environment has found that the responses of biodiversity to drivers of change and the effects of biodiversity on ecosystem services may be explained by functional traits. Functional traits can determine an organism's response to pressures and their effects on ecosystem function and services. The aim of this studentship is to conduct research that draws together traits-based information, with habitat mapping approaches, and management scenario modelling, to inform development of natural capital approaches to non-coastal marine environmental management.
Aims and Objectives
In this project the student will conduct research to answer the following four questions:
- What benthic marine organism traits are linked to ecosystem services and organism responses to human induced pressures?
- Which benthic assemblages (biotopes) contribute most to functional diversity and ecosystem services, and what are their respective vulnerabilities to human induced pressures.
- How is functional diversity, ecosystem services and species vulnerability spatially distributed throughout UK offshore waters?
- How do UK offshore benthic ecosystems respond to management decisions and what are the societal implications in terms of risk to ecosystem services?
This project brings together expertise in marine biology, habitat mapping and modelling, marine ecosystem management, and social sciences to investigate ways to implement natural capital-based approaches to managing offshore marine ecosystems. The student will receive training in systematic review, hierarchical modelling of species communities, GIS and R.
The student, while based at the University of Plymouth, will have the opportunity to spend time at Bangor University and undertake a 6 week placement with JNCC, gaining real world experience in marine environmental management. The project is structured around the four questions (intended as thesis data chapters), with different members of the supervisory team supporting different aspects of the PhD.
The project will be supervised by Kerry Howell (UoP, primary supervisor), supported by Craig Robertson (Bangor University), Sian Rees (UoP), Heidi Tillin (MBA) and Louise Anderson (JNCC).
CDTS221: Wholescape systems thinking: water quality effects on coastal habitat condition and services across the land-sea interface
Transitional and coastal waters support a suite of ecosystem services that provide benefits and are increasingly being developed and exploited. Some efforts to restore ecosystems that provide services, such as seagrass, saltmarsh, and oyster reefs are having limited or variable success. Yet in other places, similar habitat creating species, such as intertidal seagrass, are thriving - seemingly without any intervention. The varying factor that links these successes and failures may be upstream water quality. Identifying opportunities to deploy nature-based solutions to tackle issues such as water quality and pollution regulation, net zero, net biodiversity gain and coastal resilience requires an understanding of connectivity between land and seascapes (the ‘wholescape’) in order to maximise the potential environmental and social benefits. You will work with a transdisciplinary team to develop the evidence for land-sea connectivity and the effects on coastal habitats and ecosystems. Outputs from this PhD will inform cross-business discussion at The Crown Estate (and elsewhere) on nutrient neutrality and opportunities that may exist to deliver nature-based solutions.
Aims and Objectives
You will make a significant contribution to an emerging global theme in science by developing a conceptual framework that enables wholescape systems thinking approaches to land and sea management. You will analyse empirical and model data on freshwater nutrients and flows to track catchment to coast nutrient loads and identify connections between land and sea. How variation in nutrient concentrations impact the quality and functions of coastal habitats is of increasing concern. You will evaluate the implications for potential nature-based solutions to help improve water quality and provide other ecosystem benefits. It is important that outputs from this PhD are action focused. You will work with The Crown Estate to test the conceptual framework and outputs from your research through a wholescape business assessment that will feed into ongoing discussions on emerging policies and markets.
The PhD will be largely desk based and has six chapters: (a) a literature review and development of the wholescape framework (b) analysis of water quality flows between land-sea (c) systematic review of links between nutrient loads, flows of ecosystem services, and nature-based solutions (d) assessment of ecological responses to elevated nutrient concentrations (e) business assessment (f) discussion.
The PhD will take both national and catchment based approaches. The latter will focus on data-rich case study sites such as the Solent and Tamar estuaries, the North Devon Biosphere Reserve, and Lyme Bay.
You will receive training to strengthen your capacity for solving transdisciplinary challenges to environmental management. We will train you in coastal ecology, freshwater flows and quality, natural capital approaches, systematic reviews and business assessments. You will work with leading researchers in each of these fields including internships with UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and The Crown Estate and to develop your skills and abilities in freshwater hydrology and the applications of your research to business.
The project will be supervised by:
Mel Austen (lead) is a professor of Ocean and Society working across multiple marine sectors at the University of Plymouth; Jo Preston is a marine biologist, founder the UK/Ireland Native Oyster Network at University of Portsmouth; Angus Garbutt is a coastal ecologist with UKCEH and chair of the UK Saltmarsh Specialists Forum; Toby Marthews is a code developer and hydrologist at UKCEH; and Phillip Turner is a Policy Development Manager working across the marine sectoral interests of The Crown Estate.