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Stressing the stressed: to investigate the fitness outcome resulting from the combination of environmental (pH) stress


Project Description

Since the onset of mass production of plastics in the 1950’s the flux of plastics to the marine environment has been a growing problem (Cole at al., 2011), such that microplastic contamination of the oceans is now one of the world’s most pressing environmental concerns (Hurley et al., 2018). Recent work highlights how such materials have been found in the full range of ocean environments from the depths of the deepest ocean trenches (Woodall et al., 2014; Fischer et al., 2015; Frid and Caswell 2017)) to coastal seas around the ice-capped poles (Waller et al., 2017; Lusher et al., 2015, Obbard et al., 2014).

Microplastic pollution is known to be interacting with organisms and entering primary levels of the marine food chain (Cole et al., 2013) causing a range of unidentified and unquantified ecological outcomes. Critically, we have little understanding of the complex biological, bio-physical and bio-chemical interactions associated with the ingestion of microplastics and how this influences their fate and the fate of marine ecosystems. Significant research is therefore needed to address some of the critical gaps in our knowledge of microplastics in the marine environment. This will be achieved by a cluster of 6 PhDs investigating the physical processes and dynamics of plastic particles from fluvial source zones, through estuarine stores to marine sinks, the ecological impacts on remote and local environments and the ecophysiological and ecotoxicological effects on individual species and ecosystems.

The cluster objectives are:
[1] To quantify ecological and biological effects of microplastics on marine ecosystems and marine invertebrate physiology (1-2; 5-6).
[2] Determine the flux, types and concentrations of micro-plastic debris exiting major riverine and estuarine systems, into the coastal and wider ocean (projects 3-4).

Summary of PhD Project

Stressing the stressed: to investigate the fitness outcome resulting from the combination of environmental (pH) stress
Supervised by Katharina Wollenberg Valero, Jorg Hartege (University of Hull) & Dr. Valerie Smith, (University of St. Andrews)

An up-and-coming research topic related to changing oceans is on multiple environmental stressors producing adverse outcomes for population fitness such as disease susceptibility. This studentship will use this novel approach of combining multiple stressors in the laboratory to quantify these effects and extrapolate them to ecosystem scales. The project will investigate the fitness outcome resulting from the combination of environmental (pH) stress levels expected under climate change predictions with additional stress experienced through Microplastics.

Fitness effects will be measured in form of immune challenges (e.g., experimental infection with bacterial pathogens). The outcome of this project is an estimator for the mathematical relationship between microplastic and additional stressors which will inform trait-based models of climate change impacts.

Applicants should have a 1st class undergraduate degree or Masters level research qualification in a relevant discipline. A 2:1 may be considered, if combined with relevant experience. It is anticipated that the successful applicant will have a 1st class undergraduate degree or Masters level qualification. Additionally, experience of lab techniques and knowledge of marine ecosystems would be beneficial.

To apply for these Scholarships please click on the link below:
https://www.hull.ac.uk/choose-hull/study-at-hull/admissions/postgraduate/how-to-apply.aspx

PhD students at the University of Hull follow modules for research and transferable skills development and gain a Masters level Certificate, or Diploma, in Research Training, in addition to their research degree.

Successful applicants will be informed of the award as soon as possible and by 15th March 2019 at the latest.

Funding Notes

Full-time UK/EU and International PhD Scholarships will include fees at the ‘home/EU' student rate and maintenance (£14,777 in 2018/19) for three years, depending on satisfactory progress.

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