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Identifying drivers of change and anthropogenic impacts on Temperate Mesophotic Ecosystems (TMEs) at Europe’s First Statutory Marine Reserve – Lough Hyne (Ireland)

   School of Biological Sciences

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  Dr James Bell  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Lough Hyne (LH) Marine Nature Reserve (Ireland) was Europe’s first designated statutory marine reserve, as a result of its rich biodiversity and wide habitat variability. One of the interesting features of LH is that it supports subtidal communities in shallow water (12–40 m) that are more typical of deeper water Temperate Mesophotic Ecosystems (TMEs) (30–150+ m). TMEs are generally stable habitats, usually dominated by slow-growing, long-lived sessile invertebrates, and encrusting and turfing algae. These organisms form complex three-dimensional structures and support many commercially important species.

Unfortunately, like many marine ecosystems across the globe, LH has experienced major changes in subtidal and intertidal ecosystems in recent years. The subtidal rocky ecosystems are a defining feature of the ecosystems at LH, however, our groups recent research has identified major declines in the TME sponge assemblages, with a loss of most three dimensional forms. We believe these changes occurred at some time between 2010 and 2015. While we have a number of hypotheses as to what has caused these changes, we have yet to explore experimentally many of the potential causes or explore the consequences of this loss. 

This project focuses on a real-world problem in one of the most significant reserves in the world, with the results being relevant to rocky subtidal ecosystems globally. You will work with both academics and environmental managers to: 1) identify potential causes of the changes at LH; 2) assess the impact of future anthropogenic stressors (particularly increased sea surface temperature) on sponges; 3) monitor the recovery of the subtidal ecosystems, and 4) and assess the effect of the subtidal changes on the wider reserve ecosystem. 

Key attributes/skills/qualifications that are required: 1) Master’s degree or an equivalent (see important funding note); 2) a minimum of a PADI Rescue Diver certificate with relevant diving experience (or equivalent – this project requires SCUBA); 3) IELTS overall band of 6.5, no sub-score below 6 (or equivalent - not required if your degree is from a country where English is the first language); 4) ability to work as part of a team; and 5) ability to work at remote locations.

Applications in the first instance should be made directly to Prof Bell by 28th May (or sooner) and include a cover letter outlining why you want the PhD position (really important), 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).

The successful student will be registered at VUW in Wellington New Zealand, with annual field work in Ireland supported by University College Cork (co-supervisor will be Prof Rob McAllen at UCC). The project is partially funded by the National Parks and Wildlife Service, Ireland. COVID restrictions mean the border into NZ is not currently open, but we expect this to change later this year, therefore a start date around the start of 2022 is anticipated (although registration from overseas may be possible before this, particularly if you are located in Europe).

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 2021 and assistance will be given in preparing for this deadline.
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