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The blue mussel Mytilus edulis as an indicator species for modelling marine connectivity in Scotland.

Institute of Aquaculture

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Dr Darren Green , Prof Michael Burrows , Dr S Carboni , Dr Dmitry Aleynik No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)
Stirling United Kingdom Agricultural Sciences Bioinformatics Ecology Genetics Marine Biology Zoology

About the Project

Are you a quantitative scientist looking for a project in marine biology? This SUPER DTP PhD project with the University of Stirling’s Institute of Aquaculture and the Scottish Association for Marine Science provides a unique opportunity to model the resilience of the blue mussel Mytilus edulis as part of a multi-disciplinary team.

Mussels provide a range of ecosystem services, however populations are declining, with potential stressors including ocean acidification, global warming, and changing predator-prey dynamics. It is crucial to understand the resilience of this key species, its ability to recover and recolonise, and its potential response to these and other threats. This project addresses the resilience of blue mussel at large spatial scales with models capable of representing the population dynamics of the species within locales and also dispersal between locales.

 Models will be built using a combination of “social” network modelling and metapopulation dynamic approaches. By identifying network features which are at risk or crucial as corridors between patches, targets for focus conservation and surveillance will be identified. These models will address a knowledge gap: Hydrological models typically focus in detail and with high computational complexity on water flow, without addressing long-term population dynamics. We will use outputs from hydrological models to inform our metapopulation model, and parameterise using genetic data and sampling data where available, particularly from related projects.

 The project will address the following research questions:

·       Which modelling framework (e.g. metapopulation, network) is appropriate for modelling the blue mussel population at national scale?

·       Can we construct and parameterise models which can describe and predict blue mussel population connectivity?

·       What features of the national-scale population and connectivity patterns are of highest conservation interest in terms of linking populations and regulating gene flow?

·       What are the likely impacts of global change, e.g. ocean warming, upon population structure and resilience?

The supervisory team brings together a breadth of expertise and collaborators. A previous SUPER DTP project examines dispersal and population genetics in blue mussel, including hydrodynamic modelling. At Stirling, previous PhD projects have looked at network spread in systems such as Thai shrimp and Scottish salmonid fish farms.

This project would suit either a student of mathematical background with an interest in population ecology, or a student with an ecological background with ability in mathematical modelling. Applicants should have or expect to have a good honours degree (1, 2:1 or equivalent) in a relevant subject from either the maths or biology angle. For biologists, a quantitative background and modelling experience is an advantage, e.g. programming in Matlab, Java, or R, but training will be provided.

Applicants should apply via email to [Email Address Removed] providing a full CV, covering letter indicating why you are interested in this project and what you bring to it, and details of two referees, at least one academic.

The project is expected to start on 1st October 2021. The student will be enrolled in the SUPER Graduate School and will benefit from training towards the SUPER Post Graduate Certificate in Researcher Professional Development.

Funding Notes

The studentship is co-funded by the Scottish Universities Partnership for Environmental Research Doctoral Training Partnership (SUPER DTP) and University of Stirling. It is open to all nationalities. However, it is expected that non-UK students should bring their own funding to match up with the extra international fee. Funding for part-time study is an option, with a minimum of 50% of full-time effort being required.


Steeves, L., et al. (2018). Past, Present, and Future: Performance of Two Bivalve Species Under Changing Environmental Conditions. Frontiers in Marine Science. 5. 184.
Christie, H. et al. (2020). Disappearing Blue Mussels – Can Mesopredators Be Blamed? Front. Mar. Sci. in press.
Terui, A., et al. (2014). Asymmetric dispersal structures a riverine metapopulation of the freshwater pearl mussel Margaritifera laevis. Ecology and evolution vol. 4,15: 3004-14.
Vainola, R, & Strelkov, P. (2001). Mytilus trossulus in Northern Europe. Marine Biology 158: 817-833.

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