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PhD Studentship: Understanding Factors Controlling the Success of Diatoms in Temperate Shelf Sea Environments

University of East Anglia - School of Environmental Science

Qualification Type: PhD
Location: Norwich
Funding for: UK Students, EU Students, International Students
Funding amount: £15,609 p.a. plus Research Funding, Graduate Training, and £2,500 for external training, travel and conferences
Hours: Full Time
Placed On: 29th October 2021
Closes: 12th January 2022
Reference: CLARK_UPML22ARIES

Scientific background 

Diatoms are microscopic plankton, characterised by their spectacular cell walls which they construct from biogenic silica (‘glass’). Found throughout the global ocean, they are often abundant in coastal and high latitude environments where they form blooms visible from space. They play a fundamental role in marine ecosystems, drawing carbon dioxide down from the atmosphere and exporting the associated carbon to deeper waters. They also fuel marine food webs and help to support global fisheries.

Several factors underpin the success of diatoms, including a tremendous diversity of forms, physiological flexibility, and high levels of protection against predation and viral attack. However, much uncertainty surrounds what combination of characteristics enable different diatom species to thrive and when. This uncertainty undermines our ability to predict the response of diatoms to environmental change and to fully understand the vital ecological role they play. 

Research methodology 

The student will investigate combinations of ecological processes and genetic/physiological adaptations that enable diatoms to succeed. They will use metabolomics and metatranscriptomics to study how diatoms sense and respond to their environment; and with this insight, develop innovative simulation models of diatoms and

their role in marine ecosystems. The models will be used to test hypotheses that explain observed patterns and trends in diatom diversity and population dynamics. The work will focus on the Western English Channel (WEC), exploiting a rich 30-year data series on diatoms and associated environmental variables, and laboratory and field data collected during the project. 

Training 

The project will provide the student with an exciting opportunity to work with a supervisory team that includes world leaders in the study of microalgae physiology and evolution; marine plankton ecology; plankton simulation modelling; and marine ecosystem modelling. The student will learn advanced data analysis and modelling techniques; gain laboratory and field work experience; and acquire generic time management and team working skills. The student will present their findings at national and international conferences. 

Person specification 

The project will suit an outstanding student with a degree in a numerate discipline (e.g. biochemistry, physics, oceanography) and a keen interest in marine science. Experience in Python programming is desirable. 

Primary Supervisor: Dr James Clark

Start Date: 1 October 2022

For more information on this project, please visit www.uea.ac.uk 

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