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  Rocky shore biodiversity: Separating the effects of anthropogenic impacts from natural variation and climate change impacts.


   School of Biology

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  Dr Andrew Blight, Prof M Burrows, Dr Jenni Kakkonen, Prof John Baxter  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

The marine environment of Orkney has been subject to a variety of pressures over the years and there is a history of marine monitoring programmes investigating the potential impacts of different activities such as those associated with the oil terminal on Flotta, aquaculture, introduction of non-native species and climate change. The rocky shores around Orkney range from extremely sheltered, fucoid-dominated shores to extremely wave-exposed animal-dominated shores. Long-term monitoring sites were set up in the 1970s, alongside intermittent survey efforts as part of the UK MarClim programme (2008, 2015, 2021) and recent baseline sites established to assess effects of two newly proposed developments – the extension of the Hatston Pier (Kirkwall) on the northern coast of the Orkney Mainland and the Scapa Deep-Water Quay on the eastern coast of Scapa Flow. At both locations there are existing potential pressures from various activities as well as the impacts of climate change. It will be important to be able to separate the effects of these existing pressures from those of any additional impacts that may arise from the proposed developments to help inform any mitigation measures that could be put in place.

Rocky shore communities are subject to considerable natural variation in the composition and abundances of key species that can mask the impacts of other pressures and the long-term effects of climate change through sea-level rise, increasing sea water temperature and increased wave action as well as increasing air temperature and changes in rainfall patterns. When seeking to develop and implement a monitoring programme to detect the impact from specific developments it is important the monitoring programme is designed in such a way that ‘cause and effect’ can be confidently attributed. Established survey designs such as ‘Before/After-Control/Impact’ (BACI) can help localise ecological changes to the time and location of the anticipated impacts, and will be used in this study.

The rocky shore monitoring programme in Orkney was established before climate change and the introduction of non-native species were considered significant threats. The data from the historical programme provide an excellent baseline and provide an insight into the scale of natural variability at several sites over 40+ years. The use of fixed-line transects, however, have some significant limitations in being able to distinguish between natural variation and climate change driven effects. The MarClim surveys that have been undertaken at various times over the last 15 years also provide an important baseline for assessing future change.

The focus of the monitoring programme on the two new proposed development sites provides the opportunity to explore a combination of well-established monitoring approaches such as line transects, but also introduce new approaches: (i) biological traits analysis (BTA) to examine the functional change in these ecosystems, and (ii) evaluation of ecological changes in the context of location within the geographical and thermal ranges of the component species.

The key aims of the project are to:

a) review historical line transect data to establish the scale of natural variability;

b) identify the impacts of emerging anthropogenic stressors in these historical datasets and separate these from natural variability;

c) assess and review the current monitoring at Hatston Pier and Scapa Deep-Water Quay;

d) develop a comprehensive monitoring programme capable of detecting short-term impacts during the development phases of these projects and longer-term impacts of the development and operational activities;

e) explore short-term (day-week) and medium-term (monthly -seasonal) variability in key species and their traits/functions to help determine the appropriate frequency of monitoring events.

Addressing these issues and establishing an appropriate monitoring programme will provide Orkney Islands Council, Harbour Authority with the necessary scientific knowledge and evidence to successfully manage the activities and protect important rocky shores around Orkney.

Candidates must submit an online application by 5th March at the following link: https://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/study/apply/postgraduate/research/. You should apply to the School of Biology, which is where the Scottish Oceans Institute is housed. The application should include:

-     CV

-     Transcripts (undergraduate and/or master’s degrees)

-     Names and contact details of two referees

-     English language qualifications, if applicable (this does not need to be completed at the time of application)

-     Statement of Purpose (max 800 words)

In the statement of purpose (max 800 words), applicants must: 

1) demonstrate their interests in specific aspects of the project, including interdisciplinary interests; and 2) outline their skills and experience that make them suited to undertake the research outlined.

Note that it is not our expectation that candidates already have all skills, instead we are looking for candidates who are interested in working at and developing skills in these disciplines. We are interested in growing a diverse and inclusive research group and encourage applications from any/all backgrounds and communities.

For project enquiries, please contact Dr Andrew Blight ([Email Address Removed]).

Application enquiries can be directed to Rachel at [Email Address Removed].


Biological Sciences (4) Environmental Sciences (13)

Funding Notes

This project is fully funded 3.5 year PhD as part of the NERC SUPER Doctoral Training Partnership.

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