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Applications are now open for PhD studentships starting in October 2018. 

Please read the recruitment introduction for more information about eligibility, how to apply, and possibilities for further funding.

The deadline for applications is 8 January 2018.

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CAMERON_E18EE - What makes a habitat a home for juvenile fish? Assessing the importance of estuary habitat characteristics for growth and survival of European Sea bass (CASE studentship with Cefas)

Project description

Selected other supervisors:
Dr Ewan Hunter (Centre for Environment Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, Cefas)
Dr Leanne J. Hepburn (University of Essex)
Dr Martin Taylor (University of East Anglia)

Scientific background
Most variance in fish stock abundance is generated during early life stages, when juvenile marine fish can experience mortality rates of up to 20% per day - small shifts in mortality rates can generate large changes in spawning stock biomass. In addition these small changes can generate exceptional year-classes which can dominate commercially harvested stocks for several years. Consequently, a better understanding of the factors underpinning the growth and survival of juvenile fishes of commercial importance are critical for improved management of stocks.

Research methodology
With a focus on the European sea bass Dicentrarchus labrax in the Colne and Blackwater estuaries, this project will utilize a diverse and exciting suite of tools to assess juvenile bass growth and survival in different estuary habitats, e.g. field surveys of fish abundance/diversity across habitats, tides and seasons, behavioural analysis (telemetry to identify fine-scale fish movements) and analytical techniques to assess habitat associations (diet analysis, microbiome biomarkers). These methods will provide a clear picture of if, how and why juvenile fish utilize diverse and heterogeneous environments – or whether all estuary habitats are equal in the “eye” of a fish. A better understanding of the principal drivers of juvenile bass recruitment will support sustainable management of sea bass and inform policy for management, protection and restoration of inshore marine habitats.

The student will be based at the University of Essex (Dr Tom Cameron’s group) but will benefit from broader collaborative links with UEA and CEFAS. The successful applicant will receive training in quantifying fish population abundance and mapping marine habitat heterogeneity (Dr T Cameron & Dr Leanne J. Hepburn (Essex)); DNA based diet quantification (Dr Martin Taylor (UEA)) and fish behaviour and movement biology (Dr Ewan Hunter (CEFAS)). The student will spend at least 3 months at CEFAS where they will experience operational science in a government agency at the research-policy interface.

Person specification
The ideal candidate will have a good Honours or Masters degree in a relevant subject area (e.g. Biological Sciences) and have a strong interest in fish and fisheries biology. Relevant field and laboratory experience desirable but not essential.  A full UK Driving license or equivalent rights to drive in the UK is essential by the start of the position in October 2018.

This project has been shortlisted for funding by the EnvEast NERC Doctoral Training Partnership, comprising the Universities of East Anglia, Essex and Kent, with over twenty other research partners. Undertaking a PhD with the EnvEast DTP will involve attendance at mandatory training events throughout the course of the PhD.

Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed by EnvEast on 12/13 February 2018.

Selected candidates who meet RCUK’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship - in 2017/18, the stipend is £14,553. Ordinarily, EnvEast studentships are for 3.5 years, although longer awards may be made to applicants from quantitative disciplines who have limited experience in the environmental sciences, to allow them to take appropriate advanced-level courses in the subject area.

In most cases, UK and EU nationals who have been resident in the UK for 3 years are eligible for a stipend. For non-UK EU-resident applicants NERC funding can be used to cover tuition fees, RTSG and training costs, but not any part of the stipend. Individual institutes may, however, elect to provide a stipend from their own resources.

This PhD studentship is expected to begin in September/October 2018. Both full-time and part-time study are possible (those planning to study part-time may wish to discuss this with the supervisor before applying).


  1. Beraud, C.,  J. van der Molen, M. Armstrong, E. Hunter, L. Fonseca & K. Hyder 2017. The influence of oceanographic conditions and larval behaviour on settlement success - the European sea bass Dicentrarchus labrax (L.). ICES Journal of Marine Science. In revision.
  2. ten Brink, H; Mazumdar, AKA.; Huddart, J.; Persson, L.; Cameron, TC. 2015. Do intraspecific or interspecific interactions determine responses to predators feeding on a shared size‐structured prey community? Journal of Animal Ecology 84, 2.
  3. Green, BC.; Smith, D J.; Earley, SE.; Hepburn, L.; Underwood, GJC. 2009. Seasonal changes in community composition and trophic structure of fish populations of five salt marshes along the Essex coastline, United Kingdom. ESTUARINE COASTAL AND SHELF SCIENCE.  85,  2.  
  4. Tysklind, N., Taylor, M. I., et al. (2013) Population genetics provides new insights into biomarker prevalence in dab (Limanda limanda L.): a key marine biomonitoring species. Evolutionary Applications. DOI: 10.1111/eva.12074.
  5. Lown, A*. Hepburn, L. Heywood, J., Cameron, TC. Habitat and keystone species effects on estuarine biodiversity. (*EnvEast PhD student 1st paper)