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CEFAS: Using physiology to improve lobster aquaculture

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  • Full or part time
    Prof R W Wilson
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

The University of Exeter’s College of Life and Environmental Sciences, in partnership with the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas), are inviting applications for a fully-funded PhD studentship to commence in September 2016 (or as soon as possible thereafter). For eligible students the studentship will cover UK/EU tuition fees plus an annual tax-free stipend of £14,198 for 3.5 years. The student would be based in Biosciences in the College of Life and Environmental Sciences at the Streatham Campus in Exeter.

Academic Supervisors:

Dr Rod Wilson, University of Exeter
Dr Eduarda Santos, University of Exeter
Dr Ronny van Aerle, Cefas
Dr Carly Daniels, National Lobster Hatchery
Mr Dom Boothroyd, National Lobster Hatchery

Project Description:

The National Lobster Hatchery (NLH) in Padstow cultures early life stages of European lobster for stock enhancement of vulnerable wild populations and potentially for direct seafood production. In this collaborative PhD project between Exeter, Cefas and NLH we aim to use physiology and transcriptomics to enhance hatchery production through improved survival, health, moulting success and growth. Cannibalism is a major limiting factor during intensive rearing of lobster larvae. Water quality and diet are key factors that can potentially be managed within the hatchery to improve moulting success and reduce cannibalism, and will be the focus of this PhD proposal.
Within recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) removing CO2 is more challenging than maintaining oxygen, typically leading to high CO2 levels. This also acidifies water, complicating the control and interpretation of water quality in RAS. For crustacean aquaculture there is the additional issue that moulting requires a sufficient supply of calcium and carbonate to fuel calcification (hardening) of a) the exoskeleton (to reduce vulnerability to cannibalism) and b) their mouthparts (for rapid resumption of feeding and growth) after each moult (which is every few days in the earliest larval stages). The majority of this carbonate is actively taken up from the external seawater via the gills immediately after a moult. But this is dependent on the seawater alkalinity, and low alkalinity is a well-recognised problem in RAS. Our recent research has shown that post-moult calcification in lobsters is substantially impaired in low alkalinity seawater. The elevated CO2 that is also symptomatic of RAS similarly impairs exoskeleton calcification in lobster. However, the precise water quality requirements (e.g. for CO2, alkalinity, pH, calcium, salinity etc.) for rapid post-moult calcification of early stage lobsters have never been fully characterised. This is needed for evidence-based and cost-effective management strategies for minimising cannibalism and optimising survival, health and growth. Some of these variables are also linked to climate change, providing added research impact. Similarly, it is not known whether dietary supplements could be used to boost post-moult calcification.

This PhD aims to experimentally determine the water quality thresholds for inhibition of post-moult calcification, as well as the potential to enhance calcification. In addition we aim to assess whether there are key early stages that are most sensitive, or most amenable to maximising moulting success and therefore survival. The PhD student will be trained in precision in vivo physiological methods established in Wilson’s lab (Exeter) to directly measure calcification rates, physiology, behaviour and growth. Furthermore, he/she will assess their subsequent health and stress status by working at Cefas and Exeter to identify molecular markers that are predictive of positive health outcomes. Global transcriptome analysis will be used with RNA-Seq and/or quantification of specific transcripts associated with stress response pathways (e.g. heat shock proteins, antioxidants) by quantitative PCR. This is timely as the PhD student’s progress will benefit greatly from a high quality transcriptome assembly for this species recently generated as part of a current Exeter-Cefas collaboration.

Ultimately a key goal will be to determine optimum conditions for enhancing lobster health and production in support of this UK aquaculture initiative and associated food security issues. This research environment provides excellent support to develop the PhD student academically as well invaluable experience working with NLH and Cefas to provide practical solutions for improved lobster production within an aquaculture setting.

Funding Notes

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP). The studentships will provide funding for a stipend (currently £14,057 pa), research costs and UK/EU tuition fees for 3.5 years for full-time students (part-time students pro-rata). This is a CASE studentship. The CASE partner is Cefas. There will be an additional stipend of £1,000pa for at least the first 3 years of study (part time pro rata), and a minimum 3 month placement with the CASE partner

How good is research at University of Exeter in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 34.70

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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