In the middle of applying to universities? | SHARE YOUR EXPERIENCE In the middle of applying to universities? | SHARE YOUR EXPERIENCE

Evaluating the potential consequences of climate heating for Caspian seals and ecosystem services in the Caspian Sea

   Faculty of Biological Sciences

This project is no longer listed on and may not be available.

Click here to search for PhD studentship opportunities
  Dr S Goodman, Prof Maria Beger  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

Marine mammals are keystone species for marine ecosystems. Understanding how they could be impacted by climate heating is important for evaluating risks to marine biodiversity, ecosystem function and ecosystem services. The Caspian seal (Pusa caspica), is endemic to the Caspian Sea in Central Asia, the largest landlocked waterbody on the planet. Recent global risk assessments suggest the Caspian seal may have the greatest vulnerability to climate heating of any marine mammal species, due to loss of its sea ice breeding habitat and decline of the Caspian Sea level. However, an in depth assessment of potential threats and impacts of climate heating on Caspian seals based on detailed knowledge of species ecology and biology remains to be conducted. Such an assessment is not only critical for informing conservation strategy for Caspian seals, but will also be relevant to wider understanding of risks to biodiversity, ecosystem services and for human populations of the Caspian Sea region more generally.

In this project we will use an existing satellite telemetry dataset (Dmitrieva et al. 2016) from more than 100 tags deployed between 2009 and 2018 to describe Caspian seal activity budgets (time investment in foraging/diving and resting activity) in relation to environmental drivers, and evaluate the effects of high sea surface temperatures on seal behaviour, and how this relates to risks for thermal stress in the summer months. We will also evaluate the impact of Caspian sea level decline (predicted to be up to 18m by 2100), on the availability of Caspian seal breeding habitat, and the habitats of other key Caspian species. Finally we will use the Marxan package to identify spatial planning solutions for seal marine protected areas under current conditions and human activity, and future sea level decline scenarios. 

Ultimately the project could act as template for climate impact risk assessments for marine mammals more generally, and will provide important policy relevant information on managing Caspian Sea biodiversity during the coming Century.

The student will receive training in marine mammal ecology and conservation, analysis of satellite telemetry datasets, spatial statistical modelling, and spatial conservation planning and prioritisation analyses. The project will be primarily focused on analysing existing datasets, but some participation in fieldwork may be possible.

The project would suit students with an interest in marine mammal conservation and spatial statistical modelling. Evidence of strong quantitative skills is desirable, or of aptitude to develop proficiency in this area.


Applicants must hold a First Degree at undergraduate level equivalent to at least a UK First Class* Honours degree. Applicants should either have graduated with the appropriate First Degree or be in their final year of study.

*Candidates with a lower mark in their undergraduate degree will be considered if they have or are expected to receive a Distinction in a Masters programme relevant to their field of research, or if they can demonstrate relevant alternative experience (eg in industry or business). 

The minimum English language entry requirement for research postgraduate research study is an IELTS of 6.0 overall with at least 5.5 in each component (reading, writing, listening and speaking) or equivalent. The test must be dated within two years of the start date of the course in order to be valid. Some schools and faculties have a higher requirement.

How to apply

Stage 1

You should complete an online application form and attach the following documentation to support your application. 

  • a full academic CV
  • degree certificate and transcripts of marks (or marks so far if still studying)
  • Evidence that you meet the programme’s minimum English language requirements (if applicable, see requirement below)
  • Evidence of funding to support your studies (if you are a self funded applicant)

To help us identify that you are applying for this project please ensure you provide the following information on your application form;

  • Select PhD in Biological Sciences as your programme of study
  • Give the full project title and name the supervisors listed in this advert

Stage 2

After you have submitted your PhD degree application you will be issued with a 9 digit Student Application ID number. You will need this to enable you to apply for the Leeds Doctoral Scholarship

Please note that, due to the large volume of applications, the Postgraduate Scholarships Office will not enter into any correspondence regarding the progress of an application until the outcome is known.

 For all enquiries regarding the application process for this project please contact [Email Address Removed]

Funding Notes

This project is available as part of the Leeds Doctoral Scholarship, which is open to UK fee rated applicants only. Please note that once you have submitted your PhD degree application a separate scholarship application will also be needed.
This opportunity is also available for self funded applicants.


Albouy, C., Delattre, V., Donati, G. et al. Global vulnerability of marine mammals to global warming. Sci Rep 10, 548 (2020).
Dmitrieva, L., Jüssi, M., Jüssi, I., Kasymbekov, Y., Verevkin, M., Baimukanov, M., Wilson, S., & Goodman, S. J. (2016) Individual variation in seasonal movements and foraging strategies of a land-locked, ice-breeding pinniped. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 554:241-256. doi: 10.3354/meps11804.
Prange, M., Wilke, T. & Wesselingh, F.P. The other side of sea level change. Commun Earth Environ 1, 69 (2020).        
Wilson, S. C., Dolgova, E., Trukhanova, I., Dmitrieva, L., Crawford, I., Baimukanov, M., Goodman, S. J. (2017). Breeding behavior and pup development of the Caspian seal, Pusa caspica. Journal of Mammalogy, 98(1):143–153, doi: 10.1093/jmammal/gyw176.

How good is research at University of Leeds in Biological Sciences?

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

Click here to see the results for all UK universities
PhD saved successfully
View saved PhDs