PHD Project

August 17, 2022

Ecosystem functions of tropical filter-feeders under environmental

Mussels, bryozoans and sponges are sessile filter-feeders that are known to fulfil important ecosystem functions in temperate freshwater habitats, such as water clearance, nutrient cycling and promotion of benthic biodiversity; yet in tropical freshwaters, their functional roles are poorly understood. At the same time, anthropogenic pressures, including deforestation and land-use change, have caused tropical filter-feeding communities to undergo severe compositional changes. As an example, in the biodiversity hotspot Borneo, native mussels have become increasingly rare, whilst a non-native invader is now the most common mussel on the island.

This project aims to understand how anthropogenically induced changes in sessile filter-feeding communities affect ecosystem functioning of tropical freshwaters. This will be achieved through a combination of field surveys, in situ-mesocosm experiments and laboratory-based experiments. Fieldwork will be conducted in Sarawak, Borneo, in collaboration with the Universiti Malaysia Sarawak, the University of Nottingham Malaysia and their local partners, including WWF Malaysia. Under the guidance of world-leading molecular ecologists at Bangor University and CASE partner NatureMetrics, cutting edge (e)DNA metabarcoding techniques will be applied to complement traditional methods to sample and describe filter-feeding and associated invertebrate communities. Knowledge gained from the project will provide an evidence base for developing policies to mitigate anthropogenic threats to tropical freshwater biodiversity and functioning.

The successful applicant will be willing to travel and work in Borneo for extended periods. They will receive training in several of NERC’s priority skills areas, including tropical aquatic fieldwork, freshwater invertebrate sampling and identification, advanced molecular laboratory techniques, and data analysis and management.

Ecological field experience, skills in freshwater invertebrate identification, statistical analysis and/or bioinformatics are assets, but enthusiasm for nature, curiosity about the impact of environmental change on ecosystems and willingness to take opportunities are the most important requirements.