Developing Meaningful Marine Biodiversity Indicators to Support Conservation


Developing Meaningful Marine Biodiversity Indicators to Support Conservation


Project Description


Dr Abigail McQuatters-Gollop (School of Biological and Marine Sciences, University of Plymouth) contact me

Professor Martin Attrill (School of Biological and Marine Sciences, University of Plymouth)

Mr David Johns (Marine Biological Association)

Dr Angus Atkinson (Plymouth Marine Laboratory)

Project Background

Human activities and climate change are causing widespread alterations to marine ecosystems. At the base of marine foodwebs, changes in plankton communities affect ecosystem services within and beyond the water column, including climate change mitigation and fisheries yield. Policy frameworks now recognise plankton communities as a critical aspect of marine biodiversity. In 2017 plankton indicators were first included in UK/EU marine biodiversity policy assessments, which applied a suite of indicators developed in collaboration with policy-makers to capture aspects of plankton diversity, functioning, and productivity. There is now an urgent need to address key questions on what the observed changes in these indicators mean. What are the signals from climate change versus eutrophication, pollution or overfishing? How do plankton indicators relate to one another and to those of other foodweb components? Answering these questions is critical for providing robust scientific information to support UK/EU biodiversity policy assessments and inform decision-making, which is urgently required by UK Government post-Brexit.


Building on the above plankton indicator development, and working directly with Defra, the candidate will apply statistical modelling approaches to data from the world’s most extensive plankton network to 1) develop policy-relevant plankton indicators for climate change (including ocean acidification); 2) analyse relationships between plankton indicators, determining which are most robust for inclusion in policy assessments; and 3) investigate links between plankton indicators and existing bird, fish, and benthic policy indicators to understand how these relationships change spatio-temporally. This work will be in collaboration with policy working groups and Defra to ensure relevance of outputs to UK/EU marine biodiversity policy frameworks.


The studentship provides a diverse range of interdisciplinary skills essential for working across the science-policy interface. They will receive training in spatial-temporal analysis of large datasets, statistical techniques, and application of science to policy through participation in UK and international science-policy workshops, expanding the candidate’s personal network through working with scientists and key policy stakeholders involved in the UK/EU marine biodiversity conservation community.

Person Specification

We are looking for a numerate (e.g. R, MatLAB) candidate with an interest in conservation/policy and a degree in marine/environmental science/biology.


  • 1. McQuatters-Gollop, A., Atkinson, A., Aubert, A., Bedford, J., Best, M., Bresnan, E., Cook, K., Devlin, M., Gowen, R., Johns, D.G., Machairopoulou, M., Mellor, A., Ostle, C., Scherer, C. and Tett, P., (2019). Plankton lifeforms as a biodiversity indicator for regional-scale assessment of pelagic habitats for policy Ecological Indicators, 101: 913-925.
  • 2. Capuzzo, E., Lynam, C.P., Barry, J., Stephens, D., Forster, R.M., Greenwood, N., McQuatters-Gollop, A., Silva, T., Sonja M. van Leeuwen and Engelhard, G.H., (2018). A decline in primary production in the North Sea over 25 years, associated with reductions in zooplankton abundance and fish stock recruitment. Global Change Biology, 24: e352-e364.
  • 3. Bedford, J., Ostle, C., Johns, D.G., Atkinson, A., Best, M., Bresnan, E., Machairopoulou, M., Graves, C.A., Devlin, M., Milligan, A., Pitois, S., Mellor, A., Tett, P. and McQuatters-Gollop, A., (2020). Lifeform indicators reveal large-scale shifts in plankton across the North-West European shelf. Global Change Biology, 26: 3482-3497.
  • 4. Beaugrand, G., McQuatters-Gollop, A., Edwards, M. and Goberville, E., (2013). Long-term responses of North Atlantic calcifying plankton to climate change. Nature Climate Change, 3: 263-267.
  • 5. Rees, S.E., Sheehan, E.V., Stewart, B.D., Clark, R., Appleby, T., Attrill, M.J., Jones, P.J.S., Johnson, D., Bradshaw, N. & Pittman, S., (2020). Emerging themes to support ambitious UK marine biodiversity conservation. Marine Policy 117: 103864-103864.

Key Information

  • This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP and will start on 1st October 2021. The closing date for applications is 23:59 on 12th January 2021.
  • Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship, which covers fees, stipend (£15,285 p.a. for 2020-21) and research funding. For the first time in 2021/22 international applicants (EU and non-EU) will be eligible for fully-funded UKRI studentships. Please note ARIES funding does not cover visa costs (including immigration health surcharge) or other additional costs associated with relocation to 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. 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.
  • 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 significant relevant non-academic 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 click on the “Apply now” link below.

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