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New models for structure and dynamics of sessile marine communities

  • Full or part time
    Dr M Spencer
  • Application Deadline
    Wednesday, January 09, 2019
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Background: the most successful existing models for the structure and dynamics of sessile marine communities use the framework of compositional data analysis, in which there are natural operations corresponding to addition and multiplication, but which make sense for data representing the amount of space filled by each taxon. However, these models do not currently include any representation of immigration, which is important in many such communities.

Objectives: we will develop models for sessile marine communities in which immigration can be represented. We will start by studying deterministic models of compositional mixture processes. We will then build stochastic versions, and investigate the biological meanings of the different possible choices for stochasticity. We will collect data on dynamics of sessile subtidal marine communities, and compare our new models with existing ones. Finally, we will attempt to develop models in which growth of some taxa creates new space for other taxa to colonize, an important but overlooked feature of many sessile marine communities.
Novelty: novel elements of this project include the application of compositional mixture processes to ecology and the development of models in which growth creates new space.

Timeliness: compositional data analysis is increasingly important in statistics, but has as yet had little impact on the mainstream of community ecology. This project has the potential to be an important early contribution to the overlap of these two fields. The ideal student will have a degree in a mathematical subject and a demonstrable interest in biology.

Applications should be made online at the following link. Please apply for: Environmental Sciences (lab based) PhD

Please upload your cover letter when asked for your personal statement; For this application only a research proposal is not required.

Enquiries can be directed to:

Jayne Avies (PGR Administrator) at

Interviews in or after the week commencing : 11th February 2019. Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed for only one project from the ACCE partnership.

Funding Notes

Competitive funding of tuition fee, research costs and stipend (£14,777
tax-free, 2018-19) from the NERC Doctoral Training Partnership “Adapting to the Challenges of a Changing Environment” (ACCE, View Website ). ACCE – a collaboration between the Universities of Sheffield, Liverpool, and York – is the only dedicated ecology/evolution/conservation Doctoral Training Partnership in the UK.


Chong, F. and Spencer, M. (2018). Analysis of relative abundances on environmental gradients. PeerJ preprint.
Allen, K.A., Bruno, J.F., Chong, F., Clancy, D., McClanahan, T.R., Spencer, M. and Zychaluk, K. (2017). ˙ Among-site variability in the stochastic dynamics of East African coral reefs. PeerJ 5:e3290.
Cooper, J.K., Spencer, M. and Bruno, J.F. (2015). Stochastic dynamics of a warmer Great Barrier Reef. Ecology 96:1802-1811.
Spencer, M. (2015). “Size” change, “shape” change, and the growth space of a community. Journal of Theoretical Biology 369: 23-41.

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