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Award details

Biologging Marine Predators in the UK and Overseas, Biosciences - PhD (Funded) Studentship Ref: 4140

About the award


Dr Lucy Hawkes, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter 

Dr Serena Wright, Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas)

Dr Matthew Witt, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter

Dr David Righton, Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas)

Dr Martin Collins, British Antarctic Survey 

The University of Exeter’s College of Life and Environmental Sciences, in partnership with the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) and British Antarctic Survey, is inviting applications for a fully-funded PhD studentship to commence in September 2021 or as soon as possible thereafter. For eligible students the studentship will cover Home tuition fees plus an annual tax-free stipend of at least £15,609 for 4 years full-time, or pro rata for part-time study.  The student would be based in Biosciences in the College of Life and Environmental Sciences at the Streatham Campus in Exeter.

Project Description

The connectivity of habitats, and the mobility of energy between them, is a critical question in large marine ecosystems. Highly mobile species play a vital role in this system, transferring energy both spatially and trophically. To help understand the role and importance of a number of key species within these systems, this studentship will examine the behaviour of sentinel marine species, linking environmental and physical drivers to seasonal changes and their energy budgets. This will be achieved by analysing telemetry and specifically, tri-axial acceleration data from large marine predators released in the field as part of ongoing programmes in the UK and overseas. Key species will include yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares), bigeye tuna (Thunnus obesus), bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus), basking sharks (Cetorhinus maximus) and leatherback turtles (Dermochelys coriacea). The work may also include the analysis of legacy datasets held on smaller species of conservation concern. Tri-axial accelerometers provide a tool for measuring the activity level, orientation and fast-start behaviour of animals in the field, and with appropriate processing, can be used to infer feeding behaviours. The PhD will firstly (1) analyse data from tuna, sharks and turtles, extracting activity levels and potential feeding behaviour, which will be linked to their spatio-temporal distribution. This data will then be used to (2) model how activity and feeding behaviour varies between species and areas, and (3) how this links to the mobility of energy within and between areas. For commercially targeted species, implications of the removal of individuals on energy mobility within these systems will be assessed.

By generating new knowledge on seasonal changes in behaviour of highly mobile species, this PhD will improve understanding of energy transfer and the role played by key species in UK waters. This is especially important as OTs assess how to protect their diverse and rich marine environments, including informing Marine Protected Area planning.

The project would best suit a candidate with demonstrated experience in analysing biologging data, in particular handling large datasets using the software R to carry out data investigation, statistical analysis and mapping. Skills in marine fieldwork, particularly on boats, will also be desirable. The student will receive advanced training in the use of R for mapping and accelerometry analysis, as well as training in Home Office licensed work tagging tuna and working in the field. The student will join a team of graduate students working on biologging projects on a range of marine taxa. The student will also be supported to present work at international conferences.

This award provides annual funding to cover Home tuition fees and a tax-free stipend.  For students who pay Home tuition fees the award will cover the tuition fees in full, plus at least £15,609 per year tax-free stipend.  Students who pay international tuition fees are eligible to apply, but should note that the award will only provide payment for part of the international tuition fee and no stipend.

Entry requirements

Applicants for this studentship must have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in an appropriate area of science or technology. 

If English is not your first language you will need to have achieved at least 6.5 in IELTS and no less than 6.0 in any section by the start of the project.  Alternative tests may be acceptable (see

How to apply

In the application process you will be asked to upload several documents. 

• CV (including the names of two references that we may contact if you are shortlisted).
• Letter of application (outlining your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to undertake the project).
• Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained (this should be an interim transcript if you are still studying).
• If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need to submit evidence of your proficiency in English.

The closing date for applications is midnight on Wednesaday 2nd June 2021.  Interviews will be held virtually on 25th June 2021.

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email or phone 0300 555 60 60 (UK callers) or +44 (0) 1392 723044 (EU/International callers).  Project-specific queries should be directed to the main supervisor.


Application deadline:2nd June 2021
Value:£15,609 for 4 years full-time or pro rata for part time study
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Enquiries