REP Project

April 25, 2024

The importance of saltmarshes to UK fisheries species

Image shows two pictures of saltmarsh areas and a bucket of fish

Location: School of Ocean Sciences, Bangor University. With field work in natural and restored saltmarshes in Wales, England and Scotland.

Duration: 7 weeks. The student may work part-time in the periods between field trips, when the research activities are taking place at Bangor University. However, during field trips (~week long) the student will be required to be there full time.

Contacts: for further information about the project and engagement, please contact Dr Martin Wiggers Skov (Reader in Marine Ecology. and/or Maria Mercedes Lopez (PhD student.

Project details and Student involvement

Background. Tidal saltmarshes are a key global habitat and ubiquitous along the British coastline. Saltmarshes are important to coastal environmental and social resilience, providing natural flood protection, wildlife habitat, regulation of nutrient pollution and recreational habitat for coastal people. Saltmarshes are also threatened by land conversion and climate change, and they are a priority habitat for restoration as a consequence. Saltmarshes are also thought essential nursery habitats for fisheries species, but the evidence for that is primarily derived from research in the USA, where marshes have different bio-physical and functional characteristics compared to the rest of the world. The scarcity of data on the role of marshes to fisheries species poses a significant barrier to effective restoration. We address this knowledge gap through exploring the effects of physical, geomorphological (landscape shape) and biological factors on the variability of fish and shrimp catches in saltmarshes. The research samples locations along a north-south gradient in the UK and contrasts natural and restored sites in the process.

Field campaign. As our ENVISION intern you will participate in a sampling campaign that takes place from July to September 2024. We will visit sites in Wales, Scotland and England. We will have two field trips per month, each lasting approximately one week and timed to coincide with a spring tide. The purpose of the sampling is to obtain data on fish, shrimp and crustacean communities, and to gain information on environmental characteristics that will help explain variation in catches between sites. Sampling will be conducted in accessible creeks and ponds of natural and restored saltmarshes, using a multi-method approach (fyke nets, seine nets, push nets and crab traps). From the caught fish species, we will retain the juvenile individuals of sea-bass, mullet and flatfish for laboratory analyses, whilst specimens of other species will be measured alive (length, weight) and re-released. The kept specimens will be used to establish fish nutritional condition and growth rates, using gut content and RNA/DNA analyses. Data from the latter will help assess the importance of marshes as nursery habitats for fish.

You will help with sampling the following variables:

  • species richness and abundance of fish and crustacean communities
  • abundance of prey species, e.g., amphipod densities in vegetation by marsh creeks
  • bio-physical characteristics, such as vegetation composition, shore elevation and tidal inundation
  • abiotic factors such as water temperature, sediment composition and salinity

Learning opportunities. In addition to the fieldwork, you will be involved in laboratory analyses of samples, including fisheries species identification, prey IDing and quantification, sediment analyses. You will participate in research group meetings and will have opportunity for data handling and analyses if you want, including minor exposure to GIS mapping. Practically, you will have opportunity to learn how to:

  • make landscape contouring observations in the field with an RTK (Real Time Kinematic GPS) and to translate RTK observations into landscape profiling with computer software
  • quantify prey abundance in a natural landscape and to co-design the sampling approach
  • sample and ID fishes, shrimp and crabs using a diversity of approaches
  • undertake sediment analyses
  • use GIS (potentially)
  • process data, including statistical analyses
  • small report writing (potentially)

Learning Environment. You will be encouraged to chip into survey planning and the deductive thought-processes underpinning the work, and to propose new additions to the sampling process. You will also be exposed to conversations with project stakeholders, which will mainly take place during longer field trips to Scotland and England.

You will work with academic researchers of different levels of expertise (Lectures, PhD students, Undergraduate students) and with stakeholders associated with marine environmental management (e.g., the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, WWT and Natural Resources Wales, NRW). Through the engagement you will gain strong insights into the thought processes and stakeholder elements underpinning applied research. You will also will acquire a range of practical and multidisciplinary skills you have not been exposed to previously.

Publication. We will add you as a co-author on publications arising from the data collected, providing you engage in the process. We are also happy to discuss opportunities for you to lead a publication, if you take leadership and engage in collecting data that was otherwise not planned for inclusion by the team.

Career prospects. We will discuss career opportunities with you while you work with us and will be happy to mentor you into your following career. Exposure to working with the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust offers opportunities for networking within the practical conservation world.

To apply: We encourage applications from students from all backgrounds. Do not feel discouraged if your background isn’t a pure science or a marine science. We are looking for people who are fired up by environmental research and management, and who are happy and able to spend long hours in the field, traipsing equipment over uneven and muddy terrain, seine netting in waist deep water and having the odd giggle over how covered in mud they can get.

Please check you meet the eligibility criteria before completing the EDI Form 2024 ; this form is a mandatory part of the application process, but contains ‘prefer not to say’ options for all questions asked.

Once you have completed the online data collection form you will receive an email with the application form and details of how to apply to the supervisor. The application form should be completed and emailed to the lead supervisor along with a reference from your personal tutor.