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Biodiversity change in fish communities: integrating taxonomic, phylogenetic and functional diversity

  • Full or part time
    Prof A E Magurran
  • Application Deadline
    Sunday, December 01, 2019
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Project Description

Recent research, much of it led by the University of St Andrews (1, 4, 8), is showing that the world’s ecosystems are being restructured at rates that exceed the predictions of the best ecological theory we have. Although it is evident that the composition of ecological communities is changing rapidly, the consequences of these changes for the resilience of ecosystems, and for ecosystem function, have not been investigated. This project will begin to fill this knowledge gap. To do this it will focus on freshwater fish communities in the Caribbean island of Trinidad, and then set these targeted analyses of biodiversity change in a global context by running meta-analyses using the BioTIME database (5) of assemblage time. It involves a collaboration between Professor Anne Magurran (AM) and Dr Maria Dornelas (MD), both at the University of St Andrews, and Dr Amy Deacon (AD) at the University of the West Indies (UWI) in Trinidad and Tobago.
Trinidad has a rich freshwater fish fauna that has been extensively investigated over past decades (7), and thus provides excellent opportunities for addressing the core questions in this project. We already know that compositional change in fish communities is elevated relative to null expectations (9). However, it remains unclear how this compositional change comes about, and how the different facets of change (functional, phylogenetic, taxonomic) are interrelated.
BioTIME (, is an initiative based at the University of St Andrews, and is the world’s largest compilation of assemblage time series (extending from 2 to >90 years). It contains over 12 millions records, distributed in biomes across the globe. This project will use freshwater fish data in BioTIME.
The Trinidad component of the project will assess temporal and spatial variation in fish assemblages. In this it will draw on time series fish data collected in the Northern Range (3, 2, 9) as well as data, collected between the 1950s and 1990s across Trinidad (6, 11, 12). The link with UWI means that we have access to relevant data not already in the public domain. In addition, the student, in collaboration with AD will extend existing assemblage time series, and make field based measurements of fish function and behaviour. It is anticipated that the student will spend approximately 50% of their time based at UWI in Trinidad, the remainder at the University of St Andrews.
These data, together with the BioTIME time series, will be analysed using state of the art statistical methods. The student will be able to take advantage of new methodologies to provide an integrated assessment of functional diversity across its functional, phylogenetic and functional dimensions that are being developed as part of a NERC networking project involving AM & MD, and Professor Sandra Diaz and Professor Anne Chao. Other innovative methods, including the MoB (measurement of biodiversity) approach (10) offer additional exciting opportunities. We expect the analyses of the Trinidad and BioTIME fish data to result in influential papers, which, where appropriate, would be led by the student.
By the end of the project the student will have gained experience in tropical field work, the manipulation and analysis of ‘big data’, and cutting edge methods in biodiversity assessment. We are therefore looking for a student who is willing and able to participate in field work, keen to spend time in the tropics, with a background in ecological modelling and able to run statistical analyses (including trouble shooting non-standard methods). Experience in coding and running statistical software (such as R) is essential. The student will be joining friendly and supportive research groups in St Andrews, and in Trinidad, and will regularly present their results at group meetings. Feedback on papers, presentations etc will be provided. It is expected that the student will publish high impact papers during their project, and present results at international meetings and participate in public outreach. There will also be formal and informal training in statistics, writing, presentations, research methods, ethics and outreach in both institutions. This training will help ensure that the student has a stimulating, enjoyable and productive doctoral career that makes them competitive for postdoctoral (and similar) positions. In this they will follow in the footsteps of other recent graduates from our groups.

Funding Notes

Eligibility requirements: Upper second-class degree in Biology or a related area.
Funding: Fees and stipend is provided for 3.5 years.


1. S. Blowes, A., S. Supp, R., L. H. Antão, A. Bates, H. Bruelheide, J. M. Chase, . . . M. Dornelas, The geography of biodiversity change in marine and terrestrial assemblages. Science in press, (2019).
2. A. E. Deacon, H. Shimadzu, M. Dornelas, I. W. Ramnarine, A. E. Magurran, From species to communities: the signature of recreational use on a tropical river ecosystem. Ecology and Evolution 5, 5561-5572 (2015).
3. A. E. Deacon, R. Mahabir, D. Inderlall, I. W. Ramnarine, A. E. Magurran, Evaluating detectability of freshwater fish assemblages in tropical streams: Is hand-seining sufficient? Environmental Biology of Fishes 100, 839-849 (2017).
4. M. Dornelas, N. J. Gotelli, B. J. McGill, H. Shimadzu, F. Moyes, C. Sievers, A. E. Magurran, Assemblage time series reveal biodiversity change but not systematic loss. Science 344, 296-299 (2014).
5. M. Dornelas, H. Antão Laura, F. Moyes, E. Bates Amanda, E. Magurran Anne, D. Adam, . . . L. Zettler Michael, BioTIME: A database of biodiversity time series for the Anthropocene. Global Ecology and Biogeography 27, 760-786 (2018).
6. J. S. Kenny, Views from the bridge: a memoir on the freshwater fishes of Trinidad. (J.S. Kenny, Maracas, Trinidad & Tobago, 1995).
7. A. E. Magurran, Evolutionary ecology: the Trinidadian guppy. (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2005).
8. A. E. Magurran, M. Dornelas, F. Moyes, N. J. Gotelli, B. McGill, Rapid biotic homogenization of marine fish assemblages. Nature Communications 6, 8405 (2015).
9. A. E. Magurran, A. E. Deacon, F. Moyes, H. Shimadzu, M. Dornelas, D. A. T. Phillip, I. W. Ramnarine, Divergent biodiversity change within ecosystems. Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences (USA) 115, 1843-1847 (2018).
10. D. J. McGlinn, X. Xiao, F. May, N. J. Gotelli, T. Engel, S. A. Blowes, . . . B. J. McGill, Measurement of Biodiversity (MoB): A method to separate the scale-dependent effects of species abundance distribution, density, and aggregation on diversity change. Methods in Ecology and Evolution 10, 258-269 (2019).
11. D. A. T. Phillip, PhD, PhD thesis. University of St Andrews, (1998).
12. D. A. T. Phillip, D. C. Taphorn, E. Holm, G. J.F., B. A. Lamphere, H. López-Fernández, Annotated list and key to the stream fishes of Trinidad & Tobago. Zootaxa 3711, 1-64 (2013).

How good is research at University of St Andrews in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 50.45

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