December 14, 2016

Widening our view of the reef: the landscape ecology of disturbance and recovery on Pacific coral reefs

Widening our view of the reef the landscape ecology of disturbance and recovery on Pacific coral reefs

Satellites and other high-resolution imaging techniques have enabled landscape ecologists to explore the spatial ecology of terrestrial biological communities, such as forests, for decades. The same opportunity has not existed in the sub-tidal marine environment, except for habitat mapping at course taxonomic resolutions. With the development of high-resolution underwater imaging, landscape-scale spatial data sets at high taxonomic resolutions are emerging for coral reefs, one of the world’s most diverse yet threatened ecosystems.

The parallels between forests and coral reefs are well recognised; each is composed of a suite of organisms all competing for space while at the same time subjected to environmental forcing. These biotic and abiotic interactions lead to defined spatial patterning among competitors, patterns that change in characteristic ways when disturbed by environmental anomalies (e.g. tropical storms and cyclones). Building on decades of landscape ecological theory, this project will use existing data from 40 Pacific islands, supplemented by collection of new data in Hawaii, to identify whether characteristic landscape-scale spatial impact signatures emerge in the way coral reef communities react to and recover from disturbance events such as tropical cyclones and thermal stress events.

Specifically the project will: 1) reconstruct disturbance histories for the study system, 2) test whether there are emergent spatial properties in the way benthic and fish communities respond to disturbance events, and 3) investigate how the spatial signature of impact interacts with disturbance frequency and intensity to dictate spatial patterns of reef recovery.

With an internship and fieldwork in Hawaii, in collaboration with government and non-government organisations, and supervisory support at Bangor University and Lancaster University, the project offers unparalleled opportunities for research training and exposure to world-leading applied ecosystem science.

Applicants should hold a minimum of a UK Honours Degree at 2:1 level or equivalent in subjects such as Marine Biology, Environmental Science, Ecology, Coastal Marine Science, or Geography (with knowledge of spatial geography of ecological systems). Applicants with Masters degrees, or those with relevant research experience and field training (e.g. spatial statistics, GIS, scientific SCUBA diving) will be highly competitive. Prior exposure to spatial statistics, GIS and managing large data sets desirable – you do not need to be a marine biologist to apply for this PhD.

For further details, or to enquire about eligibility please send a short statement regarding your background and interest in the project, and a CV to Dr Gareth Williams