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Award details

Understanding the effects of rapid environmental change on the ecology of a key Southern Ocean predator, the Antarctic fur seal, NERC GW4+ DTP PhD studentship for 2023 Entry, PhD in Earth and Environmental Science. Ref: 4596

About the award


Lead Supervisor

Dr Luis Huckstadt

Location: University of Exeter, Penryn Campus, Penryn.


Additional Supervisors

Dr Jaume Forcada

Location: British Antarctic Survey, High Cross, Madingley Road, Cambridge

Dr Stuart Bearhop

Location: University of Exeter, Penryn Campus, Penryn.

Dr Richard Sabin

Location: Natural History Museum, London

Dr Sally Thorpe

Location: British Antarctic Survey, UK

About the Partnership

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP).  The GW4+ DTP consists of the Great Western Four alliance of the University of Bath, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and the University of Exeter plus five Research Organisation partners:  British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology,  the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory.  The partnership aims to provide a broad training in earth and environmental sciences, designed to train tomorrow’s leaders in earth and environmental science.

For eligible successful applicants, the studentships comprises:

  • An stipend for 3.5 years (currently £17,668 p.a. for 2022-23) in line with UK Research and Innovation rates
  • Payment of university tuition fees;
  • A research budget of £11,000 for an international conference, lab, field and research expenses;
  • A training budget of £3,250 for specialist training courses and expenses

Project details

Movement of Antarctic fur seals from South Georgia and South Shetland IslandsAdult female Antarctic fur seal Arctocephalus gazella

Project Background

This project will investigate the differences in the foraging ecology and patterns of habitat utilisation of Antarctic fur seals across a latitudinal gradient across the Polar Front (South Georgia and South Shetland Islands), as well as build models to project future changes as the environment continues to change. Atmospheric, oceanographic, and sea ice conditions in this region of the Southern Ocean (western Antarctic Peninsula/Drake Passage/Scotia Sea) are rapidly shifting because of human-induced Global Climate Change and local environmental processes. Because the ecology of Antarctic fur seals is tightly linked to the population of their dominant prey, the Antarctic krill, this study will help anticipate how this important prey and the entire krill-dependent community of large predators (whales, penguins, and seals) will respond to the projected environmental changes. Further, ecological historical data from museum specimens provide a unique opportunity to detect past and project future changes in the ecology of this conspicuous Antarctic mesopredator over multiple decades. 

Project Aims and Methods

1) Examine differences in foraging behaviour of Antarctic fur seals across a latitudinal gradient. 

2) Develop and compare habitat models derived from tracking data using a suite of environmental covariates at the appropriate spatio-temporal resolution.

3) Examine whether the foraging behaviour and habitat utilisation of Antarctic fur seals have changed over the last decades using Stable Isotope Analyses (SIA).

Candidate requirements

The successful candidate will have a background in ecology, excellent quantitative and analytical skills, and will demonstrate a strong interest in foraging ecology and behaviour of marine predators. Expertise in programming in R, Matlab, and/or Python and statistical analyses is indispensable. Experience working with stable isotopes, and biologging data is advantageous. The successful applicant will have to travel between Cornwall, London, and Cambridge, as well as to international conferences. Applicants should satisfy the UKRI eligibility requirements.

Project partners

Centre for Ecology and Conservation (CEC) at the University of Exeter, Cornwall 

British Antarctic Survey (BAS)

The Natural History Museum (NHM)


The candidate will work with a wide network of collaborators, including the outstanding academic staff at CEC, BAS and NHM. The multi-disciplinary nature of the study will give access to a wide network of collaborators and working groups. The student will receive specialised training to develop their skills in analyses of large datasets of bio-logging data, stable isotope analyses (including laboratory training and instrument operation), presentation of scientific results, scientific outreach, and teaching, among many other aspects.


NERC GW4+ DTP studentships are open to UK and Irish nationals who, if successful in their applications, will receive a full studentship including payment of university tuition fees at the home fees rate.

A limited number of full studentships are also available to international students which are defined as EU (excluding Irish nationals), EEA, Swiss and all other non-UK nationals.  For further details please see the NERC GW4+ website.

Those not meeting the nationality and residency requirements to be treated as a ‘home’ student may apply for a limited number of full studentships for international students. Although international students are usually charged a higher tuition fee rate than ‘home’ students, those international students offered a NERC GW4+ Doctoral Training Partnership full studentship starting in 2023 will only be charged the ‘home’ tuition fee rate (which will be covered by the studentship). 

International applicants need to be aware that you will have to cover the cost of your student visa, healthcare surcharge and other costs of moving to the UK to do a PhD. More information on this is available from the universities you are applying to (contact details are provided in the project description that you are interested in.

The conditions for eligibility of home fees status are complex and you will need to seek advice if you have moved to or from the UK (or Republic of Ireland) within the past 3 years or have applied for settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

The University of Exeter is committed to promoting and supporting equality, diversity, and inclusion within our working environments and is at the heart of all our activities.  With over 27,000 students and 6,400 staff from 180 different countries we offer a diverse and engaging environment where our diversity is celebrated and valued as a major strength. 
We actively encourage applicants with varied experiences and backgrounds and from all sections of the community regardless of age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, religion, or disability status.  We are committed to creating an inclusive culture where all members of our community are supported to thrive.
Whilst all applicants will be judged on merit alone, we particularly welcome applications from groups currently underrepresented within our postgraduate research student community.  Reasonable adjustments are available for interviews and workspaces.

Entry requirements

Applicants should have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK.   Applicants with a Lower Second Class degree will be considered if they also have Master’s degree.  Applicants with a minimum of Upper Second Class degree and significant relevant non-academic experience are encouraged to apply.

All applicants would need to meet our English language requirements by the start of the  project


How to apply

In the application process you will be asked to upload several documents.  Please note our preferred format is PDF, each file named with your surname and the name of the document, eg. “Smith – CV.pdf”, “Smith – Cover Letter.pdf”, “Smith – Transcript.pdf”.

  • CV
  • 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 current proficiency in English, please see the entry requirements for details.
  • Two references

Reference information
You will be asked to submit two references as part of the application process.  If you are not able to upload  your reference documents with your application please ensure you provide details of your referees.  If you provide contact details of referees only, we will not expect receipt of references until after the shortlisting stage. Your referees should not be from the prospective supervisory team.

If you are shortlisted for interview, please ensure that your two academic referees email their references to the, 7 days prior to the interview dates. Please note that we will not be contacting referees to request references, you must arrange for them to be submitted to us by the deadline.

References should be submitted by your referees to us directly in the form of a letter. Referees must email their references to us from their institutional email accounts. We cannot accept references from personal/private email accounts, unless it is a scanned document on institutional headed paper and signed by the referee.

All application documents must be submitted in English. Certified translated copies of academic qualifications must also be provided.

The closing date for applications is 2359 hours GMT Monday 9 January 2023. Interviews will be held between 22 February and 8 March 2023.  For more information about the NERC GW4+ DPT please visit

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email  Project-specific queries should be directed to the lead supervisor.

Data Sharing
During the application process, the University may need to make certain disclosures of your personal data to third parties to be able to administer your application, carry out interviews and select candidates.  These are not limited to, but may include disclosures to:

  • the selection panel and/or management board or equivalent of the relevant programme, which is likely to include staff from one or more other HEIs;
  • administrative staff at one or more other HEIs participating in the relevant programme.

Such disclosures will always be kept to the minimum amount of personal data required for the specific purpose. Your sensitive personal data (relating to disability and race/ethnicity) will not be disclosed without your explicit consent.


Application deadline:9th January 2023
Value:£17,668 per annum for 2022-23
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Enquiries