University of Exeter funding: QUEX PhD Studentship

Restoring the coastal nighttime environment, PhD Biological Sciences, PhD Studentship (Funded by the QUEX Institute) Ref: 3898

About the award


Professor Kevin J Gaston, Environment and Sustainability Institute, University of Exeter

Professor Richard A Fuller, School of Biological Sciences, University of Queensland

Join a world-leading, cross-continental research team

The University of Exeter and the University of Queensland are seeking exceptional students to join a world-leading, cross-continental research team tackling major challenges facing the world’s population in global sustainability and wellbeing as part of the QUEX Institute. The joint PhD programme provides a fantastic opportunity for the most talented doctoral students to work closely with world-class research groups and benefit from the combined expertise and facilities offered at the two institutions, with a lead supervisor within each university. This prestigious programme provides full tuition fees, stipend, travel funds and research training support grants to the successful applicants.  The studentship provides funding for up to 42 months (3.5 years).

Eight generous, fully-funded studentships are available for the best applicants, four offered by the University of Exeter and four by the University of Queensland. This select group will spend at least one year at each University and will graduate with a joint degree from the University of Exeter and the University of Queensland.

Find out more about the PhD studentships

Successful applicants will have a strong academic background and track record to undertake research projects based in one of the three themes of:  Healthy Living, Global Environmental Futures and Digital Worlds and Disruptive Technologies.

The closing date for applications is midnight on 31 August 2020 (BST), with interviews taking place week commencing  12 October 2020.  The start date is expected to be April 2021.

Please note that of the eight Exeter led projects advertised, we expect that up to four studentships will be awarded to Exeter based students.

Project Description

Images of the Earth at nighttime are particularly striking in the way that artificial lighting apparently outlines so much of the coastline of the major landmasses. This lighting, arising from industrial, commercial, municipal, and domestic sources, constitutes a major pressure on coastal ecosystems that are vital to the wellbeing of a high proportion of the global human population and which are key biodiversity hotspots. It influences the individual behaviour of a wide diversity of organisms, changes species abundances, distributions and interactions, and alters the functions and services provided by these ecosystems. Indeed, some of the most infamous negative ecological impacts of artificial nighttime lighting are on coastal ecosystems, including the fatal disorientation of hatchling marine turtles and fledgling seabirds.

Yet the nature, extent and trends in the artificial lighting of coastal ecosystems have remained poorly characterised, and how the situation might be improved (for a better global environmental future) has been little explored. Resolving these knowledge gaps has recently become possible through developments, including pioneering work respectively by the supervisors of this project, in (i) mapping through time the intensity and spectrum of both direct artificial lighting emissions and resultant skyglow, including through use of imagery from the International Space Station; and (ii) mapping through time the extent of different coastal ecosystems, including tidal flats using machine learning to interpret nearly a million satellite images.

Much of the artificial nighttime lighting experienced by coastal ecosystems is a consequence of poorly designed or installed lighting systems that result in light being received in places where it is environmentally damaging but provides little or no human benefit. The negative impacts of artificial lighting on coastal ecosystems could doubtless be reduced at the same time as making significant economic and energy savings and reducing CO2 emissions. However, how readily this could be done has not been determined.

This studentship will: (i) Use remotely sensed data to document globally the spatial and temporal dynamics of artificial nighttime lighting of coastal ecosystems.

(ii) Develop and ground-truth an approach to quantifying the artificial illumination of horizons, which can be particularly important in coastal ecosystems.

(iii) Determine the potential for restoring the natural nighttime of coastal ecosystems by realistic steps to limit the trespass of lighting into areas in which it is not required.

Entry requirements

Applicants should be highly motivated and have, or expect to obtain, either a first or upper-second class BA or BSc (or equivalent) in a relevant discipline.

If English is not your first language you will need to meet the English language requirements and provide proof of proficiency. Click here for more information and a list of acceptable alternative tests.

How to apply

You will be asked to submit some personal details and upload a full CV, supporting statement, academic transcripts and two academic references. Your supporting statement should outline your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to undertake this project, with particular reference to the collaborative nature of the partnership with the University of Queensland, and how this will enhance your training and research.

Applicants who are chosen for interview will be notified week commencing 5 October 2020, and must be available for interview week commencing 12 October 2020.

Please quote reference 3898 on your application and in any correspondence about this studentship.


Application deadline:31st August 2020
Value:Full tuition fees, stipend of £15,000 p.a, travel funds of up to £15,000, and RTSG of £15,000 are available over the 3.5 year studentship
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Admissions Office