Connecting the dots: Assessing the conservation benefits of essential fish habitat networks under future climate change

(STURROCK_E24ARIES) CASE studentship with the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas)

Connecting the dots: Assessing the conservation benefits of essential fish habitat networks under future climate change

(STURROCK_E24ARIES) CASE studentship with the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas)

Project Description


Dr Anna Sturrock, University of Essex – Contact me

Kieran Hyder, Cefas

Professor Tom Cameron, University of Essex, School of Life Sciences

Dr Joe Bailey, University of Essex, School of Mathematics, Statistics and Actuarial Science

Dr Nicola Walker, Cefas

Scientific Background

Marine fishes exhibit complex life cycles, featuring discrete spawning, nursery and feeding areas that confer different benefits to the stock. Identifying the ‘Essential Fish Habitats’ supporting our fisheries, and the connectivity pathways linking them, is critical for performing effective spatial management and conservation. European sea bass are an ideal model species to implement a lifecycle management approach as they support important inshore and offshore fisheries, and rely on estuarine nursery areas that are particularly vulnerable to human impacts [1]. However, estimating the importance of specific areas and habitats remains an ongoing challenge, particularly in the face of rapid global change.

Research Methodology

You will use machine learning classification models to improve movement reconstructions using biogeochemical “fingerprints” recorded in bass otoliths (earstones) and eye lenses [2]. You will also validate biogeochemical tracers in archived otoliths using existing tagging data from the same individuals, perform additional fish sampling, and explore whether environmental proxies (e.g. salinity, temperature) help to reduce uncertainty around unsampled areas. You will then integrate these results with other existing datasets (genetics, tagging, modelling [3,4]) to build network models that describe the spatial structure and connectivity of UK bass populations[5] and to predict the outcome of different climate and management scenarios (e.g. MPAs, altered fishing pressure).


You will be trained in a range of transferable skills, building on the expertise of the supervisory team in fisheries ecology, modelling and biogeochemical tracers. While focused on modelling, you will also be trained in laboratory and field techniques (mass spectrometry, fish sampling). You will also spend three months at Cefas learning additional modelling techniques and best practices to link science, management and policy, and gain access to Cefas’ extensive student networks and professional development activities.

Person Specification

Individuals with an interest in fisheries and conservation ecology, and a degree in ecology, mathematics, environmental science or related fields, are encouraged to apply. Quantitative skills will be important, but there will be considerable training provided. Students with numerical skills but no degree-level exposure to environmental sciences (e.g. Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Engineering) may apply for additional support for training in environmental sciences (


  • 1. Keeley, A.T.K., Fremier, A.K., Goertler, P.A.L., Huber, P.R., Sturrock, A.M., Bashevkin, S.M., Barbaree, B.A., Grenier, J.L., Dilts, T.E., Gogol-Prokurat, M., Colombano, D.D., Bush, E.E., Laws, A., Gallo, J.A., Kondolf, M., Stahl, A.T. 2022. Governing ecological connectivity in cross-scale dependent systems. BioScience 72 (4), 372-386
  • 2. Reis-Santos, P., Gillanders, B.M., Sturrock, A.M., Izzo, C., Oxman, D.S., Lueders-Dumont, J.A., Hüssy, K., Tanner, S.E., Rogers, T., Doubleday, Z.A., Andrews, A.H., Trueman, C., Brophy, D., Thiem, J.D., Baumgartner, L.J., Willmes, M., Chung, M., Charapata, P., Johnson, R.C., Trumble, S., Heimbrand, Y., Limburg, K.E., Walther, B.D. 2022 Reading the biomineralized book of life: expanding otolith biogeochemical research and applications for fisheries and ecosystem-based management. Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries 33 (2), 411-449
  • 3. Walker, N.D., Boyd, R., Watson, J., Kotz, M., Radford, Z., Readdy, L., Sibly, R., Roy, S., Hyder, K. 2020. A spatially explicit individual-based model to support management of commercial and recreational fisheries for European sea bass Dicentrarchus labrax. Ecological Modelling 431, 109179
  • 4. Graham, J.A., Watson, J.W., García García, L.M., Bradley, K., Bradley, R., Brown, M., Ciotti, B.J., Goodwin, D., Nash, R.D.M., Roche, W.K., Wogerbauer, C., Hyder, K., 2023. Pelagic connectivity of European sea bass between spawning and nursery grounds. Front. Mar. Sci. 9, 1–18.
  • 5. Tidbury, H, Taylor, N, van der Molen, J, Garcia, L., Posen, P., Gill, A., Lincoln, S., Judd, A., Hyder, K. 2020. Social network analysis as a tool for marine spatial planning: Impacts of decommissioning on connectivity in the North Sea. J Appl Ecol. 2020; 57: 566–577.

Key Information

  • This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP and will start on 1st October 2024. The closing date for applications is 23:59 on 10th January 2024.
  • 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. International applicants are eligible for fully-funded ARIES studentships including fees. Please note however that ARIES funding does not cover additional costs associated with relocation to, and living in, the UK. We expect to award between 4 and 6 studentships to international candidates in 2024.
  • 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.
  • ARIES funding is subject to UKRI terms and conditions. Postgraduate Researchers are expected to live within reasonable distance of their host organisation for the duration of their studentship. See for more information

Applications Open

To apply please email a CV and cover letter to