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The role of coastal ichthyoplankton and zooplankton to ecosystem function Falkland Islands marine environment

   School of Biological Sciences

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  Prof S Piertney, Dr A Douglas, Dr Paul Brickle  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

The Falkland Islands are a UK Overseas Territory at the southern end of the Patagonian Shelf in the south-western Atlantic Ocean. The waters around the Falkland Islands are highly productive, with oceanography defined by the Falkland Current (originating from the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, which transports cold and low saline waters northwards) and the warm water, southward flowing Brazil Current. This high productivity supports several commercially important fish species and indeed globally important marine mammal and seabird populations including black browed albatross, 5 species of penguin, sea lions fur seals, baleen and toothed whales. As a consequence of these nutrient waters, the food web is characterized by large sized primary producers (i.e. diatoms Chaetoceros spp. and Thalassiosira spp.), which are consumed by large sized copepods, amphipods and euphausiids (Calanus tonsus, Themisto gaudichaudii, Euphausia vallentini). However, the role of zooplankton in Falkland Islands’ (FI) nearshore environment remains unclear. The PhD will support the recently funded “DPLUS148: Climate change resilience in Falkland Islands fisheries and marine ecosystems”. This is an excellent opportunity to understand the importance of coastal Falkland Islands as nurseries for commercial fisheries, predators and as trophic bridges to the shelf ecosystem. This work is important to identifying key species in the Falkland Islands ecosystem, the linkages between our inshore and offshore environments and it will feed into an ecosystem model being developed by the project.

Study Objectives

1.      Create a temporal and spatial baseline of zooplankton, ichthyoplankton and squid paralarval communities in the coastal waters of East Falkland

2.      Elucidate the population dynamics of Munida gregaria from pelagic life history stages to settlement and reproduction

3.      Quantify the role of the FI inshore environment as nurseries for commercial squid and fish

4.      Quantify the role of the FI inshore environment as ‘trophic bridges’ to the shelf ecosystem

This programme will also allow for the creation of larval atlases of fish and crustaceans in coastal zooplankton through sampling and DNA barcoding.

Essential background of student:

We welcome UK resident applications from exceptional candidates with a solid academic record (at least a 2:1 Honour’s degree or international equivalent). Candidates should preferably have a Masters-level degree with Merit/ Distinction.

Applicants with great academic potential and clear motivation to conduct world-class research will be considered. Previous research experience in engaging with partners, academic writing, conducting systematic literature reviews, publishing research, and qualitative data analysis is highly desirable. The candidates should also be able to work independently as well as in a team, collaborate with colleagues and have excellent communication skills.

Informal enquiries would be welcomed for a discussion. Please contact Professor Stuart Piertney ([Email Address Removed]) for more information.



  • Formal applications can be completed online:
  • You should apply for Biological Sciences (PhD) to ensure your application is passed to the correct team.
  • Please clearly note the name of the supervisor and project title on the application form. If you do not mention the project title and the supervisor on your application it will not be considered for the studentship.
  • Please include a personal statement, an up-to-date copy of your academic CV, and your relevant educational certificates and transcripts.
  • Please note: you DO NOT need to provide a research proposal with this application
  • Candidates should have (or expect to achieve) a minimum of a 2:1 Honours degree at undergraduate level.
  • General application enquiries can be made to [Email Address Removed]

Funding Notes

This is a 36-month full time studentship starting in May / June 2022. The student will be registered at the University of Aberdeen, and the project will work in conjunction with the South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute (SAERI) based in the Falkland Islands. The project is directly funded by industry in support of the grant; “DPLUS148: Climate change resilience in Falkland Islands fisheries and marine ecosystems”.
Funding includes home rate tuition fees (this includes EU nationals that hold UK settled or pre-settled status), research costs, and a stipend at the UKRI rate.


• Agnew, D. J. (2002). Critical aspects of the Falkland Islands pelagic ecosystem: distribution, spawning and migration of pelagic animals in relation to oil exploration. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems, 12:, 39–50.
• Arkhipkin, A., Brickle, P., Laptikhovsky, V. and Winter A. (2012). Dining hall at sea: the eastern Patagonian Shelf is a destination for feeding migrations of nektonic predators. Journal of Fish Biology 81: 882 – 902.
• Arkhipkin, A., Brickle, P., and Laptikhovsky, V. (2013). Links between marine fauna and oceanic fronts on the Patagonian Shelf and Slope. Arquipélago. Life Mar. Sci. 30: 19–37.
• Diez, M. J., Cabreira, A. G., Madirolas, A., & Lovrich, G. A. (2016). Hydroacoustical evidence of the expansion of pelagic swarms of Munida gregaria (Decapoda, Munididae) in the Beagle Channel and the Argentine Patagonian Shelf, and its relationship with habitat features. Journal of Sea Research, 114: 1-12.
• González, H. E., Graeve, M., Kattner, G., Silva, N., Castro, L., Iriarte, J. L., ... & Vargas, C. A. (2016). Carbon flow through the pelagic food web in southern Chilean Patagonia: relevance of Euphausia vallentini as a key species. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 557: 91-110.
• Sabatini, M., Reta, R., and Matano, R. (2004). Circulation and zooplankton biomass distribution over the southern Patagonian shelf during late summer. Continental Shelf Research. 24: 1359–1373. doi:10.1016/j.csr.2004.03.014.
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