Norwich Research Park Featured PhD Programmes
University of Southampton Featured PhD Programmes
University of Bristol Featured PhD Programmes

Retrospective optimisation of multifunctionality on coastal urban infrastructure

   The School of Biological and Marine Sciences

  Dr Louise Firth, Dr A Knights, Dr Mick Hanley, Dr A Foggo, Dr J Griffin, Dr Austin Brown  Wednesday, January 12, 2022  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Plymouth United Kingdom Built Environment Climate Science Data Analysis Ecology Marine Biology Marine Engineering Marine Sciences Architecture, Building & Planning Environmental Sciences Urban Planning

About the Project

Project Advert

Scientific background

Urbanisation is driving the conversion of natural habitats to novel ecosystems - simplifying biological communities and impacting ecosystem functioning. In response to global sustainable development targets, there is increasing incentive to design urban systems to bring back marine life to urban shorelines, to enhance ecosystem (multi)functionality (i.e. that supports multiple ecosystem functions such as biofiltration, nutrient cycling, primary production) and yield mutual benefits for society and nature. ‘Greening of Grey Infrastructure’ (GGI) strives to bring back marine life onto engineered shorelines (e.g. seawalls). It is becoming a popular environmental solution for rehabilitation, but both theory and practice lag behind work on land. To date, coastal GGI solutions have primarily been trialled at experimental scales and focused on enhancing biodiversity on local scales, making it difficult to predict consequences/benefits when scaled-up to ‘real-world’ scenarios. 

Research methodology

This studentship will evaluate relationships between physical complexity, biodiversity, and ecosystem multi-functionality. It will apply this new empirical understanding to inform the upscaling of GGI solutions. Using a combination of in-situ field and laboratory measurements, the studentship will measure key ecosystem functions provided by existing shorelines both with and without GGI solutions, and use these alongside modelling approaches to provide estimates of ecosystem multi-functionality that GGI could provide if scaled-up to larger seascape scales.


The student will join the Marine Eco-engineering Research Unit and benefit from being part of a large global network (i.e. The World Harbour Project). The student will build independence and expertise through research leadership including project management and scientific communication (i.e. publications, conference presentations). The student will receive training experimental design, statistics and field experimental from the supervisory team and ARIES DTP training schemes. The student will also be supported to undergo additional external training in functional traits (via supervisor at Swansea University) and modelling techniques. They will have the opportunity to gain invaluable industry experience through a 3-month placement with CASE partner ARUP, a global engineering company specialising in sustainable development. 

Person specification

Degree in marine biology/ecology/environmental science or related discipline. Desirable skills include ecological sampling, programming and statistics (e.g. R/Matlab).  

Funding Notes

This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP and will start 1st October 2022.
Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship covering fees, stipend (£15,609 p.a. for 2021-22) and research funding. International applicants (EU and non-EU) are eligible for fully-funded UKRI studentships.
ARIES students benefit from bespoke graduate training and £2,500 for external training, travel and conferences.
ARIES is committed to equality, diversity, widening participation and inclusion. Academic qualifications are considered alongside non-academic experience. Our recruitment process considers potential with the same weighting as past experience.
For information and full eligibility visit  View Website


1) Firth, L.B., Thompson, R.C., White, F.J., Schofield, M., Skov, M.W., Hoggart, S.P., Jackson, J., Knights, A.M., Hawkins, S.J., 2013. The importance of water‐retaining features for biodiversity on artificial intertidal coastal defence structures. Diversity and Distributions, 19, 1275-1283.

2) Lebrija-Trejos, E., Pérez-García, E.A., Meave, J.A., Bongers, F. and Poorter, L., 2010. Functional traits and environmental filtering drive community assembly in a species‐rich tropical system. Ecology, 91, 386-398.

3) Firth, L.B., Duff, L., Gribben, P.E., Knights, A.M., 2021. Do positive interactions between marine invaders increase likelihood of invasion into natural and artificial habitats?. Oikos, 130, 453-463.

4) Gribben, P.E., Byers, J.E., Clements, M., McKenzie, L.A., Steinberg, P.D. and Wright, J.T., 2009. Behavioural interactions between ecosystem engineers control community species richness. Ecology Letters, 12, 1127-1136.

5) Firth, L.B., Browne, K.A., Knights, A.M., Hawkins, S.J. and Nash, R., 2016. Eco-engineered rock pools: a concrete solution to biodiversity loss and urban sprawl in the marine environment. Environmental Research Letters, 11(9), 094015.
PhD saved successfully
View saved PhDs