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Impacts of Marine Heat Waves on temperate sponges

   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

We are looking for a dynamic, highly motivated person with excellent inter-personal skills (as you will spend time on small boats) to join the Sponge Ecology Group at Victoria University of Wellington New Zealand. This project will focus on the impacts of marine heat waves (MHWs) on temperate sponges. In May 2022 bleached sponges were reported on an unpredicted scale in the Fiordland region of New Zealand, impacting millions of sponges. Subsequently, there were further reports of many different sponge species across the north of New Zealand experiencing decay and ‘melting’ from reef surfaces. These events were directly correlated with extreme temperature anomalies and were reported by global media (including The Guardian, BBC, CNN and Sky News).


Sponges are major components of temperate benthic marine communities and their loss due to MHWs may have important ecosystem level impacts. This high-profile project will investigate the impacts and resilience of marine sponges to MHWs and examine why some sponges species are susceptible to heat stress while others are not. While there has been considerable focus on how longer-term climate variation is likely to impact sponges, there is very little data on their response to more rapid extremes of temperature. Given the frequency and severity of MHWs is expected to increase in the future, there is urgent need to understand their impacts on key groups of marine organisms. The exact nature of the project will be developed between the successful student and Prof Bell, meaning there is lots of scope for developing different areas of interest. 

Key attributes/skills/qualifications that are required: 1) Master’s degree or an equivalent standard with a NZ equivalent GPA of 8.5 (out of 9) or above (see important note on funding); 2) a minimum of a PADI Rescue Diver certificate with relevant diving experience (or equivalent – NO exceptions); 3) IELTS overall band of 6.5, no sub-score below 6 (or equivalent, see -; 4) ability to work as part of a team; and 5) ability to work at remote locations. Experience of working on boats would also be an advantage.

Applications in the first instance should be made directly to Prof Bell by 31st August (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). Interviews as needed will take place in early September.

Funding Notes

IMPORTANT NOTE: It will be necessary for the PhD student to secure stipend and fees funding, which can be sought from VUW (for domestic and international students). While I 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 December 1st 2021 and assistance will be given in preparing for this deadline. You must have graduated from your MSc before this scholarship deadline to be eligible for this PhD opportunity.
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