Self-funded PhD opportunities

Human impacts on benthic diatom communities in coastal waters of Southern England

  • Application end date: Applications accepted all year round
  • Funding Availability: Self-funded PhD students only
  • Department: Department of Geography
  • PhD Supervisor: Laura Cunningham and Gary Fones

Diatoms are ideal environmental indicators (Dixit et al., 1992) as they are sensitive to environmental perturbations, and have a rapid community response to change (Sullivan, 1999). Situated at the base of the food chain, diatom communities can provide unique data on ecosystem health (McCormick and Cairns, 1994). Diatom assemblages can record fluctuating contaminant concentrations that may be missed by episodic sampling programs. Furthermore, high preservation rates in most environments means that historical changes can be assessed. Although laboratory studies have demonstrated that pollutants can cause significant changes in diatom community structure and growth, only a few field studies have been undertaken (e.g. Cunningham et al., 2003, 2005; Molin et al., 2008). This project will explore the effects of human activities within two waterbodies on England’s south coast; assessing both the extent of chemical contamination (nutrient enrichment, hydrocarbon and heavy metal pollutants) and the effects of these on benthic diatom communities over the last century, or longer. A combination of paleolimnological approaches and field experiments will be utilised.

Training will be provided in a range of biological, biochemical and chemical analyses, as well as in experimental design, manipulative field experiments and statistical methods. Supervisors will include Dr Laura Cunningham (Department of Geography, University of Portsmouth), Dr Gary Fones (School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Portsmouth) and Dr Christopher Vane (Environmental Observations and Change Team Leader, British Geological Survey). The research will fall under the remit of the University of Portsmouth Environmental Network, which is a cross-faculty network of 250+ staff and graduate students involved with environment-related teaching, research and knowledge transfer. Additionally, two short research placements will be undertaken at BGS. This project is equally suited to those wishing to pursue a career in either academia or environmental management.

Funding notes:

This PhD opportunity is available to self-funded students. Bench fees may apply. For more information please contact the project supervisor.

How to apply:

To apply or make an enquiry, please visit postgraduate research: Geography

All applications should use our standard application forms and follow the instructions given under the ‘Research Degrees’ heading on the following webpages:

When applying please note the project code - GEOG2970217