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Drivers and resilience of urchin barrens in UK kelp forests (OP2240)

   Faculty of Science, Agriculture and Engineering

  Prof Pippa Moore  Monday, January 24, 2022  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Newcastle United Kingdom Biodiversity Climate Science Data Analysis Ecology Environmental Biology Marine Biology Statistics

About the Project

Kelp forests cover 25% of global coastlines and are considered some of the most productive habitats on Earth. They provide a complex 3D habitat supporting high levels of diversity and provide ecosystem services to human society. They are increasingly threatened by stressors such as ocean warming, eutrophication and over-exploitation.

Globally, sea urchins are considered important consumers of kelp exerting top-down control affecting kelp distribution, abundance and composition. Urchin abundance and impacts have increased globally due to anthropogenic pressures such as over-fishing and climate induced range shifts. Where urchin densities exceed a threshold, their grazing activities lead to the formation of extensive barrens, which are less productive, less biodiverse and less structurally complex habitats. It had been thought that urchin grazing did not control kelp forests in the UK, however, recent surveys suggest that urchin barrens exist in kelp forests along the UK North Sea coastline. Urchin abundance here is an order of magnitude higher than similar locations around the UK, posing the question ‘What is the impact of urchins on North Sea kelp forests and what drives barren formation?’

Brief methodology: 1. Estimate urchin barren extent and persistence, urchin density (and size) and kelp depth limit. 2. Undertake surveys of kelp forests in different environmental contexts to identify the physical and biological drivers leading to urchin barren formation. 3. Perform manipulative experiments to investigate the resilience of barren areas. 4. Estimate relative rates of urchin omnivory between areas with and without barrens.

This is a CASE funded project with Natural England. The student will gain skills in experimental design, photogrammetry, field and laboratory techniques, including stable isotope approaches, statistical and ecological modelling.

Funding Notes

This project is part of the NERC ONE Planet DTP. Each of our studentship awards include 3.5 years of fees (Home/EU), an annual living allowance (£15,650) and a Research Training Support Grant (for travel, consumables, etc).
Home and International applicants (inc. EU) are welcome to apply. Following the UKRI announcement regarding their new 30% UKRI international recruitment policy (to take effect from September 2021) both Newcastle University, and Northumbria University, have agreed to pay the international fee difference for all International applicants (inc. EU) who are awarded a DTP studentship. Interviews will take place in February 2022.
How to apply: View Website

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