NERC GW4+ DTP PhD studentship: Quantifying links between coral reef ecology and sediment generation: applications to tropical shoreline and reef island resilience modelling

University of Exeter - College of Life and Environmental Science

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP).  At least 4 fully-funded studentships that encompass the breadth of earth and environmental sciences are being offered to start in September 2017 at Exeter.  The studentships will provide funding for a stipend which is currently £14,296 per annum for 2016-2017, research costs and UK/EU tuition fees at Research Council UK rates for 42 months (3.5 years) for full-time students, pro rata for part-time students.

Coral reefs globally are experiencing a period of profound ecological change caused by direct human disturbance and climate change. These changes are now impacting upon the ecological functionality of reefs and their capacity to continue to grow and track rising sea levels - in other words they threaten many of the ecosystem goods and services that reefs provide to society. Whilst we have an increasingly good understanding of the nature of these ecological responses and have been able to make progress on measuring changing rates of reef growth potential, one key area that remains very poorly constrained is how changing reef ecology is modifying the types and rates at which reefs produce sediment. Reef-derived sediment is sourced directly from the skeletal organisms that inhabit reefs (e.g., molluscs, foraminifera), from calcareous plants (e.g., Halimeda), and indirectly as a result of grazing by various reef-associated taxa (e.g., parrotfish, urchins) (Perry et al. 2015), and the rates at which these taxa generate sediment is critically important to many reef fronted coastlines and reef islands because it is the only source of sediment for maintaining island landforms, beaches and lagoon ecosystems.

In this context there is an urgent need to develop analytical tools that will allow us to better quantify the amounts and rates at which reef-related taxa produce carbonate sediment. This requires both an understanding of the abundance of relevant species in different habitats, but also the rates at which they produce sediment and the size fractions in which that sediment is produced (Perry et al. 2011). Whilst census studies can be conducted with relative ease, data to underpin the sediment conversion estimates remain sparse for many species/taxa. This project will address some of these key data gaps through a range of field and lab-based experiments, and use the resultant datasets to develop new tools for measuring reef sediment generation rates (building on the pilot approach in Perry et al. 2015). These methods will then be applied to one or more case site locations in the Indian Ocean and/or Caribbean, and be integrated with wave-sediment modelling methodologies developed by Co-supervisor Kench (U Auckland) to predict resultant changes in beach fronted and reef island shorelines.

The closing date for applications is midnight on 8 January 2017.

Please see http://www.exeter.ac.uk/studying/funding/award/?id=2247 for full details on how to apply.

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Type / Role:

PhD

Location(s):

South West England