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Quantifying and managing multi-taxon range shifts in marine reef ecosystems


Key facts

Type of research degree
Application deadline
Ongoing deadline
Country eligibility
International (open to all nationalities, including the UK)
Dr Maria Beger
Additional supervisors
Professor Piers Forster, Professor James D Reimer, Dr Brigitte Sommer
School of Biology
<h2 class="heading hide-accessible">Summary</h2>

This project is available to self-funded candidates only.<br /> <br /> The School of Biology invites applications from postgraduate researchers who wish to commence study for a PhD in marine ecology to study reef tropicalisation in 2023/24. This PhD project is a marine ecology project that will employ cutting-edge modelling and unique marine datasets to model range shifts of marine species under climate change and develop novel conservation mechanisms to manage them. The work will require collaboration with institutions in Japan. There is considerable scope for the student to shape the direction of their research.<br /> <br /> This opportunity is open to candidates who have a sponsor who will cover this cost or who have the means to self-fund their studies. <br /> <br /> This PhD project will model and forecast relationships between biota and their physical environment, evaluating how species and functional niches have responded to specific environmental and biotic drivers over time. This work will use existing data for multiple taxa in Japan, and focus on fishes, hard corals, molluscs, echinoderms, sponges, algae, and soft corals, where students are welcome to specialise on a taxon or take a multi-taxon approach. Depending on the interests of the successful candidate, specific questions could include:<br /> 1. What are the trajectories of climate change exposure for subtropical and temperate reefs in Japan?<br /> 2. Hindcasting: have reef communities changed according to our predictions between 2015 and 2023?<br /> 3. Ecological benchmark(s): what is the northern limit of (disease, coral distributions, &hellip;) and how has it changed?<br /> 4. Forecasting: are future changes in functional scopes similar across taxa? <br /> 5. Application: given known and predicted distributions, where are priority sites for marine protected areas in Japan?<br /> <br /> The project&rsquo;s interdisciplinary approach involving experts in the disparate fields of physical sciences, ecology and conservation science, and its novel combination of existing datasets will allow to advance our ability to manage these ecosystems.

<h2 class="heading hide-accessible">Full description</h2>

<h5>Background</h5> <p>Climate change threatens tropical coral reefs globally (Dixon et al. 2022). Subtropical and temperate reef ecosystems differ from their tropical coral reef neighbours, as they are shaped by a biogeographical overlap of taxa at their range margins, endemic species, and by strong seasonality (Sommer et al. 2014). Tropical species are starting to transform the biological communities living on high-latitude reefs (Verges et al. 2014) and their functions (Floyd et al. 2020). Subtropical and temperate reefs may serve as climate change refugia for vulnerable tropical coral reef species, giving them high, but as yet unrealized, conservation priority (Beger et al. 2014, Makino et al. 2014, Kumagai et al. 2018).</p> <p>Subtropical reef communities are shaped by highly seasonal marginal environmental conditions (Nozawa et al. 2008, Yamano et al. 2011, Beger et al. 2014, Muir et al. 2015), and, increasingly they are exposed to climate-related environmental stressors (Harrison et al. 2011, Dixon et al. 2022). For example, scleractinian coral communities change along the tropical to temperate gradients according to their traits (Sommer et al. 2014, Sommer et al. 2018). Similarly, the functional scopes of fishes (Clay unpublished), molluscs (Floyd et al. 2020), echinoderms (Cook unpublished), and octocorals and zoantharians (Otis unpublished) change with environmental conditions. Therefore, quantifying the drivers of community assembly on subtropical reefs is an important prerequisite to predict how high-latitude reefs may be affected by climate change, and to develop conservation plans.&nbsp;</p> <p>The management and conservation of tropicalising reefs is challenged by the dynamism of the environment, and changes in community structure that already affect industries. For example, Japanese fishers lose their traditional algae fishery as kelp habitats decline and the target algae are replaced by coral communities or barrens. Protected areas have the potential to delay tropicalisation (Bates et al. 2014), and there may be options to protect sites that experience the least change, or an approach where such protected areas are accompanied by dynamic area-based protection measures (Tittensor et al. 2019).&nbsp;</p> <p>The PhD will be supervised by Associate Professor Maria Beger (lead, Leeds, School of Biology, UK), Professor Piers Forster (Leeds, School of Earth and Environment, UK), and Professor James Reimer (University of the Ryukyus, Japan). These are world-leaders in their fields with excellent track records in training PhD students and publishing high impact research. The project offers the opportunity to develop an interdisciplinary skill set in conservation science, marine ecology and climate science, and offers specialist training in processing and modelling large climate and ecological datasets and skills in spatial conservation decision making and commonly used decision support software, e.g., <a href="">Marxan</a> and <a href="">prioritizR</a>.</p> <p>You will also have access to a range of training workshops that cover technical and broader professional development skills, and you will present your research at international scientific conferences. Engagement with Japanese management agencies and collaborating scientists is part of the project. You will benefit from expertise within the School of Biology, and from being a member of the <a href="">Priestley International Centre for Climate</a> at the University of Leeds, a globally leading centre for climate research. The Centre convenes over 150 academics within the university, delivering excellent research to underpin global climate solutions. As part of the Centre you will benefit from bespoke training opportunities, visits from world leading researchers and a vibrant interdisciplinary cross-campus student environment. These experiences will put you in a strong position to pursue a successful career in conservation and quantitative ecology.</p> <p>For project-specific enquiries, and to discuss research direction, please contact Associate Prof Maria Beger, <a href=""></a>&nbsp;</p>

<h2 class="heading">How to apply</h2>

<p>To apply for this project opportunity applicants should complete an <a href="">online application form</a> and attach the following documentation to support their application.&nbsp;</p> <ul> <li>a full academic CV</li> <li>degree certificate and transcripts of marks</li> <li>Evidence that you meet the University&#39;s minimum English language requirements (if applicable)</li> </ul> <p>To help us identify that you are applying for this project please ensure you provide the following information on your application form;</p> <ul> <li>Select PhD in Biology as your programme of study</li> <li>Give the full project title and name the supervisors listed in this advert</li> </ul> <p>If English is not your first language, you must provide evidence that you meet the University&#39;s minimum English language requirements (below).</p> <p><em>As an international research-intensive university, we welcome students from all walks of life and from across the world. We foster an inclusive environment where all can flourish and prosper, and we are proud of our strong commitment to student education. Across all Faculties we are dedicated to diversifying our community and we welcome the unique contributions that individuals can bring, and particularly encourage applications from, but not limited to Black, Asian, people who belong to a minority ethnic community, people who identify as LGBT+ and people with disabilities. Applicants will always be selected based on merit and ability.</em></p>

<h2 class="heading heading--sm">Entry requirements</h2>

Applicants to research degree programmes should normally have at least a first class or an upper second class British Bachelors Honours degree (or equivalent) in an appropriate discipline. The criteria for entry for some research degrees may be higher, for example, several faculties, also require a Masters degree. Applicants are advised to check with the relevant School prior to making an application. Applicants who are uncertain about the requirements for a particular research degree are advised to contact the School or Graduate School prior to making an application.

<h2 class="heading heading--sm">English language requirements</h2>

The minimum English language entry requirement for research postgraduate research study is an IELTS of 6.0 overall with at least 5.5 in each component (reading, writing, listening and speaking) or equivalent. The test must be dated within two years of the start date of the course in order to be valid. Some schools and faculties have a higher requirement.

<h2 class="heading">Funding on offer</h2>

<p>This project is open to applicants who have the funding to support their own studies or who have a sponsor who will cover these costs.</p>

<h2 class="heading">Contact details</h2>

<p>For information about the application process please contact the Faculty Admissions Team:</p> <p>e: <a href=""></a></p>