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Consequences of the response of Arctic biodiversity to climate change for benthic ecosystem functioning

Project Description

Programme website:

Project Rationale:
Rates of warming in the high northern latitudes are amongst the highest globally and are exerting multiple effects on Arctic coastal and shelf ecosystems, including unprecedented changes in the composition and diversity of seafloor communities. How these changes affect community contributions to the provision and mediation of important ecosystem processes, such as the sequestration, transformation and storage of carbon and macro-nutrients, has not been fully considered.
This studentship will focus on the benthic assemblages of the north water polynya, an area of year-round open water surrounded by sea ice that lies between Greenland and Canada in northern Baffin Bay, and the Barents Sea, near Svalbard. A key focus will be to determine changes in faunal composition and activity across a representative gradient of climate related change. These observations will underpin an extensive series of manipulative laboratory and field experiments aimed at determining the extent to which aspects of change (temperature, ocean acidification, light, nutrients) alter faunal contributions to ecosystem functioning. The studentship will then establish how changes in species composition and behaviour interact to affect the stocks and flows of carbon and macronutrients for a representative region of the Arctic shelf under a range of anticipated future scenarios.

This project will combine field observations and highly replicated laboratory-based experiments with statistical modelling to determine whether the response of sediment-dwelling invertebrates to climate change in Arctic coastal and shelf regions alters the provision of ecosystem functions, such as nutrient cycling. The candidate will quantify species-specific changes in growth, behaviour (particle reworking and ventilation activity) for representative invertebrate species and assemblages from areas presently experiencing accelerated rates of change (Barents Sea near Svalbard; northern Baffin Bay, Canada). By observing the faunal changes along a gradient of sea ice cover, changes in composition and diversity associated with recent warming can be determined and combined with experimental observations to scale up to shelf wide and/or regional predictions of future functioning. The methodology used [refs 1-3] builds on experience and infrastructure developed under previous NERC/NSERC grants of the PIs and are in place. The studentship will identify key species representative of present and near-future conditions, determine their role in mediating important ecosystem processes (e.g, nutrient cycling), and establish predictions of region-wide functioning as the Arctic responds to climate change over the next few decades. The involvement of our Canadian partner ensures relevant information will be provided to indigenous people and policymakers.

The INSPIRE DTP programme provides comprehensive personal and professional development training alongside extensive opportunities for students to expand their multi-disciplinary outlook through interactions with a wide network of academic, research and industrial/policy partners. The student will be registered at the University of Southampton and hosted at Ocean and Earth Science, with significant time spent at the University of Laval, Quebec, Canada. The studentship will also involve fieldwork in Arctic waters. Specific training will include:
(i) direct experience of ecological patterns and processes in Arctic shelf ecosystems,
(ii) design, maintenance and metrology of sediment-invertebrate systems, including incorporation of multiple aspects of climate change,
(iii) image and video analysis to quantify changes in species activity, behaviour and interactions,
(iv) univariate and multivariate statistical analysis,
(v) communicating to indigenous people and policy makers.
Beyond the exchanges associated with INSPIRE and in Canada, we anticipate additional opportunities using species brought back from the Antarctic.

Funding Notes

You can apply for fully-funded studentships (stipend and fees) from INSPIRE if you:
Are a UK or EU national.
Have no restrictions on how long you can stay in the UK.
Have been 'ordinarily resident' in the UK for 3 years prior to the start of the project.

Please click View Website for more information on eligibility and how to apply


Godbold, JA & Solan M (2013) Long-term effects of warming and ocean acidification are modified by seasonal variation in species responses and environmental conditions. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 368(1627): UNSP 20130186.

Thomsen, M.S., Garcia, C., Bolam, S.G., Parker, R., Godbold, J.A., Solan, M. (2017) Consequences of biodiversity loss diverge from expectation due to post-extinction compensatory responses. Scientific Reports 7: 10.1038/srep43695.

Séguin A, Harvey E, Archambault P, Nozais C, Gravel D. (2014) Body size as a predictor of species loss effect on ecosystem functioning. Scientific Reports 4:4616 | DOI: 10.1038/srep04616.

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

FTE Category A staff submitted: 68.62

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

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