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Why phytoplankton are so diverse in the ocean desert?

Project Description

We are looking for a highly motivated student to join our group. This fully-funded 3 year studentship needs to be filled in as soon as possible, so we recommend applying immediately.

Since Darwin, ecologists have been fascinated by the latitudinal gradients of biodiversity on Earth. Why are there so many phytoplankton species in the subtropical ocean gyre, which is believed as an “ocean desert”? (Barton et al. 2010; Righetti et al. 2019) This is particularly puzzling if you think about the principle of “Competitive exclusion” that states that the number of coexisting species should not exceed the number of different resources (Hardin 1960)? You will have the opportunity to attack this problem using a variety of tools such as analyzing partial differential equations, numerical simulation, and statistical analysis.

It is anticipated that you will receive substantial trainings in mathematical and statistical modelling including but not limited to analyses of ordinary and partial differential equations and Bayesian inference. You will also have the opportunity to use the high-performance computing system in Strathclyde ( Your mathematical, statistical, and programming skills are expected to be substantially enhanced during the PhD training. These skills will be very useful for securing some of the most popular jobs in this Big Data era.

You will mainly work within the Marine Population Modelling group, Department of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Strathclyde ( You will also have the opportunity to collaborate with the group of Prof Hongbin Liu in Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

Applicants should have or expect to obtain a good honours degree (1, 2.1, or equivalent) in applied mathematics, statistics, theoretical ecology, oceanography, or a highly quantitative science. Experience of numerical modelling and programming in Fortran, Matlab or R would be highly beneficial, but not essential.

To apply, send 1) a complete CV, 2) a 1 page personal statement explaining your interests and skills for this project, and 3) names and contact information of three references to the lead supervisor, Dr Bingzhang Chen, Department of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow at .

We value diversity and welcome applications from all sections of the community.
The University currently holds a Bronze Athena SWAN award, recognising our commitment to advancing women’s careers in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM) employment in academia.

Funding Notes

The studentship is co-funded by both the University of Strathclyde and Hong Kong Branch of Southern Marine Science and Engineering Guangdong Laboratory (Guangzhou) and are open to all nationalities. However, it is expected that non-EU/UK students should bring their own funding to match up with the extra international fee.


Armstrong, R. A., & McGehee, R. (1980). Competitive exclusion. The American Naturalist, 115, 151-170.
Barton, A.D., Dutkiewicz, S., Flierl, G., Bragg, J. and Follows, M.J. (2010). Patterns of diversity in marine phytoplankton. Science, 327, 1509-1511.
Chesson, P. (2000). Mechanisms of maintenance of species diversity. Annual review of Ecology and Systematics, 31, 343-366.
Hardin, G. (1960). The competitive exclusion principle. Science, 131, 1292-1297.
Huisman, J., & Weissing, F. J. (1999). Biodiversity of plankton by species oscillations and chaos. Nature, 402, 407-410.
Hutchinson, G.E., 1961. The paradox of the plankton. The American Naturalist, 95, 137-145.
Righetti, D., Vogt, M., Gruber, N., Psomas, A. and Zimmermann, N.E., 2019. Global pattern of phytoplankton diversity driven by temperature and environmental variability. Science advances, 5, p.eaau6253.

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