Linking functional and demographic traits to predict population viability of marginal coral populations
Dr Maria Beger (University of Leeds, School of Biology)
Dr Roberto Salguero-Gomez (University of Oxford, Department of Zoology)
Associate Professor James D Reimer (University of the Ryukyus, MISE)
The recent unprecedented levels of heat stress have profoundly altered many coral reef communities globally, affecting ~1 billion people whose livelihoods depend directly on them. As climatic conditions become increasingly extreme and thus marginal for coral species, coral reef ecosystems are predicted to barely persist due to increased frequencies of acute thermal stress events. The processes of reorganisation and life history strategies for persistence in marginal environments are already observable today as corals and other reef-associated taxa shift towards cooler environments. Community reorganisation results from species responding differently to increasingly extreme climatic conditions, driven by their life histories and anatomy. The fates of species populations are largely determined by their life history strategies, that is, how individuals invest in survival, development, and reproduction. For instance, anatomical traits such as coral colony shape may predict their thermal stress resistance. Surprisingly, the use of modern population approaches to describe community outcomes remains limited, along with our understanding of the factors shaping the persistence and abundance of species within marginal communities.
In this project, you will work with leading coral reef ecologists and population ecologists to explore these topics:
1. The drivers of the tangible difference of functional morphological traits between tropical and subtropical coral communities;
2. The influence of functional traits on coral demographic responses; and
3. The hierarchical effects of functional and demographic traits in shaping community dynamics along the environmental gradient and in response to future predicted warming.
The project has two components that require equal interest and strength in learning field and mathematical modelling methods. The field component will consist of annual surveys and maintenance of existing coral plots in Japan and Australia, with a tropical and subtropical location at each. This requires at least 5 weeks in the field annually, and a minimum of a PADI Divemaster qualification (or equivalent). The permanent coral plots have been established since 2016 (Australia) and 2017 (Japan), thus the student will initially work with existing datasets from these plots, and existing demographic data from the www.comadre-db.com databases. The modelling will apply Integral Projection Models and other quantitative demographic methods to perform analyses. Thus, a strong background and/or interest in quantitative methods, and at good knowledge of R is required. The student’s work will build on a long-term dataset and code with many collaborators, thus we are looking for an individual who both thrives in creative thinking and collaborative teamwork.
You will be supervised by Dr Maria Beger (University of Leeds, School of Biology), Associate Professor Rob Salguero-Gomez (University of Oxford, Department of Zoology), and Associate Professor James D Reimer (University of the Ryukyus, MISE). These are world-leaders in their fields with an excellent track record in training PhD students and publishing high impact research. The project offers the unique opportunity to develop an interdisciplinary knowledge base encompassing quantitative ecology, demography, and functional ecology, and offers specialist training in:
• scientific programming skills for processing and visualising large datasets;
• skills in demographic quantitative approaches;
• coral ecology and field methods.
You will also have access to training workshops that cover technical and broader professional development skills and you will present your research at international scientific conferences. Visits to Japan to engage with local collaborating scientists are part of the project. You will benefit from expertise within the School of Biology, and from being a member of the Priestley International Centre for Climate at the University of Leeds, a globally leading centre for climate research.
entry requirements. An excellent first degree (1st or high 2.1), MSc relevant to marine ecology; and skills and interest in quantitative approaches and marine ecology are key, as is SCUBA diving experience with a qualification to Divemaster.
Application is a two step process: https://studentservices.leeds.ac.uk/pls/banprod/bwskalog_uol.P_DispLoginNon
Apply here, to get a student number: https://phd.leeds.ac.uk/funding/46-leeds-doctoral-scholarships-2020-april-deadline
Then apply for the scholarship.
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FTE Category A staff submitted: 60.90
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