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Fishing in hot water: are the ecological impacts of trawling exacerbated by climate change?

  • Full or part time
    Dr L Robinson
    Dr M Spencer
  • Application Deadline
    Wednesday, January 08, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Background:
Proactive fisheries management requires understanding of ecological consequences of trawling in warmer seas. While the impacts of bottom trawling and climate change are increasingly well-documented, little is known about how these pressures interact.
Experiments will investigate the ecological effects of trawling under contemporary and projected climates. Benthic survey and vessel monitoring system data will be used to ground-truth and ‘scale-up’ experimental results.
The student will work at the interface between pure and applied science, testing ecological theory using experiments and survey data. Results will enhance our ability to predict impacts of human and climatic pressures on marine ecosystems.
Objectives:
1) Simulate and test effects of trawling under contemporary and projected future climate using mesocosms and field sites spanning the thermal range of species, taking account of species’ plasticity and local climate adaptation strategies. This will show whether trawl impacts could be amplified by climate change-induced thermal stress. [Papers 1 & 2]
2) Perform a complementary experiment to test whether trawling effects depend on primary production and, thus, detrital food input to the seabed. This will show whether environmental factors that are under climatic influence could modify trawl impacts. [Paper 3]
3) Apply sophisticated statistical models to survey data to determine how mechanisms implied by experiments shape broad-scale ecological patterns, with spatial temperature gradients used as proxies for future long-term climate trends. This will allow findings to be placed onto scales relevant to management decisions. [Paper 4]

Novelty:
Experimental studies combining climate drivers with trawling disturbance have not yet been completed at multiple scales. Working with Cefas, including experience of sea-going surveys and mesocosm experiments, will be an invaluable opportunity.

Timeliness:
The North Sea is warming rapidly, and species composition is already changing. Advice is needed on ensuring sustainable supply of ecosystem services (including seafood generation) whilst conserving biodiversity.

Funding Notes

Competitive funding of tuition fee, research costs and stipend (£15,009 tax-free, 2019-20) from the NERC Doctoral Training Partnership “Adapting to the Challenges of a Changing Environment” (ACCE, View Website ). ACCE – a collaboration between the Universities of Liverpool, Sheffield and York – is the only dedicated ecology/evolution/conservation Doctoral Training Partnership in the UK.’

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