Jay Burk

Jay Burk


With an extensive background in the research of a range of marine and terrestrial ecosystems, I am thrilled to have the opportunity to continue to turn my passion for the natural world into applied conservation with ARIES DTP and Essex University.

Prior to this position my academic qualifications have been obtained at Aberystwyth University in the form of a Zoology Honours degree and Biosciences Research Masters’ degree. For these, my dissertations, titled ‘the songs of the Meliphagoid oscines and their associated phylogenomic relationships’ and ‘wide-scale Population Genetics of the Red Kite (Milvus milvus) Reveals Considerable Genetic Impoverishment’ were focussed on the genetic and ecological factors that shape within and between-species distributions, as well as addressing taxonomic conjuncture.

Further research has involved using artificial neural networks to model insect and mammalian photoreceptor response, and since 2016 I have worked alongside organisations such as SeaSearch UK, The Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre (Wales), and Red Sea Project (Egypt) to monitor populations and provide photographic documentation across a huge variety of marine and terrestrial taxa. This work has included the conducting of coral reef health and bleaching assessments in the Red Sea.

I am excited to now begin working within Dr Michelle Taylor’s lab on Porites lutea, a scleractinian coral native to the Indo-Pacific.

PhD title: "Understanding coral connectivity and its drivers across the Indian Ocean"

Porites is a genus of scleractinian coral resilient to climate change-induced increases in sea-surface temperature. For this reason, research often overlooks Porites, despite it being a major reef-builder, sometimes dominating reef communities post-bleaching (Head et al. 2019), contributing towards maintaining positive reef carbonate budgets (AlMealla et al. 2022). Understanding population connectivity of Porites at local and regional scales is important in understanding future winners/losers on coral reefs; something crucial given the high reliance on reefs that human populations have globally (Sing-Wong et al. 2022).

This project aims to utilise ultra-conserved elements (UCEs) using next generation sequencing to examine cross-Indian Ocean connectivity of Porites lutea. By doing so, it seeks to investigate genomic population structure of the species within the Indian Ocean (covering an area 8000km by 4000k – the largest geographical range of any coral studied), mapping hydrodynamic connectivity from the Chagos Archipelago, and understanding the drivers of P. lutea population structure by synthesising genomic and hydrodynamic connectivity patterns.

A novel drifter array will provide a snapshot of ocean current patterns around Chagos, allowing investigation of how genomic connectivity, ocean currents and temperature; which drive larval dispersal patterns; are interlinked.

Awards and prizes

2020 Elizabeth Thomas Prize for Best Performance in BSc Zoology.

2020 Aileen Smith Memorial Prize for Highest Mark Achieved in a Field Based Module.

Other information

Over 1,570 voluntary hours dedicated towards the research and monitoring of marine SSSI’s (Sites of Special Scientific Interest)

Over 230 own wildlife photography photos showcased and published across multiple organisations including BBC Earth, Aberystwyth University, RSPB, The Wildlife Trusts, and the Marine Biological Association.