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Ecology of sponges at shallow water hydrothermal vents

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Friday, May 17, 2019
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Project Description

Sponges are important functional components of benthic communities across the globe and while there are has been considerable focus on the ecology of shallow water sponges, far less is known about deeper water sponges, particularly those associated with hydrothermal vents. Importantly, sponges support extensive microbial communities that are widely recognised as critical to sponge survival and their ability to survive in a range of environments; these complex sponge-microbial relationships maybe important for sponge survival at hydrothermal vents through chemosynthetic production. Several new species of highly abundant sponge have recently been described from the Calypso Hydrothermal Vent Field in the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand, yet we know nothing about their reliance on vent fluids, population dynamics or the ecological roles these sponges play in these systems. This project will investigate the reliance of the Calypso sponges on vent fluids through microbial symbiosis, sponge trophic relationships with other organisms, and the population dynamics/ecology of these sponges. The final project will be developed between the supervisors and students, and could include fieldwork, laboratory experiments/observations, stable isotope analysis, and molecular ecology.

This project will be based at Victoria University of Wellington (VUW) in New Zealand, in collaboration with the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research. The student will be supervised by Professor James Bell (VUW), Professor Ashley Rowden (VUW/NIWA), and Dr Sarah Bury (NIWA) offering an exciting opportunity to work between VUW and NIWA. For information about the research of the supervisors see:

https://www.victoria.ac.nz/sbs/research/marine-biology-research/sponge-marine-ecology

https://www.victoria.ac.nz/sbs/research/marine-biology-research/deep-sea-ecology-and-environmental-management
https://www.niwa.co.nz/people/ashley-rowden

https://www.niwa.co.nz/people/sarah-bury
https://www.niwa.co.nz/our-services/stable-isotope-analytical-facility

Key attributes/skills/qualifications that are required: 1) Master’s degree or an equivalent standard (see important note below); 2) IELTS overall band of 6.5, no sub-score below 6 (or equivalent, see - https://www.victoria.ac.nz/fgr/prospective-phds/qualifications-required); 3) ability to work as part of a team. Experience of working with stable isotopes, microbial ecology and research cruises would be advantageous.

Applications in the first instance should be made directly to Prof. Bell by 17th May (or sooner) and include a cover letter outlining why you want the PhD position, full CV, academic transcripts, an example of your scientific writing, and the names/contact details of two people who can act as academic references (there is no need to request any reference letters be sent at this initial stage). Email:

An expected start date will be late 2019

Funding Notes

IMPORTANT NOTE: It will be necessary for the PhD student to secure stipend and fees funding, which can be sought from VUW. It is also important to note that PhD fees are the same for domestic and international students in NZ, so these scholarships are open to students from all countries. While we encourage applications from all interested individuals, the VUW PhD scholarship scheme is only likely to fund students with outstanding academic records. The next closing date for VUW scholarships is July 1st 2019 and assistance will be given in preparing for this deadline.

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