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Temperature, food, and the distribution of marine biodiversity


Project Description

The form of large-scale gradients in marine biodiversity is still debated, with the relative roles of temperature and productivity varying between habitats and taxonomic groups. Temperature appears to drive simple latitudinal gradients in diversity in shallow seas, whereas food availability is the key driver of more complex gradients in the deep sea. A more general understanding of how diversity responds to these different drivers is needed to determine how species’ responses to environmental change will impact large-scale diversity gradients. This project will investigate how species-level traits impose constraints on diversity in different environmental conditions. For instance, differences in the thermal tolerances of species have been proposed to lead to a peak in diversity at warm, but not the warmest temperatures, as relatively few species are able to thrive in either very warm or very cold water. Equally, we expect diversity to be constrained by available energy (i.e. food), with certain kinds of species occurring only in high energy environments. Proxies of species-level energy requirements include traits such as body size, but as yet there has been limited investigation into spatial patterns of body size variation across species, and its links to environmental factors. This PhD project will address this knowledge gap by combining information on the distribution, environmental tolerances, and body size of representative groups of marine organisms in both shallow and deep seas, to develop and test general theories concerning the relationships between temperature, energy availability, and marine diversity. It will take advantage of newly available data compilations and analytical methods developed by the supervisors to quantify the thermal affinities, body sizes, and spatial distributions of marine species and match these to key environmental variables. Based in the University of Sheffield, there is also an opportunity to benefit from the facilities of a dedicated marine research institution, spending time with Co-Supervisor McClain at the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium. The project will suit a candidate with a passion for developing the computational skills - primarily in R - required to harness the power of big data sets to better understand the distribution of marine life, and with the drive to communicate what these results tell us about the future of life on our blue planet.

Funding Notes

Fully funded studentships cover: (i) a stipend at the UKRI rate (at least £14,777 per annum for 2019-2020), (ii) research costs, and (iii) tuition fees. Studentship(s) are available to UK and EU students who meet the UK residency requirements.
This PhD project is part of the NERC funded Doctoral Training Partnership “ACCE” (Adapting to the Challenges of a Changing Environment View Website. ACCE is a partnership between the Universities of Sheffield, Liverpool, York, CEH, and NHM.
Shortlisted applicants will be invited for an interview to take place at the University of Sheffield the w/c 11th February 2019.

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