Reconfiguring seascapes in the Anthropocene: Assessing how connectivity pathways maintain biodiversity


Reconfiguring seascapes in the Anthropocene: Assessing how connectivity pathways maintain biodiversity


Project Description


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

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

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

Professor Kerry Howell, University of Plymouth School of Biological and Marine Sciences


Project background

Anthropogenic activities are changing ecosystems worldwide – manifested as mass extinctions, loss of biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. These impacts are driven, in part, by replacement of natural habitats with man-made structures, resulting in lost/reduced coherence of ecological networks as landscapes become increasingly fragmented and reconfigured. Several international policies (e.g. Convention for Biological Diversity (CBD); UN Decade of Action) call for solutions to reverse biodiversity decline and promote sustainable development, but our understanding of how habitat reconfiguration/fragmentation disrupts the dispersive networks that are fundamental to the maintenance and persistence of existing biodiversity/marine communities remains a largely unexplored topic and a NERC research priority.


This studentship will explore ecological connectivity in marine systems and significantly advance understanding of the role of multi-species dispersal in biodiversity maintenance and functioning across seascapes. Expected outcomes include a better theoretical understanding of the drivers of change in biodiversity and community structure, in turn informing applied conservation practices. To address this challenge, the student will draw on remote-sensed data to undertake habitat modelling, have the opportunity to undertake field surveys to describe the distribution of contemporary marine communities, and develop highly sought-after numerical/analytical skills in ecological/hydrodynamic modelling to predict dispersal and construct ecological networks in European coastal seas.


Based in the School of Biological and Marine Sciences at the University of Plymouth (recently ranked global #1 in Sustainable Development Goal 14 ‘Life Below Water’; Times Higher Impact Rankings 2021), you’ll join an established and vibrant research group of undergraduate and postgraduate students associated with the supervisors, and a wider welcoming community of staff and students. During the project, you will build independence and expertise through research leadership including project management and scientific communication (i.e. publications, conference presentations) and receive project-specific bespoke training in field sampling, marine taxonomy, numerical methods, experimental design/statistics, ecological/hydrodynamic modelling from all of the supervisory team, the host (UoP) and collaborative (Met Office) institutions, and wider training from the ARIES DTP training schemes.

Person specification

Desirable skills include numeracy, programming, statistics (e.g. R/Matlab).


  • Firth L.B. et al. including AM Knights (2021) Specific niche requirements underpin multidecadal range edge stability but introduce barriers for climate change adaptation. Diversity and Distributions 27(4): 668-683.
  • David C.L., Marzloff M., Knights A.M., Cugier P., Nunes F.L.D., Cordier C., Firth L., and S. Dubois (In press) Connectivity modelling informs metapopulation structure and conservation priorities for an intertidal reef-forming species. Diversity and Distributions.
  • 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. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 116 (24): 11818-11823.
  • Jupe L.L., Bilton D.T. and A.M. Knights (2020) Do differences in developmental mode shape the potential for local adaptation? Ecology 101(3): e02942.
  • Muir A.P., Dubois S.F., Ross R.E., Firth L.B., Knights A.M., Lima F., Seabra R. Corre E., Le Corguillé G. and F.L.D. Nunes (2020) Seascape genomics reveals population isolation due to ocean circulation patterns in the reef-building honeycomb worm, Sabellaria alveolata. BMC Evolutionary Biology 20.

Key Information

  • This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP and will start on 1st October 2023. The closing date for applications is 23:59 on 11th January 2023.
  • Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship, which covers fees, stipend (£17,668 p.a. for 2022/23) and research funding. International applicants are eligible for fully-funded ARIES studentships including fees. Please note however that ARIES funding does not cover additional costs associated with relocation to, and living in, the UK.
  • ARIES students benefit from bespoke graduate training and ARIES provides £2,500 to every student for access to external training, travel and conferences, on top of all Research Costs associated with the project. 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.
  • ARIES is committed to equality, diversity, widening participation and inclusion in all areas of its operation. We encourage enquiries and applications from all sections of the community regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation and transgender status. Academic qualifications are considered alongside non-academic experience, and our recruitment process considers potential with the same weighting as past experience.
  • All ARIES studentships may be undertaken on a part-time or full-time basis, visa requirements notwithstanding
  • For further information, please contact the supervisor. To apply for this Studentship follow the instructions at the bottom of the page or click the 'apply now' link.
  • ARIES is required by our funders to collect Equality and Diversity Information from all of our applicants. The information you provide will be used solely for monitoring and statistical purposes; it will remain confidential, and will be stored on the UEA sharepoint server. Data will not be shared with those involved in making decisions on the award of Studentships, and will have no influence on the success of your application. It will only be shared outside of this group in an anonymised and aggregated form. You will be ask to complete the form by the University to which you apply.

Applications are open

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