PhD Project: Recovery of algal communities along stress gradients resulting from an earthquake-disturbed coastal zone

In November 2016, a massive earthquake lifted over 100km of coastline of New Zealand’s South Island by up to 6m, causing considerable disruption to the nearshore marine ecosystem. There was considerable mortality of coastal organisms, including habit-forming seaweeds and associated algae and invertebrates. The recovery of the coastal zone has been seriously impeded by stress gradients of increased sedimentation, truncated light penetration into the water column, altered reef topography affecting tidal gradients and the heat and wave forces recently settled species experience. These have also affected primary productivity and nearshore food web dynamics.

This PhD is to focus on algal recovery and the factors associated with it. This may include the photo-physiology of algal communities, the role of algal drift in seeding depleted communities, the role of diversity in recovery of primary productivity, or food web analysis of the recovering coastline. This study will focus on rocky reefs across the different uplift zones, and will involve a combination of field and laboratory studies.

Skills required:

The successful candidate must have an interest in and knowledge of the interaction of the physical and biological environment in affecting the ecology of benthic primary producers. The candidate should have a track record in coastal ecology, spatial analysis and modelling, or statistical methods. It would be advantageous to have some experience in one or more of:

  • Field work in marine ecology;
  • A background in statistics, physiology or ecological modelling;
  • An ability to work both independently and within a research team;
  • A history of high academic achievement;
  • experience with aerial remote-sensing methods and imagery (e.g. drones, orthomosaics);
  • knowledge of the physics of underwater light (e.g. radiative transfer, bio-optics).

Candidates should have a BSc Honours, Master’s degree or equivalent, with excellent grades, appropriate research experience, and be motivated to work in a cross-disciplinary field and interact with scientists in the wider programme.

The scholarship:

The successful candidate will work within the Marine Ecology Research Group of Canterbury University. The stipend is NZ$21,000 (tax-free) + fees for a period of three years.

Initial contact outlining your background, interests and (unofficial) academic record should be Professor David Schiel (