Funding providers: Bertarelli Foundation
Subject areas: Marine Ecology
Project start date:
- 1 October 2022 (Enrolment open from mid-September)
- Dr Nicole Esteban
- Dr Kim Stakes (Swansea University)
- Professor Graeme Hays (Deakin University)
Aligned programme of study: PhD in Biological Sciences
Mode of study: Full-time
The PhD student will join an established team working on the conservation biology of sea turtles across the Western Indian Ocean (WIO) (https://www.marine.science/project/sea-turtle-research/#). The student will work within one or more of the existing projects being conducted by the team, which include:
1. Foraging ecology of sea turtles in the WIO, which is one of the priorities of the IOSEA Marine Turtle MoU (https://www.cms.int/iosea-turtles/). This has previously been assessed by stomach analysis (Stokes et al. 2019 https://doi.org/10.1007/s00227-019-3584-3). Now we will begin to explore other approaches for diet analysis including eDNA from swabs of oesophageal entrance and cloaca as well as using animal borne cameras to view turtles as they feed. Further, we will assess diet using stable isotope analysis (SIA). This will involve sampling potential prey items (encrusting taxa including algae, corals and sponges), as well as taking tiny shell, tissue and blood samples from the turtles for SIA. Samples will then be analysed (mass spectrometry) using established methods in the laboratories at Swansea University.
2. Assessment of nesting numbers in the Chagos Archipelago and comparison more broadly across the WIO and globally. We have assessed nesting numbers by counting turtle tracks on nesting beaches (e.g. Mortimer and Esteban et al. 2020 https://doi.org/10.1017/S0030605319001108). For remote hard-to-visit areas, we are now starting to use camera traps to photograph beaches and hence record turtle tracks.
3. Assessment of changes in the demography of sea turtles across the WIO including changes in body size and reproductive output, using data collected over the last 30 years. Using long-term data sets we are exploring how the mean size of nesting turtles is decreasing at site where nesting numbers of are increasing, possibly reflecting an influx of smaller, first time nesters. We are developing theoretical models to explore this hypothesis, based on the size of first time versus experienced nesters.
4. Identification of important habitats and assessment of movements of sea turtles across he WIO through the examination of satellite tracking data, including patterns of space use and diving behaviour. This works the examination of extensive tracking data sets to explore patterns of movement, including utilisation distributions on foraging grounds (Hays et al. 2020 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2020.05.086; 2021 https://doi.org/10.1002/eap.2418).
5. Assessment of the impact of ocean currents on sea turtles movements through analysis of data from ocean current models such as Hycom and Copernicus as well as the tracks of Lagrangian drifters. See for example, Hays et al. 2022 (https://doi.org/10.1098/rsif.2021.0859).
Candidates must normally hold an undergraduate degree at a first class or 2.1 level in Biosciences or a related subject, and/or a distinction at masters’ level in Marine Biology (or Non-UK equivalent as defined by Swansea University).
The candidate should have skills to develop one or more of the areas in the project description. These skills should include being accomplished in data analysis with the ability to manipulate large data sets using R, ArcGIS or other software. Experience with fieldwork and laboratory work is desirable. An ability to organise large numbers of volunteers in the field is desirable.
English Language requirements: If applicable – IELTS 6.5 overall (with at least 6.0 in each individual component) or Swansea recognised equivalent.
This scholarship is open to international fee eligible applicants only living in one of the following Indian Ocean regional countries: South Africa; Mozambique; Madagascar; Mauritius, Comoros, Tanzania, Seychelles, Kenya, Somalia, Djibouti, India, Pakistan, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Timor-Leste, Yemen, Oman.