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Understanding variation in marine protected areas: a spatio-temporal study of species richness and oceanographic patterns across the Galápagos Islands

   Ocean and Earth Science

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  Dr M Rius, Dr A Forryan, Dr J Robidart  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

Project Rationale:

Human impacts across the world’s oceans are causing profound changes in ecosystem structure and species distributions. Understanding such ecosystem-wide changes requires a comprehensive baseline that can be widely used to track, manage and minimise perturbations. Progress in ocean biodiversity research has to date been limited by inconsistent data collection and inadequate levels of interaction between oceanography and biology. This project will combine the study of environmental DNA (eDNA) to detect marine species richness patterns with cutting-edge oceanographic modelling.

The rapid development of eDNA metabarcoding methods (i.e. the study of genetic material recovered from environmental samples such as seawater and sediment, to simultaneously identify species) has allowed the reliable sequencing of genomic material across the entire tree of life. This project will use eDNA metabarcoding to provide the first large-scale study of species richness patterns, from microbes to whales, of the Galápagos Islands. The objectives are:

1. Quantify oceanographic drivers shaping species richness patterns and population connectivity.
2. Predict impacts of contemporary climate dynamics on marine ecosystems.
3. Unravel the effects of human impacts on marine species richness patterns.
Our approach will allow forecasting future changes in ocean currents and evaluate their effects on coastal and shelf-sea ecosystems across the archipelago.


Oceanographic datasets of the Galápagos Islands are currently being collected as part of a recently funded Royal Society Research project. The successful candidate will revisit these datasets to improve existing models on biogeochemical cycling and current dynamics. Subsequently, the candidate will obtain samples of macroscopic metazoans, and micro- and meio-plankton that will be preserved and barcoded to enhance and expand existing reference databases and improve species distributions records. The candidate will also collect seawater and sediment samples from different sites across the archipelago using established protocols (Holman et al. 2019). The preserved samples will then be transported to the National Oceanography Centre Southampton (NOCS) where they will be stored in bespoke facilities. DNA extractions and sequencing will be performed using established protocols in the Environmental Genomics Facility at NOCS. Finally, the candidate will map the processed species richness data (from eDNA datasets) and generate maps of connectivity across the Galápagos Islands using particle-tracking simulations. This will allow assessing the evolution of the particle tracks and estimate the potential of eDNA dispersal. These simulations will incorporate information from recent work on eDNA longevity and will test the relationship between species distributions and oceanographic properties.


The INSPIRE DTP programme provides comprehensive personal and professional development training alongside extensive opportunities for students to expand their multi-disciplinary outlook through interactions with a wide network of academic, research and industrial/policy partners. The student will be registered at the University of Southampton and hosted at the School of Ocean and Earth Science.

Specific training will include:
- Competence with field and laboratory work.
- Extensive use of oceanographic modelling analyses.
- Extensive use of bioinformatic and statistical tools to analyse genetic data.
- Direct consideration of the importance of marine biodiversity management initiatives.

Furthermore, the candidate will join the Ecology and Evolution Lab (www.riuslab.com), which is currently conducting research on community ecology, population genomics and conservation biology, and have close interaction with internationally renowned oceanographers and microbial biologists at NOCS. Finally, the candidate will deliver presentations at international conferences as well as publish the results in top peer-reviewed journals.

Funding Notes

You can apply for fully-funded studentships (stipend and fees) from INSPIRE if you:
Are a UK or EU national.
Have no restrictions on how long you can stay in the UK.
Have been 'ordinarily resident' in the UK for 3 years prior to the start of the project.

Please click http://inspire-dtp.ac.uk/how-apply for more information on eligibility and how to apply.


Brannigan L, Marshall DP, Naveira Garabato AC, Nurser AJG (2015) The seasonal cycle of submesoscale flows. Ocean Modelling 92: 69-84.
Holman LE, de Bruyn M, Creer C, Carvalho GR, Robidart J, Rius M (2019) Detection of introduced and resident marine species using environmental DNA metabarcoding of sediment and water. Scientific Reports 9:11559
Mashayek A, Ferrari R, Merrifield S, Ledwell JR, St. Laurent L, Naveira Garabato AC (2016) Topographic enhancement of vertical turbulent mixing in the Southern Ocean. Nature Communications 8:14197.