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Assessing MPA efficacy and adaptive management of the common skate: integrating population genomics, tagging and modelling to determine connectivity, abundance and recruitment.

School of Biological Sciences

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Dr C S Jones , Dr P Wright , Dr David Donnan No more applications being accepted Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

The flapper skate (Dipturus intermedius) once abundant in European waters, suffered heavy fishing pressure in the last century, and is now effectively extinct throughout the majority of the North and Irish Seas. It was determined this critically endangered (IUCN) species, a Scottish Priority Marine Feature (PMF) would benefit from establishment of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). The ’Loch Sunart to Sound of Jura’ MPA in West Scotland was designated in 2014 to protect the flapper skate, as this area has a higher than normal density of mature flapper skate, with recent tagging suggesting a mix of residents (site­attached) and transients (Neat et al. 2015). Determining the efficacy and status (source or sink) of the current MPA population(s), and connectivity via contemporary gene flow with flapper skate at other locations, is of paramount importance to management plans aiming to maintain viable populations and affirm current and potential MPA placement.

Approach: Juvenile and adult contemporary connectivity will be inferred from the spatial distribution of parent-offspring, full- and half-siblings obtained from genome-wide SNP analysis from within the MPA and adjacent sites, and contrasted with indirect longer term estimates of genetic connectivity obtained from maternally inherited mitogenomes to provide management relevant information on the spatial scale of movement (Feutry et al. 2017). Additionally data on close kin pairs, especially parents and offspring, will be utilised in a close-kin mark-recapture (CKMR) approach to estimate absolute stock abundance. Recently collected MPA focused telemetry and tagging data has provided details of individual skate behaviours. Integrating this dataset with genomic data will improve estimates of seasonal and dispersal movements.

Key questions: Does the MPA encompass recruitment areas? Is philopatry (return to natal sites) or site fidelity evident? Do adult abundance and productivity estimates suggest viable Scottish populations? Will current management measures sustain connectivity and viability?

This project would suit a candidate with a background in genetics/genomics, and/or some working knowledge of bioinformatics/ modelling approaches.

This project is funded by the School of Biological Sciences, University of Aberdeen and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).

Please apply for admission to the ’Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Biological Science’ to ensure that your application is passed to the correct School for processing.
Please provide a copy of the degree certificate and transcript for each previous degree undertaken, a copy of your English language proficiency certificate (if relevant), and contact details of two referees who can comment on your previous academic performance (at least one should be from your current degree programme). References will be requested if you are selected for interview. Incomplete applications will not be considered.

Funding Notes

This studentship is available to UK and other EU nationals and provides funding for tuition fees and stipend, subject to eligibility.

Candidates should have (or expect to achieve) a minimum of a 2.1 Honours degree in a relevant subject. Applicants with a minimum of a 2.2 Honours degree may be considered provided they have a Distinction at Masters level.


Neat F, Pinto C, Surrett I, Cowie L, Travis J, Thorburn J, Gibb F & Wright PJ (2015). Site fidelity, survival and conservation options for the threatened flapper skate (Dipturus cf intermedia). Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems, 25(1), 6-20.

Feutry P, Berry 0, Kyne PM et al. (2017). Inferring contemporary and historical genetic connectivity from juveniles. Molecular Ecology, 26, 444- 456.
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