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QUADRAT DTP: The genomic basis of environmental resilience and vertical zonation in the intertidal rocky shore

Project Description

The extreme environmental variation in salinity, temperature and pH that characterises the rocky shore during a tidal cycle has driven a raft of different physiological and behavioural adaptations among intertidal marine organisms to cope with abiotic stress. For sessile organisms, the different evolutionary routes through which this is achieved also underpins the patterns of zonation seen on the shore, with some species escaping competition on the low-shore by developing stress response adaptations to the more challenging environments on the high-shore.

This is exemplified in the classic pattern of ecological segregation seen in the barnacles Semibalanus balanoides and Cthamalus stellatus that was first observed by Charles Darwin and then properly documented in the 1950s. Chthamalus is more tolerant of physical stresses than Semibalanus, and can therefore survive in the high-shore environment, where it has an ecological refuge beyond the limits of Semibalanus.

The advent of different environmental genomics approaches now provides the tools to dissect the genetic basis of enhanced environmental resilience to the harsh intertidal conditions, and understand the interplay between ecological and evolutionary drivers in shaping the distribution of intertidal organisms.

This project will combine transcriptomic approaches to characterise gene expression profiles to aerial exposure challenge for Chthamalus and Semibalanus sampled from different heights up the shore with population genomic approaches to identify genes have elevated DNA sequence divergence due to natural selection across different spatial geographic scales and varying environmental conditions. The recently completed Semibalanus genome sequence will allow genetic and transcriptomic divergence between the species to be linked with function, and thus elucidate the underlying mechanics of physiological responses to life in the intertidal.

The student will gain comprehensive experience in a range of ’omics technologies including high throughput DNA sequencing using second and third generation platforms, plus extensive training in bioinformatics analysis. The project provides the opportunity to combine lab and fieldwork to address both a classical issue in marine biology using state-of-the-art approaches, and also foster a much broader understanding of the evolutionary resilience that will allow species to persist in the face of long-term environmental change.


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.

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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