The changing nature of Antarctic food webs


The changing nature of Antarctic food webs


Project Description


Dr Eoin O’Gorman, School of Life Sciences, University of Essex

Dr Simeon Hill, British Antarctic Survey (BAS)

Dr Michelle Taylor, School of Life Sciences, University of Essex

Dr Philip Hollyman, British Antarctic Survey

Scientific background:

Marine ecosystems around Antarctica are characterised by high numbers of penguins, seals, whales, and their common prey, krill. These ecosystems are poorly understood compared to every other ocean, but are experiencing some of the most dramatic effects of climate change on earth. The project will draw on data collected by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and other Antarctic researchers over the past three decades to determine the environmental drivers of changing predator diets and the properties of Southern Ocean food webs that affect their stability. The proposed network-based analyses and modelling approaches are at the cutting edge of current research and will offer exciting new insights into the fate of Antarctic ecosystems in the face of global change.

Research methodology:

Time series will be developed from BAS dietary records from South Georgia and the South Orkneys. These data will be used in conjunction with remotely sensed environmental variables to explore how fish, penguin, and seal diets vary in response to changing environmental conditions. Food web data spanning the entire Southern Ocean will help to determine how spatial variability in environmental conditions contributes to differences in network structure. Ecological modelling will be used to determine stabilising features of these networks. There will also be opportunities to compare Southern Ocean food webs to other marine food webs from around the world.


The candidate will join the Ecology and Environmental Microbiology Group at the UoE and will also work with researchers at BAS in Cambridge. The supervisory team will offer training in a broad skillset related to food web ecology, marine taxonomy, bioinformatics, ecological modelling, and science communication. There will also be an opportunity to participate in collaborative fieldwork aboard an Antarctic research vessel and receive training in the sampling methodologies and survey techniques used to collect the historical datasets available for the project.

Person specification:

We are looking for a candidate who is enthusiastic about global change biology, marine biology, quantitative biology, and ecosystem ecology, with a degree in ecology, environmental sciences, or geography.


  • 1. O'Gorman EJ, Petchey OL, Faulkner KJ, Gallo B, Gordon TAC, Neto-Cerejeira J, Ólafsson JS, Pichler DE, Thompson MSA & Woodward G (2019) A simple model predicts how warming simplifies wild food webs. Nature Climate Change, 9, 611-616.
  • 2. Zhao L, Zhang H, O'Gorman EJ, Tian W, Ma A, Moore JC, Borrett S & Woodward G (2016) Weighting and indirect effects identify keystone species in food webs. Ecology Letters, 19, 1032-1040.
  • 3. Atkinson A, Hill SL, Pakhomov EA, Siegel V, Reiss CS, Loeb VJ, Steinberg DK, Schmidt K, Tarling GA, Gerrish L & Sailley SF (2019) Krill (Euphausia superba) distribution contracts southward during rapid regional warming. Nature Climate Change, 9, 142-147
  • 4. Hill SL, Keeble K, Atkinson A & Murphy EJ (2012) A foodweb model to explore uncertainties in the South Georgia shelf pelagic ecosystem. Deep Sea Research Part II, 59, 237-252.
  • 5. Gutt J, Bertler N, Bracegirdle TJ, Buschmann A, Comiso J, Hosie G, Isla E, Schloss IR, Smith CR, Tournadre J & Xavier JC (2015) The Southern Ocean ecosystem under multiple climate change stresses‐an integrated circumpolar assessment. Global Change Biology, 21, 1434-1453.

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
  • 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, or contact

Studentship Open for Applications

Please apply by sending a CV (including contact details of two academic referees) and a cover letter explaining your motivation and suitability for the PhD.

They should be sent to Emma Revill  by 15th Jan 2020