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Multiple stressor effects on benthic microorganism structure and function

   School of Biology

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  Dr Julie Hope  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project


Marine ecosystems are threatened by various human activities including increased nutrient loads, climate change and emerging pollutants. Each of these challenges can be regarded as a “stressor” affecting a target group of organisms. While single stressor responses of marine organisms to anthropogenic stress are often targeted, an understanding of interacting stressors is vital.

While microorganisms, such as the microphytobenthic community, underpin coastal ecosystem function and service provision (Hope et al., 2019), many of these microorganisms are sensitive, and respond quickly, to environmental and anthropogenic stressors. Freshwater biomonitoring programs (e.g. Water Framework Directive) frequently use diatoms as key indicators of environmental change, but their use as indicators in marine and transitional environments has not been fully explored. These sensitive microbial indicator species and benthic bacteria, have the potential to help disentangle multi-stressors effects and the wider effects on ecosystem function (Sagova-Mareckova et al., 2021). Additional research to understand the response of marine benthic microorganisms and ecosystem functions to multiple stressors and environmental change is therefore timely and crucial.



We are seeking a highly motivated individual to investigate the effects of single and multiple stressors on microbial community structure and diversity (both eukaryotes and prokaryotes) and the effects on key benthic ecosystem functions such as ecosystem metabolism, organic matter degradation and nutrient cycling.

The project aims to deliver a new understanding on the effects of, for example, water nutrient chemistry and organic enrichment, global warming and pollutants. The project will exploit traditional methods (microscopy) and recent advances in metabarcoding and next generation sequencing to monitor the response of the eukaryotic (e.g. diatoms) and prokaryotic communities to environmental change.

The project will involve a mixture of fieldwork and manipulative experiments to examine changes in microphytobenthic and bacterial diversity in response to interacting stressors, and to quantify the effects on ecosystem function. The successful candidate will be expected to develop and plan the PhD, engage in the development of new methodologies to study microbial community dynamics and measure functional responses to multiple stressors, alongside their supervisors (Dr Julie Hope (Scottish Oceans Institute), Prof David Paterson (Scottish Oceans Institute), Dr Tom Wilding (Scottish Assoc. of Marine Science).


Expected outcomes

The candidate will be trained and become expert in a wide range of ecological and biogeochemical techniques, including taxonomic identification via microscopy and genomics, photosynthetic capacity, oxygen dynamics, and nutrient analysis. They will benefit from additional support, networking, training and workshop opportunities offered by the Marine Alliance for Science and Technology for Scotland (MASTS) graduate program, to which they will be enrolled. MASTS workshops cover a range of topics to help students define research questions, design experiments, analyse and manage data, and develop transferrable skills.

Information on the Scottish Oceans Institute, MASTS and life at The University of St Andrews can be found at:


The studentship is open to a highly motivated UK or international/EU applicants with at least an Upper Second Class Honours degree in a relevant subject. We will consider applicants from wide variety of related disciplines, e.g. microbiology, ecology, environmental sciences, biological oceanography, chemistry, biology, etc). Demonstrable knowledge of appropriate laboratory skills and a proven ability to work to tight deadlines, systematically and logically is expected.

If you have any questions about the project, please contact Dr Julie Hope ([Email Address Removed]).

This PhD studentship is internally funded (School of Biology, University of St Andrews) and tuition fees and a stipend will be provided for 3.5 years. The candidate will be based at the Scottish Oceans Institute (SOI) under the supervision of Dr Julie Anne Hope and Prof. David M Paterson, with additional support from Dr Tom Wilding (UHI/SAMS).

How To Apply

Please make a formal application to the School of Biology through our Online Application Portal.

The following documents are required;

  • CV
  • Cover letter/ personal statement
  • An outline of your own research proposal for this project (1 page max) 
  • Contact details for 2 referees
  • Academic qualifications
  • English language qualification (if applicable).

Funding Notes

The funding for this project will cover full tuition fees (Home or Overseas) and a living stipend for 3.5 years.


Hope, J. A., Paterson, D. M., & Thrush, S. F. (2020). The role of microphytobenthos in soft‐sediment ecological networks and their contribution to the delivery of multiple ecosystem services. Journal of Ecology, 108(3), 815-830.
Rimmer, J. E., Hubas, C., Wyness, A. J., Jesus, B., Hartley, M., Blight, A. J., ... & Paterson, D. M. (2022). The response of microphytobenthos to physical disturbance, herbicide, and titanium dioxide nanoparticle exposure. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 185, 114348.
Danovaro, R., & Pusceddu, A. (2007). Biodiversity and ecosystem functioning in coastal lagoons: does microbial diversity play any role? Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science, 75(1-2), 4-12.
Aylagas, E., Atalah, J., Sánchez‐Jerez, P., Pearman, J. K., Casado, N., Asensi, J., ... & Carvalho, S. (2021). A step towards the validation of bacteria biotic indices using DNA metabarcoding for benthic monitoring. Molecular Ecology Resources, 21(6), 1889-1903.
Serôdio, J., Paterson, D. M., Méléder, V., & Vyverman, W. (2020). Advances and challenges in microphytobenthos research: From cell biology to coastal ecosystem function. Frontiers in Marine Science, 7, 608729.
Smucker, N. J., Pilgrim, E. M., Nietch, C. T., Darling, J. A., & Johnson, B. R. (2020). DNA metabarcoding effectively quantifies diatom responses to nutrients in streams. Ecological Applications, 30(8), e02205.
Pérez-Burillo, J., Valoti, G., Witkowski, A., Prado, P., Mann, D. G., & Trobajo, R. (2022). Assessment of marine benthic diatom communities: insights from a combined morphological–metabarcoding approach in Mediterranean shallow coastal waters. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 174, 113183.

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