Retrospective optimisation of multifunctionality on coastal urban infrastructure


Retrospective optimisation of multifunctionality on coastal urban infrastructure


Project Description


Dr Louise Firth (School of Biological and Marine Sciences, University of Plymouth) – Contact me

Dr Antony Knights (School of Biological and Marine Sciences, University of Plymouth)

Dr Mick Hanley (School of Biological and Marine Sciences, University of Plymouth)

Dr Andy Foggo (School of Biological and Marine Sciences, University of Plymouth)

Dr John Griffin (Department of Biosciences, Swansea University)

Dr Austin Brown (ARUP)


Project Background

Urbanisation is driving the conversion of natural habitats to novel ecosystems – simplifying biological communities and impacting ecosystem functioning. In response to global sustainable development targets, there is increasing incentive to design urban systems to bring back marine life to urban shorelines, to enhance ecosystem (multi)functionality (i.e. that supports multiple ecosystem functions such as biofiltration, nutrient cycling, primary production) and yield mutual benefits for society and nature. ‘Greening of Grey Infrastructure’ (GGI) strives to bring back marine life onto engineered shorelines (e.g. seawalls). It is becoming a popular environmental solution for rehabilitation, but both theory and practice lag behind work on land. To date, coastal GGI solutions have primarily been trialled at experimental scales and focused on enhancing biodiversity on local scales, making it difficult to predict consequences/benefits when scaled-up to ‘real-world’ scenarios.

Research methodology

This studentship will evaluate relationships between physical complexity, biodiversity, and ecosystem multi-functionality. It will apply this new empirical understanding to inform the upscaling of GGI solutions. Using a combination of in-situ field and laboratory measurements, the studentship will measure key ecosystem functions provided by existing shorelines both with and without GGI solutions, and use these alongside modelling approaches to provide estimates of ecosystem multi-functionality that GGI could provide if scaled-up to larger seascape scales.


The student will join the Marine Eco-engineering Research Unit and benefit from being part of a large global network (i.e. The World Harbour Project). The student will build independence and expertise through research leadership including project management and scientific communication (i.e. publications, conference presentations). The student will receive training experimental design, statistics and field experimental from the supervisory team and ARIES DTP training schemes. The student will also be supported to undergo additional external training in functional traits (via supervisor at Swansea University) and modelling techniques. They will have the opportunity to gain invaluable industry experience through a 3-month placement with CASE partner ARUP, a global engineering company specialising in sustainable development.

Person specification

Degree in marine biology, ecology, environmental science or related discipline. Desirable skills include ecological sampling, programming and statistics (e.g. R/Matlab).


  • 1) Firth, L.B., Thompson, R.C., White, F.J., Schofield, M., Skov, M.W., Hoggart, S.P., Jackson, J., Knights, A.M., Hawkins, S.J., 2013. The importance of water‐retaining features for biodiversity on artificial intertidal coastal defence structures. Diversity and Distributions, 19, 1275-1283.
  • 2) Lebrija-Trejos, E., Pérez-García, E.A., Meave, J.A., Bongers, F. and Poorter, L., 2010. Functional traits and environmental filtering drive community assembly in a species‐rich tropical system. Ecology, 91, 386-398.
  • 3) Firth, L.B., Duff, L., Gribben, P.E., Knights, A.M., 2021. Do positive interactions between marine invaders increase likelihood of invasion into natural and artificial habitats?. Oikos, 130, 453-463.
  • 4) Gribben, P.E., Byers, J.E., Clements, M., McKenzie, L.A., Steinberg, P.D. and Wright, J.T., 2009. Behavioural interactions between ecosystem engineers control community species richness. Ecology Letters, 12, 1127-1136.
  • 5) Firth, L.B., Browne, K.A., Knights, A.M., Hawkins, S.J. and Nash, R., 2016. Eco-engineered rock pools: a concrete solution to biodiversity loss and urban sprawl in the marine environment. Environmental Research Letters, 11(9), 094015.

Key Information

  • This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP and will start on 1st October 2022. The closing date for applications is 23:59 on 12th January 2022.
  • Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship, which covers fees, stipend (£15,609 p.a. for 2021-22) and research funding. International applicants (EU and non-EU) are 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 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 click on the “Apply now” link below.
  • 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

Apply now