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QUADRAT DTP: Establishing Marine Biodiversity Baselines for Blue Carbon Habitats


About the Project

Coastal ecosystems play a key role in combating the climate crisis by storing and sequestering carbon, but many of these blue carbon ecosystems face ongoing threats from environmental change and human activities. Maintaining biological diversity in these habitats is essential for proper carbon cycling but many marine taxa that contribute to this process remain undocumented. Marine invertebrates play an especially important role in long-term carbon storage because many produce calcareous shells, but genetic data is lacking for well over 50% of the marine invertebrate fauna in the UK.

The first step in increasing our knowledge and protecting blue carbon habitats is to document and monitor biodiversity. Molecular methods for monitoring biodiversity (i.e. metabarcoding) have been shown to be more efficient than traditional monitoring approaches, but only when used alongside a complete reference database. As such, the lack of a reference database for taxa inhabiting blue carbon ecosystems across the UK limits our ability to protect these habitats.

You will help address these knowledge gaps by establishing a marine invertebrate DNA barcode reference library for priority blue carbon habitats in the UK and testing environmental DNA methods to support the future monitoring of these vulnerable habitats.

Specifically, you will:
i) Synthesize our current understanding of the role of marine invertebrates in carbon sequestration and storage
ii) Collect and identify marine invertebrates from diverse blue carbon habitats across the UK, with a focus on priority littoral and sublittoral habitats (e.g. maerl beds, seagrass beds, intertidal mudflats, coastal saltmarsh), using a variety of field collection methods and supplementing with museum collections. You will also collect water and sediment samples for objective iv).
iii) Use molecular techniques to build a comprehensive DNA barcode reference library for marine invertebrates from blue carbon habitats
iv) Evaluate the use of environmental DNA (eDNA) as a tool for assessing biodiversity in blue carbon habitats by comparing diversity and abundance in a standardized sample to that in aqueous and sediment samples analysed with eDNA metabarcoding. This will be one of the first projects to directly compare the recovery of benthic invertebrate species from different eDNA sources in the British Isles.

You will be supervised by Dr. Kara Layton in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Aberdeen and by Dr. Julia Sigwart in the School of Biological Sciences at Queen’s University Belfast. You will be based at the University of Aberdeen but you will have the opportunity to visit Queen’s Marine Laboratory in Portaferry. This is in addition to conducting fieldwork across diverse coastal regions in the UK and visiting some of the nation’s largest museum collections. You will be trained in marine invertebrate collection and identification, molecular data generation, metabarcoding, data visualization and bioinformatics by both supervisors and through virtual training opportunities.

You are expected to hold a first-class Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in a subject relevant to marine biology, zoology or genetics. Previous training and experience in molecular data generation and analysis is desirable but not essential.

More project details are available here:

How to apply:

Funding Notes

QUADRAT studentships are open to UK and international candidates (EU and non-EU). Funding will cover UK tuition fees/stipend/research & training support grant only.

Before applying please check full funding and eligibility information: View Website

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