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

   School of Biological Sciences

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  Prof Stuart Piertney, Dr A Douglas, Dr Paul Brickle, Dr Jessie van de Grient  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

The waters around the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic are nutrient rich and highly productive, with an oceanography defined by a mix of the cold waters from the Antarctic Circumpolar Current and the southward flowing Brazil Current. This high productivity supports several commercially important fisheries species as well as globally important marine mammal and seabird populations including sea lions, fur seals, baleen and toothed whales, albatross and penguin. Whilst some research has been conducted on how phytoplankton and zooplankton underpin the foodwebs in offshore waters, much less is known about the role of zooplankton in the Falkland Islands nearshore environment and how this operates as a nursery for commercial fisheries, predators and as trophic bridges to the offshore shelf ecosystem.

This outstanding PhD opportunity will support the recently funded Darwin Plus project examining “Climate change resilience in Falkland Islands fisheries and marine ecosystems” to identify key species in the Falkland Islands ecosystem, understand the linkages between inshore and offshore environments and produce ecosystem models that describe trophic interactions.

The studentship will combine marine ecology, population modelling and molecular techniques to

  1. Create a temporal and spatial atlas of zooplankton, ichthyoplankton and squid paralarval communities in the coastal waters of East Falkland.
  2. Elucidate the population dynamics of keystone crustacean species from pelagic life history stages to settlement and reproduction.
  3. Quantify the role of the Falkland Islands inshore environment as nurseries for commercial squid and fish.
  4. Quantify the role of the Falkland Islands inshore environment as trophic bridges to the shelf ecosystem.

The project will provide outstanding opportunities for fieldwork in the Falkland Islands (up to six months per year) supported by the South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute (SAERI), coupled with extensive training in the use of DNA barcoding and molecular markers for species identification and quantitative skills training and modelling. The project also involves considerable engagement with end-user and stake-holder groups with opportunities for translating the research into applied impact by influencing policy and practice.

Informal enquiries are encouraged. Please contact Prof. Stuart Piertney ([Email Address Removed]) for further information.

Essential background of student:

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

A demonstrable track record of effective academic writing, conducting systematic literature reviews and quantitative data analysis is required. The candidates should be able to work remotely and independently as well as in a team, collaborate with colleagues and have excellent communication skills.



  • 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 cover letter / Personal Statement specific to the project you are applying for, an up-to-date copy of your academic CV, and relevant educational certificates and transcripts.
  • Please note: you DO NOT need to provide a research proposal with this application
  • General application enquiries can be made to [Email Address Removed]

Funding Notes

This is a 36-month full time studentship starting in September 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 Darwin Plus 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) 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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