Dr Chiara Boschetti, University of Plymouth, School of Biological and Marine Sciences
Dr Nicola Foster, University of Plymouth, School of Biological and Marine Sciences
Organisms inhabiting the intertidal zone experience stressors from both the aquatic and aerial environments they straddle, providing an “early warning system” for the impacts of climate change. However, our ability to monitor changes in these communities is hampered by our lack of knowledge surrounding the genetic diversity of their inhabitants, in particular due to the presence of cryptic species which are morphologically identical.
The beadlet anemone Actinia equina is one of the most common animals found along the UK’s rocky shores, but despite becoming a model system for research across a range of fields, knowledge about its basic biology is severely lacking. Once assumed to be a single species, A. equina is now thought to represent a cryptic species complex, but to date only one “cryptic” species has been identified in UK populations. Furthermore, there is debate as to whether “cryptic” species within this complex can actually be identified by body colour due to the diverse phenotype of A. equina.
This project aims to increase our understanding of intertidal biodiversity by systematically examining the genetic structure of A. equina populations along the South West coast and exploring their responses to environmental stresses relevant to climate change.
The project will involve; (1) systematic surveys of A. equina populations; (2) the use of survey software to compile spatial distribution maps; (3) verification of the existence of cryptic species using molecular and bioinformatics analyses; (4) lab experiments to characterise differences between morphs in behavioural and physiological responses to environmental stressors.
The student will gain training in a range of different laboratory techniques (including molecular, physiological and behavioural analyses), alongside species distribution mapping using GIS. They will develop communication and networking skills, with the opportunity to attend research group meetings across the wider school, present data at international conferences, and engage in outreach activities.
We are looking for an enthusiastic candidate with a degree in a relevant biological subject, an interest in the field and relevant experience in molecular ecology. A positive attitude towards problem solving, independence and initiative are essential, experience with GIS, R and bioinformatics is desirable.