PhD Studentship - Environmental DNA Metabarcoding for Assessing Benthic Ecological Status associated with Salmon Farming

University of the Highlands and Islands - Rivers and Lochs Institute, Inverness College UHI


Dr. Mark Coulson

Dr. Tom Wilding

Funding Status: Directly Funded Project

Application Deadline: Monday 7th May 2018, 5.00pm UK time

Project Description

The farming of fish is expanding rapidly in order to meet the ever increasing demand for food by a rapidly growing human population. In Scotland, it constitutes the largest food-based export market, worth £500 million per year and this is set to double by 2030.

Salmon farming operations must demonstrate, to the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA), compliance with environmental standards around their operations. Currently, environmental monitoring is expensive and time-consuming and not conducive to optimising a site’s potential. Whilst most Scottish salmon aquaculture is marine-based, a significant proportion occurs in freshwater lochs where the impacts are poorly understood. There is not a common approach to monitoring across the two aquatic environments.

This studentship will extend an ongoing UHI-industry-SEPA project by developing and comparing the use of DNA metabarcoding technology at both marine and freshwater farming operations by addressing the following questions –

  1. What is the influence of fish farms on the taxonomic diversity of marine and freshwater benthic assemblages?
  2. Which (if any) organisms can be used as indicators of environmental impact and (iii) how does the biological assemblage change over the farm production cycle and how can this be used to predict regulatory compliance?

The successful candidate will be based primarily in the Rivers and Lochs Institute at the new Inverness College UHI Campus as well as the Scottish Association for Marine Science UHI, as part of a team of experienced, dynamic researchers who are developing revolutionary methodologies for ecosystem-monitoring applicable to any environment. There will also be opportunities to join boat-based marine sampling and work closely with industry and regulators, giving the research a broad holistic perspective.

More information is available here

Funding Notes

This studentship is funded by the European Social Fund and Scottish Funding Council as part of Developing Scotland’s Workforce in the Scotland 2014-2020 European Structural and Investment Fund Programme.

The studentship covers fees at the Home/EU rate only, plus a stipend at the RCUK level, for a total of 42 months (including writing-up).

Funding is available for students worldwide, however non UK/EU students will be liable for the difference between home/EU and international fees.

Students must be domiciled in the Highlands and Islands transition region during the course of their study to be eligible for funding.

The project is expected to start on 1 October 2018.

Applicants must possess a minimum of an Honours degree at 2:1 and/or a Master’s Degree (or International equivalent) in a relevant subject.

To apply please complete the standard application form, attaching supporting documentation and send to:

Enquiries (Name, Phone number, Email address)

Project specific enquiries: Dr. Mark Coulson; T: 01463 273576; e-mail:

General enquiries: Graduate School Office (01463 279 241,

Application Web Page

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