Testing environment filters as mechanisms of ecosystem resilience to non-native species invasion

CASE award with Centre for Environment Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) (KNIGHTS_P20ARIES)

Testing environment filters as mechanisms of ecosystem resilience to non-native species invasion

CASE award with Centre for Environment Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) (KNIGHTS_P20ARIES)

Project Description


Dr Antony Knights, School of Biological and Marine Sciences, University of Plymouth

Prof David Bilton, School of Biological and Marine Sciences, University of Plymouth

Dr Louise Firth, School of Biological and Marine Sciences, University of Plymouth

Dr Tiago Silva, Centre for Environment Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences (Cefas)


In the midst of Earth’s sixth mass extinction event, non-native species (NNS) are driving declines in imperilled species’ and ecosystem services. In the US alone, NNS put at risk 49% of native species (Wilcove et al. 1998) and cost industry in excess of $128 billion annually (Pimentel et al. 2005). Knowledge of the factors that contribute to the successful dispersal/establishment of NNS is fundamental to understanding their spread, and how this may change under global environmental change. Rising sea temperatures, and changes to ocean currents and community structure may all facilitate NNS expansion by altering dispersal pathways and/or habitat suitability. Simultaneously, however, the environment may act as a barrier that selectively blocks NNS range expansion – a process referred to as ‘environmental filtering’. To inform management strategies, identification of invasion-risk locations, and to predict biogeographical changes under rapid environmental change, a fundamental understanding of the mechanisms of invasion and natural resilience of ecosystems is urgently required.


This interdisciplinary studentship will explore how environmental filtering may affect invasion success, using the non-native Pacific oyster (Magallana gigas) as a model species; an ecologically problematic yet important aquaculture species across the north-east Atlantic. Previously, four filtering mechanisms have been proposed, relating to development (dispersal limitation), species identity (competitive exclusion), habitat suitability and heterogeneity (Fig. 1). The project will use a combination of hydrodynamic modelling and manipulative experiments to explore the effect of these filtering mechanisms on the dispersal, establishment and performance of NNS across local and landscape scales. With support from experts at Cefas and Natural England, the student’s research will help inform and shape policy and management of invasive species into the future.


Based at the UoP with a 4-month secondment at Cefas, the student will carry out both hydrodynamic modelling and manipulative experimental research. Training in numerical methods, experimental design, and statistics will be provided by the host institutions in addition to training programmes available through the ARIES DTP.

Person specification

Honours or Masters degree (e.g. 2:1 or above) in marine biology, oceanography, environmental science or related discipline. Desirable skills include numeracy, programming and statistics (e.g. R, Matlab).


  • 1. Firth, L.B. et al. Predicting impacts of climate-induced range expansion: an experimental framework and a test involoving key grazers on temperate rocky shores. Global Change Biology 15, 1413-1422 (2009).
  • 2. Jupe L.L., Bilton D.T. and A.M. Knights (Accepted) Do differences in developmental mode shape the potential for local adaptation? Ecology.
  • 3. James M., Polton J., Brereton A., Howell K., Nimmo-Smith A. and A.M. Knights (2019) Reverse engineering field-derived vertical distribution profiles to infer larval swimming behaviors. PNAS (IF = 9.5) www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1900238116
  • 4. Calosi P., Bilton DT and JI Spicer. (2008) Thermal tolerance, acclimatory capacity and vulnerability to global climate change. Biology Letters 4.1: 99-102.
  • 5. Kraft N.J.B. et al. (2015) Community assembly, coexistence and the environmental filter metaphor. Functional Ecology 29: 592-599.

Key Information

  • This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC Doctoral Training Partnership, and will involve attendance at mandatory training events throughout the course of the PhD.
  • Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship - UK and EU nationals who have been resident in the UK for 3 years are eligible for a full award.
  • Excellent applicants from quantitative disciplines with limited experience in environmental sciences may be considered for an additional 3-month stipend to take advanced-level courses in the subject area (see https://www.aries-dtp.ac.uk/supervisors/additional-funding/).
  • This studentship will start on 1st October 2020, and the closing date for applications is 23:59 on 15th January 2020.
  • Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed on 18/19 February 2020.
  • For further information, please contact the supervisor.
  • Please note that the joint NERC-ESRC ARIES-SeNSS studentship projects have different deadlines and funding arrangements. For full details please visit https://senss-dtp.ac.uk/aries-senss-joint-studentship, or contact SeNSS.dtp@uea.ac.uk.

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