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A call to ARMS: Monitoring polar biodiversity

Polar Science for Planet Earth

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Prof M Clark , Dr B Wigham No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

This project aims to describe marine benthic encrusting biodiversity in the polar and cold temperate regions and understand how such biodiversity has changed over time using ARMS (Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structures), related settlement panel technologies and eDNA.

This PhD project will involve analysis of polar ARMS collected from Rothera research base, Antarctica, Disko Bay, Greenland and Ny Alesund, Svalbard. The data from Antarctica will be compared to similar settlement panel data collected 20 years ago from the same site (Bowden et al., 2006) to identify how this encrusting community has changed over time in Antarctica.

These polar data will also be compared with deployments made near the Dove Marine Laboratory, Newcastle. The student will compare how similar are the molecular analyses of ARMS, standard settlement panels and eDNA in representing the benthic biodiversity. Furthermore additional panels (ARMS and standard settlement panels) will be deployed
at the Dove Marine Laboratory and retrieved on a regular basis to enable examination of community succession. The PhD student will also deploy modified ARMS near the Dove Marine Laboratory to identify how colonisation is affected by the use of different materials, such as wood, metal, plastics etc

ARMS (Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structures) are a standardised method of collecting data on marine benthic encrusting biodiversity, developed by the Smithsonian Institute ( ARMS are being deployed in a global network with all data publicly available. This particular project is linked to a wider EU project (ASSEMBLE+ ( and therefore the student will have privileged access to samples and data from Greenland, Svalbard and Terra Nova Bay Antarctica via collaborations with Dr Jakob Thyrring, Assistant Professor Piotr Kuklinski and Associate Professor Schiaparelli, respectively, in addition to European collaborators. Furthermore, training in bioinformatics analysis of ARMS data will be provided via Dr Matthias Obst at the University of Gothenburg. Samples from the ARMS will be analysed via photographic records, standard microscopy and use of taxonomic keys. Molecular analyses, in the first instance will consist of metabarcoding, with more detailed analyses possible, as defined by the student. Training in bioinformatics analyses of ARMS will be provided by the University of Gothenburg. The student will be able to deploy ARMS and standard settlement panels at the Dove marine laboratory, with regular retrieval to examine community succession and how these data compare with eDNA samples. They will also deploy modified ARMS produced from different materials to identify how they change colonisation. Standard methodologies, as detailed above, will be employed throughout.

No fieldwork beyond work offshore at the Dove Marine Laboratory is envisaged. Because of the long timescales needed for deployment and colonisation in the polar regions, such samples will have already been collected by the time the studentship starts.
The student will be based at BAS with significant time spent at the Dove Marine Laboratory.

Training & Skills:
Training in the bioinformatics pipeline associated with the ARMS will be provided by the EU ASSEMBLE+ project courtesy of Matthias Obst. BAS will provide training in taxonomy, molecular techniques, GIS and public engagement. The student will benefit from being part of a BAS DTP cohort, with dedicated training courses and wider training opportunities within the Cambridge area, and also part of the NU DTP cohort where the student will also acquire data analysis skills through existing ecological modelling and related post-graduate modules at NU. Other cross-disciplinary skills (e.g. project planning and management; scientific writing and critical analysis; data analysis and statistics) will be gained through the supervisory team and/or specialist modules at NU.

Funding Notes

UK students will be eligible for a full NERC studentship. More information is available in the UKRI Training Grant Guide (

A full studentship will include the cost of fees and a maintenance allowance. UKRI have confirmed that international students (EU and non-EU) will be eligible for all Research Council-funded postgraduate studentships from the start of 2021/2022 academic year. There will be a limited number of international studentships available


1. ARMS:
2. Barnes et al. (2014) Climate-linked iceberg activity massively reduces spatial competition in Antarctic shallow waters. Curr. Biol. 24, R553-R554
3. Bowden et al. (2006) Antarctic sessile marine benthos: colonisation and growth on artificial substrata over three years. Mar. Ecol. Prog Ser. 316, 1-16.
4. Vause et al. (2019) Spatial and temporal dynamics of Antarctic shallow soft-bottomed benthic communities: ecological drivers under climate change. BMC Ecology 19, 27
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