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A Statistical Approach to Understanding the Complexity of Bryozoan Mineralogy

Project Description

The Project

Bryozoans are one of the most mineralogically-complex phyla in the sea. These small colonial invertebrates make hard skeletons from seawater in any of three carbonate minerals, sometimes in various combinations, in response to controls that are intrinsic (phylogeny, development) and extrinsic (environment). As a consequence of this complexity, several research groups have, over the last few decades, investigated bryozoans in remarkable depth. A collated database of mineralogy from research groups in New Zealand, Britain, Poland and Italy contains over 4000 measurements, with many more expected soon from new research projects.

This large database, pulled together from many sources, offers great opportunities, but also presents some interesting statistical problems.

1. Methodological Issues: How do the data from different labs (and thus different machines) compare? What are the limits of x-ray diffractometry in delineating differences?
2. What do the data show in terms of importance of different controls on mineralogy? Is phylogeny more important than environment? How can we tease apart these different effects?
3. Can this database help us to understand the evolution of mineralogical complexity in bryozoans over time? There are two hypotheses regarding the Cheilostome Radiation – can we test them using these data?

The Student

We are looking for a student with a strong background in statistics, mathematical biology, or quantitative environmental or marine science to develop models and statistical approaches that will bring out the best in this unparalleled database. A background in marine or environmental science would be an advantage but is not required; strong quantitative skills are required. The PhD would be jointly carried out in the Departments of Marine Science (under the guidance of Prof Abby Smith) and Mathematics and Statistics (Dr Peter Dillingham, Prof David Bryant) at the University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand.

General Information

The University of Otago offers the southern hemisphere’s only truly interdisciplinary marine programme. We are located on the east coast of the South Island in New Zealand, within a day’s sail of the subtropical convergence. With seven vessels, three field stations, exceptional integration of marine researchers in 14 departments, and an active outreach programme, Otago is the perfect place to start your research career. For more info:

The temperate carbonate research lab, especially focused on bryozoans, is led by Professor Abby Smith. Students in her research group are working on local bryozoan faunas, growth and calcification in southern temperate invertebrates, and calcification responses to ocean acidification.

Dr Peter Dillingham’s research strengths are in ecological and environmental statistics, with an emphasis on marine systems ( Professor David Bryant focusses on mathematical, statistical, and computational aspects of evolutionary biology, particularly phylogenetics (

Funding Notes

The successful applicant will be eligible for a University of Otago PhD Scholarship, currently valued at $25,000 NZD per year (for three years) plus tuition fees and one overseas trip covered. This is a decent wage and allows our students to live well in Dunedin. Field and lab research costs will be funded from within the Department of Marine Science.

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