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Biologging Marine Predators in the UK and Overseas - Biosciences PhD Studentship


   College of Life and Environmental Sciences

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  Dr L Hawkes, Dr M Witt, Dr David Righton, Dr Martin Collins  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Exeter United Kingdom Climate Science Data Analysis Ecology Marine Biology Statistics Zoology

About the Project

The connectivity of habitats, and the mobility of energy between them, is a critical question in large marine ecosystems. Highly mobile species play a vital role in this system, transferring energy both spatially and trophically. To help understand the role and importance of a number of key species within these systems, this studentship will examine the behaviour of sentinel marine species, linking environmental and physical drivers to seasonal changes and their energy budgets. This will be achieved by analysing telemetry and specifically, tri-axial acceleration data from large marine predators released in the field as part of ongoing programmes in the UK and overseas. Key species will include yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares), bigeye tuna (Thunnus obesus), bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus), basking sharks (Cetorhinus maximus) and leatherback turtles (Dermochelys coriacea). The work may also include the analysis of legacy datasets held on smaller species of conservation concern. Tri-axial accelerometers provide a tool for measuring the activity level, orientation and fast-start behaviour of animals in the field, and with appropriate processing, can be used to infer feeding behaviours. The PhD will firstly (1) analyse data from tuna, sharks and turtles, extracting activity levels and potential feeding behaviour, which will be linked to their spatio-temporal distribution. This data will then be used to (2) model how activity and feeding behaviour varies between species and areas, and (3) how this links to the mobility of energy within and between areas. For commercially targeted species, implications of the removal of individuals on energy mobility within these systems will be assessed.

By generating new knowledge on seasonal changes in behaviour of highly mobile species, this PhD will improve understanding of energy transfer and the role played by key species in UK waters. This is especially important as OTs assess how to protect their diverse and rich marine environments, including informing Marine Protected Area planning.

The project would best suit a candidate with demonstrated experience in analysing biologging data, in particular handling large datasets using the software R to carry out data investigation, statistical analysis and mapping. Skills in marine fieldwork, particularly on boats, will also be desirable. The student will receive advanced training in the use of R for mapping and accelerometry analysis, as well as training in Home Office licensed work tagging tuna and working in the field. The student will join a team of graduate students working on biologging projects on a range of marine taxa. The student will also be supported to present work at international conferences.

This award provides annual funding to cover Home tuition fees and a tax-free stipend. For students who pay Home tuition fees the award will cover the tuition fees in full, plus at least £15,609 per year tax-free stipend. Students who pay international tuition fees are eligible to apply, but should note that the award will only provide payment for part of the international tuition fee and no stipend. 

For further information about the project including how to apply, please see the following link: http://www.exeter.ac.uk/studying/funding/award/?id=4140