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Novel trophic pathways through coral reef sponges

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Saturday, June 01, 2019
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Project Description

Sponges are important functional components of coral reefs that are involved in a number of different trophic pathways. While the role that sponges play in removing and regulating particulate organic material from the water column is well known, there is less known about the removal of dissolved organic carbon, and even less about the movement of carbon from sponges back to the water column or to other trophic levels. For example, the recently described ‘sponge loop’ has shown how sponges may feed on dissolved organic carbon, which is then assimilated by the sponges and subsequently released as detritus, only to then be fed on by detritivores and potentially passed to higher trophic levels. Given the increasing evidence to support greater domination of sponges on coral reefs in the future there is increasing need to understand the complexity of these trophic interactions and nutrient pathways through sponges. This PhD will focus on novel nutrient pathways on coral reefs as a result of sponge mucus production and the potential for this mucus to be consumed by other reef organisms and support higher trophic levels. The final project will be developed between the supervisors and students, but we expect the project will include fieldwork, laboratory experiments/observations and potentially ecological modelling.

This project will be based at Victoria University of Wellington (VUW) in New Zealand and supervised by Professor James Bell (VUW) and Dr Nicole Webster from the Institute of Marine Sciences (AIMS) in Australia. This project offers the unique opportunity to work in Wellington, the Hoga Island Research station in Indonesia and at AIMS in Townsville Australia. For information about the research of the supervisors see:

Key attributes/skills/qualifications that are required: 1) Master’s degree or an equivalent standard (see important note below); 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) evidence of the ability to work for extended periods in remote locations; and 5) ability to work as part of a team.

Applications in the first instance should be made directly to Prof Bell by 1st June (or sooner) and include a cover letter outlining why you want the PhD position, 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). Email:

An expected start date will be late 2019.

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 2019 and assistance will be given in preparing for this deadline.

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