The impact of changing artificial light spectra on marine visual ecology


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

Online application

Before applying, please ensure you have read the Doctoral College’s general information on applying for a research degree.

For more information on the admissions process please contact

The closing date for applications is 12 noon on 28 May 2021.

Supervisory team: Dr Thomas Davies (University of Plymouth), Dr Louise Firth (University of Plymouth), Dr Tim Smyth (Plymouth Marine Laboratory)

Project description

The colour of artificial lightscapes has changed dramatically over the last decade. White light-emitting diodes (LEDs, forecast to be 80% of global lighting by 2022) are replacing conventional (amber coloured) sodium outdoor lighting technologies around the world. The broad range of wavelengths emitted by white LEDs are a major concern, since they may better enable organisms to perform colour-guided behaviours at night.

Camouflage is a widespread adaptation that enables many intertidal organisms to evade detection by visual predators. Likewise predators have evolved an array of visual systems that will respond differently to alternative lighting spectra. The utility of colour and pattern in shelled molluscs in crypsis, mimicry and aposematism against visual predators such as crabs, fish and birds has been widely demonstrated. Preliminary modelling indicates the conspicuous of different colour polymorphs of Littorinid snail to common intertidal predators at night will be impacted by the shift towards broad spectrum lighting.


The student will use a combination of modelling, lab experimentation and field observation to quantify the impacts of changing artificial light spectra on colour polymorphic intertidal gastropods from prey detection to changes in population structure in the real world. Three objectives will be met:

  • Model the impact of changing light spectra on prey detection by predators.
  • Quantify the impact of changing light spectra on selective predation of prey.
  • Validate model and experimental insights with field observations.

The student will be expected to implement established visual and population dynamic models in the R open source software environment. They will receive training in an interdisciplinary skill set, including hyperspectral light measurement, optics modelling, population dynamic modelling, multivariate statistical analysis, field and laboratory experimentation, advanced GIS, manuscript preparation, peer review and presentation. The student will also receive Home Office Personal Licensee Training (PIL) A,B,C. for conducting experiments on fish in the laboratory.


Applicants should have a first or upper second class honours degree in an appropriate subject and preferably a relevant Masters qualification.

The studentship is supported for three years and includes full tuition fees (whether Home or International) plus a stipend of £15,609 per annum.

If you wish to discuss this project further informally, please contact Dr Thomas Davies,

Please see our How to apply for a research degree page for a list of supporting documents to upload with your application. Additionally, for this studentship, a two-page covering letter stating why you would like to undertake this PhD and evidencing your suitability for the studentship should be included.

The closing date for applications is 12 noon on 28 May 2021. Shortlisted candidates will be invited for interviews in mid-June (dates tbc). We regret that we are not be able to respond to all applications. Applicants who have not received a response within six weeks of the closing date should consider their application has been unsuccessful on this occasion.