Coventry University Featured PhD Programmes
Imperial College London Featured PhD Programmes
Coventry University Featured PhD Programmes

Environmental drivers of food web structure and energy flux in marine ecosystems

School of Life Sciences

Colchester United Kingdom Bioinformatics Climate Science Data Analysis Ecology Marine Biology Statistics Zoology

About the Project

Scientific background

Global environmental change is predicted to alter the structure and stability of marine ecosystems with major implications for the sustainability of commercial fisheries. By quantifying changes in food web structure and energy flux to fish predators along large-scale environmental gradients, this PhD will aim to determine the major drivers of trophic complexity and biomass distributions in marine ecosystems. The proposed network-based analyses and modelling approaches are at the cutting edge of current research and will offer exciting new insights into the fate of marine ecosystems in the face of global change. The study will also provide multiple measures of ecological stability to help highlight vulnerable species, which will ultimately enable more effective ecosystem-based advice.

Research methodology

Body mass data from planktonic, benthic, and fisheries surveys will be used to parameterise an Allometric Diet Breadth Model, which has been used to predict structural properties of food webs to a high degree of accuracy (Petchey et al. 2008). Interaction strengths will be assigned to the resulting interaction matrices using fluxweb, a recently developed R package for estimating energy fluxes in food webs based on body mass data (Gauzens et al. 2018). Model predictions of food web structure and energy flux will be validated using an extensive database of >500,000 fish stomachs covering the NE Atlantic. Environmental data, including temperature, salinity, and primary productivity, will be utilised to explain systematic changes in food web structure and energy flux in space and time.


The candidate will join the Ecology and Environmental Microbiology Group at the University of Essex and will also work with researchers at Cefas in Lowestoft. The supervisory team will offer training in a broad skillset related to food web ecology, marine taxonomy, bioinformatics, ecological modelling, and science communication. There will also be an opportunity to participate in collaborative fieldwork and receive training in the sampling methodologies and survey techniques used to collect the historical datasets available for the project.

Person specification

We are looking for a candidate who is enthusiastic about global change biology, marine biology, quantitative biology, and ecosystem ecology, with a degree in ecology, environmental sciences, or geography.


Submit a 2 page CV, cover letter detailing why you are the best candidate for this position, degree transcripts, and references to contact (not needed up front) to Dr Eoin O'Gorman

Funding Notes

This project has fully secured funding and we are looking for the studentship to start in October 2021. Shortlisted applicants will be invited to interview via Zoom in June 2021. UK students will have tuition fees covered and will be awarded a stipend of approximately £15,285, increasing each year for the 3 years of funding. EU/International applicants are welcome to apply, but must be able to cover the higher cost of fees for overseas students. Contact the lead supervisor for more information.


O'Gorman EJ, Petchey OL, Faulkner KJ, Gallo B, Gordon TAC, Neto-Cerejeira J, Ólafsson JS, Pichler DE, Thompson MSA & Woodward G (2019) A simple model predicts how warming simplifies wild food webs. Nature Climate Change, 9, 611-616.
Petchey OL, Beckerman AP, Riede JO & Warren PH (2008) Size, foraging, and food web structure. PNAS, 105, 4191-4196.
Gauzens B, Barnes A, Giling DP, Hines H, Jochum M, Lefcheck JS, Rosenbaum B, Wang S & Brose U (2018). fluxweb: An R package to easily estimate energy fluxes in food webs. Methods in Ecology and Evolution, 10, 270-279.
Schwarz B, Barnes AD, Thakur MP, Brose U, Ciobanu M, Reich PB, Rich RL, Rosenbaum B, Stefanski A & Eisenhauer N (2017). Warming alters energetic structure and function but not resilience of soil food webs. Nature Climate Change, 7, 895-900.
Mackinson S & Daskalov G (2007) An ecosystem model of the North Sea to support an ecosystem approach to fisheries management: description and parameterisation. Cefas Science Series Technical Report, 142, 196.

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