Fish nurseries in a changing world: towards functional indicators of habitat quality


To apply please use the online application form. Simply search for PhD Marine Sciences (and select the entry point of October 2023), then clearly state that you are applying for a PhD studentship and name the project at the top of your personal statement.

Online application

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Director of Studies: Dr Benjamin Ciotti
2nd Supervisor: Dr Anna Sturrock (, University of Essex, School of Life Sciences
3rd Supervisor: Dr Emma Sheehan
4th Supervisor: Dr James Stewart (, Devon and Severn Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (IFCA)
Applications are invited for a 3.5 years PhD studentship. The studentship will start on 01 October 2023.
Project description

Scientific background
The identification and conservation of “Essential Fish Habitat” is emerging as a research, management and policy priority. Protecting habitats required for every life-stage is necessary to create sustainable fisheries and conserve threatened species, but knowledge of fish habitat needs is very limited, particularly for juveniles. Juveniles are often critically dependent on shallow, inshore areas which are heavily impacted by human activities. Little is known about these young stages because they are rarely targeted by commercial fisheries or fisheries-independent surveys. 
Currently, juvenile habitat quality is typically assessed simply on the basis of the abundance of fish they contain. Functional indicators such as fish growth, survival and movement into the adult population are often overlooked, but are essential to quantifying the importance of different areas as fish nurseries. 
This PhD project involves 1) laboratory experiments to develop novel molecular and geochemical indices of feeding, growth and movement in free-ranging juvenile fish; and 2) extensive field work in the Severn Estuary to apply these tools in a real-life setting and identify key habitat needs of a commercially valuable species, the common sole Solea solea.
The student will be trained in a range of skills, building on core expertise of the supervisors in molecular growth indices, DNA metabarcoding for diet characterisation, and biogeochemical tracers for trophic and connectivity reconstruction: key techniques relevant not just for fisheries, but broadly across environmental research disciplines. The consultancy ‘Ocean Ecology’ (CASE partner) and the Devon and Severn Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (collaborative partner) offer a unique platform for sampling challenging estuarine environments and experience in applying innovative research to support marine policy and management decisions. 
The PhD is therefore an unrivalled opportunity to develop and apply expertise in a suite of valuable research tools to support effective fisheries and ecosystem management. 
Person specification
Individuals with interests in fisheries and conservation ecology, an aptitude for combining field and laboratory work and a degree in biological, environmental, marine or related science are encouraged to apply.
Funding notes
This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP and will start on 1 October 2023.
Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship for 3.5 years, covering fees, stipend (£17,668 p.a. for 2022-23 rate) and research funding. International applicants (EU and non-EU) are eligible for fully-funded UKRI studentships.
ARIES students benefit from bespoke graduate training and £2,500 for external training, travel and conferences.
ARIES is committed to equality, diversity, widening participation and inclusion. Academic qualifications are considered alongside non-academic experience. Our recruitment process considers potential with the same weighting as past experience.
For information and full eligibility visit
Please clearly state the name of the studentship project code CIOTTI_P23ARIES that you are applying for on your personal statement.
If you wish to discuss this project further informally, please contact Dr Benjamin Ciotti.
Please see our 'how to apply for a research degree' page for a list of supporting documents to upload with your application.
For more information on the admissions process generally, please contact
The closing date for applications is 23:59 (UK Time) 11 January 2023. 


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4 Reis-Santos, P,Gillanders, BM, Sturrock, AM et al. (2022) Reading the biomineralized book oflife: expanding otolith biogeochemical research and applications for fisheriesand ecosystem-based management. Rev Fish Biol Fisheries. 

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