Understanding coral connectivity and its drivers across the Indian Ocean

CASE studentship with ZSL (TAYLOR_E23ARIES)

Understanding coral connectivity and its drivers across the Indian Ocean

CASE studentship with ZSL (TAYLOR_E23ARIES)

Project Description


Dr Michelle Taylor, University of Essex – Contact Me

Dr Catherine Head, Institute of Zoology, London, and University of Oxford

Prof Leanne Hepburn, University of Essex, School of Life Sciences

Prof Stephen Monismith, Stanford

Project Description

Porites is considered a Scleractinia coral genus resilient to climate change-induced increases in sea surface temperature. For this reason research focus often overlooks Porites, despite it being a major reef-builder, sometimes dominating reef communities post-bleaching1,  contributing towards maintaining positive reef carbonate budgets2. 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 globally3.

This project aims to examine cross-Indian ocean connectivity of Porites lutea by:

1)         Investigating P.lutea genomic population structure across the Indian Ocean (Ile Glorieuses islands, Mozambique Channel, east to Indonesia, north and east to Bahrain).

2)         Mapping hydrodynamic connectivity from the Chagos Archipelago, central Indian Ocean.

3)         Understanding drivers of P.lutea population structure by synthesising genomic and hydrodynamic connectivity patterns.

The above will elucidate genomic connectivity of an important reef-building coral over 8000km, west to east, and 4000km north to south – the largest geographical range of any coral studied. A novel drifter array will provide a snap-shot of ocean current patterns around Chagos allowing investigation of how genomic connectivity, ocean currents and temperature, which drive larval dispersal patterns, are interlinked.


Genomic connectivity analysis utilising ultra-conserved elements (UCEs) to isolate 10K+ markers using next generation sequencing. Common population genomics analyses will elucidate connectivity and migration patterns4. Satellite-tracked GPS drifters with high temporal resolution will be used to map hydrodynamic connectivity. The resulting velocity and temperature data will be quality-controlled and analysed to identify primary patterns of possible physical connectivity5. Seascape genomics, the comparison of genomic and environmental data to investigate drivers of connectivity, will then be undertaken; such research requires the interdisciplinary science suggested here.

Training in laboratory techniques, sequencing library preparation, coding for big data handling, population genomic analyses, drifter data quality control, oceanographic modelling, and GIS will be given. There is opportunity for fieldwork experience. This PhD suits a quantitatively-minded candidate with some experience in R/ Matlab/Python. Suitable degrees could cover topics such as genetics/mathematics/physics and/or biology, those with an interest in genomics/oceanography and/or coral reef ecology.


  • Head CEI, Bayley D, Roche R, Turner J, Rogers AD, Koldewey H, Rowlands G, Tickler DM, and Andradi-Brown DA. 2019. Coral bleaching impacts from back-to- back 2015-2016 thermal anomalies in the remote central Indian Ocean. Coral Reefs. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00338-019-01821-9
  • AlMealla R, Edullantes B, Hepburn L. 2022. Bleaching threatens positive carbonate budgets on Bahraini reefs. Frontiers in Marine Science. In final review stage.
  • Sing-Wong, A., Vrontos, S., Taylor. M.L. 2022. An assessment of people living by coral reefs over space and time. Global Change Biology. In final review stage.
  • Morrissey,, D. Goodall, J. Castilho, R., Cameron, T.C., Taylor, M.L. 2022. Population genomics reveals a single semi-continuous population of a commercially exploited marine gastropod. Fisheries Research, 254: 106418.
  • Monismith, S.G., M.K. Barkdull, Y. Nunome, and S. Mitarai, 2018. Transport between Palau and the Eastern Coral Triangle: Larval Connectivity or Near Misses. Geophysical Research Letters, doi: 10.1029/2018GL077493.

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 19th May 2023.
  • Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship, which covers fees, stipend (£18,622 p.a. for 2023/24) and research funding. Please note that all international awards have been made for our programme for 2023 so we will not be accepting applications from international candidates,
  • 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

To apply for this studentship please send a CV and cover letter to ariesapp@essex.ac.uk