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Climate change in the deep sea: assessing the resilience of deep-sea communities

School of Environmental Sciences

About the Project

Deep-sea habitats cover ~60% of the Earth’s surface and are the largest and least explored environment on the planet. Deep-sea communities are sustained by primary production from the surface ocean and are sensitive to changes in its supply. Climate change is reducing food supply to the deep seafloor, with a substantial decline in biomass. This PhD will use a 30-year abyssal time series to explore how communities respond to changes in food supply, and combine empirical measurements, theory, and modeling to better understand energy flow and ecosystem function. Objectives This PhD will focus on three main questions: 1) How do deep-sea food webs respond to climate-induced changes in food supply? You will document changes in diet using the stable isotopic composition of fauna collected from the Porcupine Abyssal Plain (PAP); and use those data in numerical/model frameworks to link trophic ecology to ecosystem energy flows. 2) Do changes in food supply affect biological and ecological traits? You will include an examination of how body size, trophic indices, fecundity, species richness, are related to food supply. 3) The data generated will be used to further develop existing biodiversity indicators and targets to assess the impact of changing climate on deep-sea biodiversity and food webs, a key knowledge gap identified in the UK’s assessment of progress towards Good Environmental Status (2019). Novelty This PhD is an exciting chance to explore how deep-sea ecosystems respond to climate-induced changes in food supply.

You will gain experience in:
• deep-sea sampling and time series analyses (research cruise to PAP Sustained Observatory)
• invertebrate identification, stable isotope analysis and modelling
• translating research into policy-based tools to assess the impacts of climate change on UK deep-sea environments (JNCC placement).

The outcomes of the project have important implications for deep-sea benthic ecosystem monitoring and conservation.

Notes and how to apply are available here:
Apply at:

For any enquiries please contact the SoES PGR enquiries/ACCE DTP team on

Funding Notes

NERC ACCE DTP in Ecology and Evolution, programme starts October 2021.
UKRI provide the following funding for 3.5 years:
• Stipend (2020/21 UKRI rate £15,285)
• Tuition Fees at UK fee rate (2020/21 rate £4,407)
• Research support and training grant (RTSG)
A limited number of international fee bursaries will be awarded on a competitive basis. However, if selected International and EU fee rate candidates may need to cover the remaining amount of tuition fees by securing additional funding. International fees for 2021/22 entry are not yet fixed, but as a guide fees for 2020/21 entry were £23,650 per annum.

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