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PhD in Earth Sciences: Is coral bleaching getting fatter?

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  • Full or part time
    Dr N Kamenos
    Prof Jaime Toney
    Dr Dan Exton
    Dr H Burdett
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

The ecosystem services provided by coral reefs are worth over $100 billion annually and include coast line protection, tourism, food and medical derivatives. However, the health of the constituent corals can be significantly impacted by coral bleaching. Coral bleaching is the loss of symbiotic zooxanthellae (Symbiodiniaceae) from tropical corals and can be caused by stressors such as thermal perturbations, disease and freshwater runoff (Fig 1). Thermal perturbations are thought to be the most significant bleaching trigger and have been well documented in conjunction with major global bleaching events in 1998, 2002 & 2016/17. These mass bleaching events caused widespread coral death with catastrophic ecosystem and service provision impacts.
While we have an improving understanding of the external triggers of coral bleaching and the devastation bleaching can cause, the internal bleaching mechanism itself is still not fully understood. There is evidence that lipids may play a role in bleaching through their functions in energy allocation and transfer to the coral host (Baumann et al. 2014, Imbs et al. 2014), however, this may interact with other physiological and environmental triggers. In particular, differences in lipid and fatty acid metabolism and transfer may impart bleaching sensitivity or robustness in some coral-symbiont-microbe communities (Grottoli et al. 2017). Using laboratory and Caribbean-based field experiments, this project will assess the role and function of lipids and fatty acids in coral bleaching sensitivity, with a focus on between-species sensitivity and resilience.
Aim: This project will determine the roles of lipids in the coral bleaching process. This is important as it will enable a more robust understanding of coral bleaching and its precursors.

The scholar will have the opportunity to conduct field work in the Caribbean (Honduras and/or Dominica) (Fig. 2; diving is optional). The PhD will also involve laboratory work conducted at the University of Glasgow and the Lyell Centre. Field work will involve in situ sampling of corals and reef surveys during different bleaching phases. Laboratory analyses will involve organic biomarker assays, pulse chase experiments and subsequent interpretation of the data.

For more details see:


How to Apply: Please contact Nick Kamenos for further details

Funding Notes

Funding is available to cover tuition fees UK applicants, as well as paying a stipend at the Research Council rate (estimated £15,009 for Session 2020-21).

UKRI regulations apply. These criteria require all students to be Home or EU domiciled, and only allows for EU students to receive a full maintenance grant if they have been resident in the UK for the last 3 years prior to the commencement of their studentship.

How good is research at University of Glasgow in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 34.80

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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