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Changes in metabolic energy use with body sizes within pelagic invertebrate species: new insights from jellyfish

  • Full or part time

    Dr D Atkinson
  • Application Deadline
    Wednesday, January 09, 2019
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Gelatinous zooplankton (‘jellyfish’) have a body water content that is proportionately very high, a trait that has evolved in at least 5 planktonic phyla. Many jellyfish are also able to maintain or even increase their metabolic rate per unit of body mass over their development. Such abilities are highly unusual in metazoans, indeed, closely related benthic species typically reduce their metabolic rate use per unit mass during growth. Resolving how and why these patterns occur will provide important insights into the comparative physiology and ecology of marine invertebrates, and in the shifts in energy over ontogeny in animals more generally.

Recent work has shown that much of the variation observed in metabolism-mass scaling across diverse pelagic invertebrates species can be explained by the degree to which they change shape over ontogeny. Many gelatinous organisms show marked body shape elongation or flattening during growth, and are highly reliant upon their external body surface for material exchange (e.g. for oxygen). In this PhD we will develop new methods to measure surface area over ontogeny for a range of gelatinous taxa, and explore the degree to which the increase in surface area (and hence potential supply) and metabolic rate correlate. Systematic comparisons between these pelagic taxa and their closely related benthic forms will be made (e.g. ctenophores, stauromedusae).

Novelty and Timeliness
Metabolic theories of ecology have become very prominent and are fiercely debated, yet they commonly fail to explain the variation in metabolism-mass scaling found in aquatic animals. This project will provide new insight into the degree to which the scaling of metabolic rates to mass over ontogeny can be linked with surface area enlargement. This PhD will also explore why stark differences in such scaling of energy use occurs, in order to better explain these major ecological and evolutionary patterns.

Applications should be made online at the following link. Please apply for: Environmental Sciences (lab based) PhD

Please upload your cover letter when asked for your personal statement; For this application only a research proposal is not required.

Enquiries can be directed to:

Jayne Avies (PGR Administrator) at

Interviews in or after the week commencing : 11th February 2019. Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed for only one project from the ACCE partnership.

Funding Notes

Competitive funding of tuition fee, research costs and stipend (£14,777
tax-free, 2018-19) from the NERC Doctoral Training Partnership “Adapting to the Challenges of a Changing Environment” (ACCE, View Website ). ACCE – a collaboration between the Universities of Sheffield, Liverpool, and York – is the only dedicated ecology/evolution/conservation Doctoral Training Partnership in the UK.


1. Pitt KA, Duarte CM, Lucas CH, Sutherland KR, Condon RH, Mianzan H, Purcell JE, Robinson KL, Uye S-I (2013) Jellyfish body plans provide allometric advantages beyond low carbon content. PLOS One 8: e72683
2. Hirst AG, Glazier DS, Atkinson D (2014) Body shape shifting during growth permits tests that distinguish between competing geometric theories of metabolic scaling. Ecology Letters 17: 1274-1281. doi: 10.1111/ele.12334 [Featured as the front cover lead article:]
3. Glazier DS, Hirst AG, Atkinson D (2015) Shape shifting predicts ontogenetic changes in metabolic scaling in diverse aquatic invertebrates. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 282: 20142302. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2014.2302
4. Hirst AG, Lilley MKS, Glazier DS, Atkinson D (2017) Ontogenetic body-mass scaling of nitrogen excretion relates to body surface area in diverse pelagic invertebrates. Limnology & Oceanography 62: 311-319 doi: 10.1002/lno.10396

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