Replenishment of reef fish populations: are adaptive reproductive tactics fit-for-purpose in a changing world?

   School of Biological Sciences

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  Prof Jeff Shima  Applications accepted all year round  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project


Reef fishes have evolved strategies to cope with environmental variability but climate change potentially changes the game. Will strategies that maximise biological fitness in today’s world (e.g., reproductive phenology, patterns of larval development, and essential nursery habitats) continue to convey resilience, or will they lead to novel phenotype-environment mismatches that reduce fitness and cause fish populations to decline? Answers to these questions are fundamental to the fight against climate change, and will inform management actions to ensure food/economic security for many countries, including New Zealand. 

We seek a dynamic and highly motivated PhD student to join our lab group, and to help us address some of these questions. You will be based in Wellington, New Zealand, and hosted by the School of Biological Sciences and the Coastal Ecology Laboratory. There is considerable scope for you to develop a programme of research that integrates field observations and experiments with lab studies, otolith-based developmental reconstructions, and/or modelling. 

What we have to offer

As the successful candidate, you will join a fantastic, dynamic lab group, and have an opportunity to make this project your own. You will have opportunities to put your SCUBA skills to use, conduct subtidal marine field work in fabulous locations, and you will turn data into impactful publications that position you for the next stage of your career. You will enjoy all the offerings of Wellington and wider New Zealand. You will make life-long friendships, and you may never wish to leave (many of our international alumni have fallen in love with New Zealand, and secure jobs within academia, research institutes, and government ministries; others have moved on to international postdocs and/or to academic positions within their home countries).

Applicant requirements

  1. Master’s degree or an equivalent standard (see important funding notes)
  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, for more information, see this page)
  4. Ability to work independently, and as part of a team
  5. Ability to work at remote locations and/or physically demanding field conditions (experience operating or working from boats would also be an advantage).
  6. Strong quantitative skills

Application Process

Preliminary applications can be sent by email directly to Prof Shima in advance of one of the following review deadlines: 15 January, 15 May, or 15 Sept. Short-listed candidates will be notified, and interviews will be arranged. Selected candidates will be notified and encouraged to apply for university entrance and/or for the next available application round for a Wellington Doctoral Scholarship. (deadlines for these applications: 1 March, 1 July, and 1 November).

What to include in your preliminary application:

  • a cover letter outlining why you want the PhD position, and how you meet the applicant requirements (this is really important)
  • a full CV
  • a copy of your academic transcripts (unofficial transcripts are suitable for this purpose)
  • an example of your scientific writing
  • 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).

Preliminary application deadlines (sent to Prof Shima): 15 Jan, 15 May, 15 Sept (applicants for fully funded scholarships will be assessed from 15 Jan 2024)

Wellington Doctoral Scholarship deadlines (upon invitation, following preliminary application review): 1 Mar, 1 July, 1 Nov

Biological Sciences (4)

Funding Notes

IMPORTANT NOTES: We are seeking to fill two fully funded positions (inclusive of university fees, stipend, and research costs), and two partially-funded positions (i.e., research costs covered from an external grant but students must obtain a Wellington Doctoral Scholarship or similar). Decisions on fully funded positions will be made after 15 January 2024. Wellington Doctoral Scholarships are highly competitive, and have 3 closing dates per year: 1 March, 1 July, and 1 November. You must have graduated from your MSc before this scholarship deadline to be eligible for this PhD opportunity. Contact Jeff Shima for more information.


Some Recent Representative Publications:
Mitterwallner, P. and J.S. Shima. (2022b) Influence of the lunar cycle and spatial gradients on size‑dependent male and female reproductive investment decisions of a protogynous reef fish. Marine Biology 169:129 DOI: 10.1007/s00227-022-04109-9
Mitterwallner, P. and J.S. Shima. (2022) The relative influence of environmental cues on reproductive allocation of a highly iteroparous coral reef fish. Coral Reefs DOI: 10.1007/s00338-022-02239-6
Perez-Matus, A. P. Neubauer, J.S. Shima, and M.M. Rivadeneira. (2022) Reef fish diversity across the temperate South Pacific ocean. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution 10: 768707.
Durante, L., S. Wing, T. Ingram, A. Sabadel, and J. Shima. (2022) Changes in trophic structure of an exploited fish community at the centennial scale are linked to fisheries and climate forces. Scientific Reports 12:4309
Shima, J.S., C.W. Osenberg, S.H. Alonzo, E.G. Noonburg, and S.E. Swearer. (2022) How moonlight shapes environments, life histories, and ecological interactions on coral reefs. Emerging Topics in Life Sciences DOI 10.1042/ETLS20210237
Shima, J. S., C. W. Osenberg, E. G. Noonburg, S. H. Alonzo, and S. E. Swearer. (2021) Lunar rhythms in growth of larval fish. Proceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences 288: 20202609.
Hillyer, K. E., Beale, D. J., & Shima, J. S. (2021) Artificial light at night interacts with predatory threat to alter reef fish metabolite profiles. Sci. Total Environ. 769: 144482.
Shima, J. S., C.W. Osenberg, S.H. Alonzo,, E.G. Noonburg, P. Mitterwallner, and S.E. Swearer, S. E. (2020) Reproductive phenology across the lunar cycle: parental decisions, offspring responses, and consequences for reef fish. Ecology 101, e03086.
Kaemingk, M.A., S.E. Swearer, S.J. Bury, and J.S. Shima. (2019) Landscape edges shape dispersal and population structure of a migratory fish. Oecologia 190: 579-588.
Swearer S.E., E.A. Treml, and J.S. Shima (2019) A review of biophysical models of marine larval dispersal. Oceanography and Marine Biology: An Annual Review 57: 325-356.
Shima, J.S. and S.E. Swearer (2019) Moonlight enhances growth in larval fish. Ecology. 100: e02563
Caie P. and J. S. Shima (2019) Patterns of selective predation change with ontogeny but not density in a marine fish. Oecologia 189: 123–132.
Moginie, B. and Shima, J. (2018) Hatch date and growth rate drives reproductive success in nest-guarding males of a temperate reef fish. Marine Ecology Progress Series 592: 197-206.
Shima, J.S., E.G. Noonburg, S.E. Swearer, S.A. Alonzo, and C.W. Osenberg (2018) Born at the right time? A conceptual framework linking reproduction, development, and settlement in reef fish. Ecology 99: 116-126.