January 16, 2017

Biological signals of the island mass effect

Biological signals of the Island Mass Effect 400 x 400 px

Coral reefs are ocean oases, supporting immense diversity and providing fisheries for small island nations. These important ecosystems are under threat from local anthropogenic impacts and global climate change.

Studying the natural functioning of these ecosystems has become challenging, as so many reefs echo a footprint of human-induced change. Remote coral reefs far from human population centres offer an opportunity to study the natural functioning of these ecosystems in the absence of confounding local human impacts. Natural variation exists in coral reef ecosystems, with a key driver thought to be gradients in ocean productivity.

Some remote reefs are naturally exposed to higher levels of phytoplankton production (and thus food delivery) than others. However, despite this seemingly critical role of productivity in driving ecosystem structure on reefs, little is known as to how biological communities change along natural gradients in productivity and whether these effects are independent of other major physical drivers on reefs, such as wave energy.

This project will identify the ecological changes to reef-associated communities along natural gradients in productivity and wave energy using a series of unpopulated islands in the Indian and Pacific Ocean as replicate case studies. Specifically the project will: 1) quantify the natural relationships between productivity and the reef-associated community, 2) test for interactive effects of physical drivers, such as productivity and wave energy, on reef community structure, and 3) test the hypothesis that sub-surface internal waves are a key mechanism driving shifts in community structure due to changes in local food supply to reefs.

With fieldwork in the Chagos Archipelago, visits to a participating governmental organisation in Hawaii, interaction with a non-governmental conservation trust operating in Chagos, and supervisory support at Bangor University and Lancaster University, the project offers unparalleled opportunities for research training and exposure to applied ecosystem-based conservation and management.

Applicants should hold a minimum of a UK Honours Degree at 2:1 level or equivalent in subjects such as Biological Oceanography, Marine Biology, Oceanography, and Coastal Marine Science. Applicants with Masters degrees, or those with relevant research experience and field training (e.g. scientific SCUBA diving) will be highly competitive. Some exposure to statistical modelling and managing large data sets desirable.

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 at the School of Ocean Sciences, Bangor University