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QUADRAT DTP: Current and past ecology of dynamic seasonal salt lakes and their responses to climate change

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Wednesday, January 22, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

The eastern Mediterranean region has been experiencing the most severe, long-term drought as a percentage reduction in rainfall, than any other region in the world and climate models predict this to continue. Predicting how these changes will impact ecosystems and biological communities is challenging, due to our limited understanding of their level of resilience to these changes. Seasonal salt lakes are relatively common in the eastern Mediterranean and they present extreme environments, which fluctuate seasonally between wet and dry phases and are often characterised by relatively simple food webs. Species of brachiopods that live in such habitats, have adapted by producing eggs that are resistant to desiccation and can stay viable buried in the sediment for many years (Karagianni et al., 2018). The presence of these eggs in the sediment allows for reconstruction of historic biological communities and subsequently characterisation of how they changed over time. Furthermore, it allows us to investigate how these ecological changes are linked to past climatic changes, types and levels of pollutants and hydrological patterns. Therefore, these seasonal wetlands can potentially be used as reference systems in studying ecosystem resilience in response to climate and environmental change.

The project will involve both fieldwork, as well as lab work and statistical modelling of species population and community dynamics. Fieldwork will take place on the island of Cyprus in the Mediterranean, which has a number of salt lakes, which differ significantly in terms of age, environmental characteristics and community composition (Christia et al., 2011). The PhD researcher will sample the aquatic communities regularly throughout the wet phase, from autumn to spring, when the wetlands dry up. Sampling will continue in the dry phase, with the extraction of sediment cores. Overall, the study will focus on both communities as well as individual species and aims to identify the intrinsic and extrinsic processes (with a focus on climate change), that shape their demography and dynamics. Specifically, this study will attempt to:

a) characterise current aquatic communities and investigate how these change seasonally
b) determine the sensitivity of these communities to climate change through the reconstruction of past communities and linking observed changes to recorded changes in climatic factors
c) assess the influence of changing pollution levels as well as past single major pollution events (eg Cs137 - Chernobyl disaster) on the biological communities.

The successful applicant will receive substantial training on fieldwork, lab and data analysis skills at both the University of Aberdeen and at Queens University Belfast. The student will learn how to carry out dating of sediment cores at QUB, analysis for elemental pollutants and statistical modelling at UoA. This project will provide excellent opportunities to network and collaboration with scientists from Scotland, Northern Ireland and the eastern Mediterranean.


Candidates should have (or expect to achieve) a minimum of a 2.1 Honours degree in a relevant subject. Applicants with a minimum of a 2.2 Honours degree may be considered providing they have a Distinction at Master’s level.


• Apply for Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Biological Sciences
• State name of the lead supervisor as ‘Name of Proposed Supervisor’ on application
• State ‘QUADRAT DTP’ as Intended Source of Funding
• Select the ‘Visit Website’ to apply now

Funding Notes

This project is funded by the NERC QUADRAT-DTP and is available to UK/EU nationals who meet the UKRI eligibility criteria. Please visit View Website for more information.

The studentship provides funding for tuition fees, stipend and a research training and support grant subject to eligibility.


Christia, et.al., 2011. A survey of the benthic aquatic flora in transitional water systems of Greece and Cyprus (Mediterranean Sea). Bot. Mar. 54, 169-178.

Karagianni, A., et.al 2018. Zooplankton communities in Mediterranean temporary lakes: the case of saline lakes in Cyprus. IJL p. 14.

How good is research at Aberdeen University in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 89.42

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

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