PhD Opportunity: Estimating the dispersal capacity of Scottish blue mussel, University of Stirling, UK | POGO

PhD Opportunity: Estimating the dispersal capacity of Scottish blue mussel, University of Stirling, UK

From hydrodynamic modelling to genetic population structures


Apply by 5 April 2019.


Project Description

This PhD project will investigate fundamental questions regarding the ecology, conservation and commercial production of blue mussel (Mytilus spp). Intertidal and subtidal mussel beds are amongst the 81 features identified by the Scottish Government as priority marine features, and ranked amongst the most vulnerable. They are also the source of the spat (juveniles) for the economically and socially important mussel aquaculture industry. This industry supports either directly or indirectly over 1000 full time jobs in Scotland and has a value in excess of £50M. Tracing and understanding the source of seed mussels within any area is both a national and international problem and the most significant challenge for the expanding industry. However, the controlling factors for irregular spat fall are poorly understood. Indeed, both the industry and conservation efforts are hampered by a lack of knowledge around the sources and sinks of larvae and ultimately spat in wild populations, and how these interact with the existing and expanding industry. This project aims to develop tools to identify the sources of spat to farmed and wild populations using a highly innovative combination of hydrodynamic modelling and next generation genetic analysis.


More specifically:

  • The 1st objective will be locating broodstock populations that are most likely to be generating the collected seed at each specific site. We will do this by running an established high-resolution hydrodynamic model (FVCOM combined with WRF meteorological model) to simulate spat dispersal in the locality of each site for the past 5 years. The most probable locations holding mussel broodstock will be identified, and their presence will be verified in situ.
  • The 2nd objective will be to sequence the genome (ddRAD sequencing) of the individuals from all populations to identify a panel of genetic markers (SNPs and/or Microsatellites) able to unpick genetic differences between locations.
  • The newly developed markers panel will then finally be used to establish genetic connectivity between broodstock and offspring in each of the selected locations, revealing the source of commercially important mussel seed.

As well as the two main supervisors (Dr Stefano Carboni and Dr Tom Adams), the student will be supported by Dr Michael Bekaert (UoS) and Dr Adam Hughes (SAMS) and a shellfish industry representative (Dr Nick Lake). The student will be primarily based at the University of Stirling, Institute of Aquaculture, and will be expected to travel the Scottish West coast for sampling activities and spend extended periods of time at the Scottish Association for Marine Science in Oban.


Academic and soft skills

The successful candidate will hold an MSc or first class honours degree in relevant disciplines (E.g. Marine Biology; Environmental Sciences; Quantitative Ecology; Oceanography; Molecular Biology) and possess background knowledge or previous experience in Hydrodynamic Modelling and/or Molecular Biology and/or Bioinformatics. Possess a driving licence valid in the UK. Furthermore, the candidate will be able to operate in a multidisciplinary context, have an inquisitive mind and be an excellent problem solver.


Useful References

T.P. Adams, D. Aleynik and M.T. Burrows (2014) Larval dispersal of intertidal organisms and the influence of coastline geography. Ecography 37: 698–710, 2014 doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0587.2013.00259.x


T.P. Adams, D.Aleynik, K.D. Black (2016) Temporal variability in sea lice population connectivity and implications for regional management protocols. AQUACULTURE ENVIRONMENT INTERACTIONS Vol. 8: 585–596. doi: 10.3354/aei00203


B.K. Peterson, J.N. Weber, E.H. Kay, H.S. Fisher, H.E. Hoekstra (2012) Double Digest RADseq: An Inexpensive Method for De Novo SNP Discovery and Genotyping in Model and Non-Model Species. PLoS ONE 7(5): e37135. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0037135


J. Larsson, E.E. Lind, H. Corell, M. Grahn, K. Smolarz, M. Lonn (2017) Regional genetic differentiation in the blue mussel from the Baltic Sea area. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 195: 98-109 doi:10.1016/j.ecss.2016.06.016


Eligibility Criteria

SUPER DTP PhD studentships are open to applicants with Home (UK) or EU status, who meet the eligibility and residency requirements as outlined in UKRI’s Terms and Conditions of Research Council Training Grants.


To be eligible for a full award, i.e. maintenance award (stipend) and tuition fees, applicants must satisfy all the following conditions:

  • Have no restrictions on how long they can stay in the UK
  • Been ‘ordinarily resident’ in the UK for three years prior to the start of the studentship – this means they must have been normally residing in the UK (apart from temporary or occasional absences)
  • Has not been residing in the UK wholly or mainly for the purpose of full-time education (This does not apply to UK or EU nationals).

Candidates who do not fulfil the above residency criteria are still invited to apply as they can be eligible for a fees-only award (which covers fees and research costs) and additional options could be discussed on a case by case basis.


NOTE: The UK Government confirmed on 2 July 2018 that UKRI studentships (including NERC studentships) remain open to EU students starting courses in academic year 2019 to 2020 and that the funding support will cover the duration of their course, even if the UK leaves the EU in that period.


Applicants should normally have, or be studying for:

  • A postgraduate Master’s degree from a degree-awarding body recognised by the UK government or equivalent, or
  • A first class honours degree from a degree awarding body recognised by the UK government, or equivalent, or
  • Other qualifications or experience that affords sufficient evidence of an applicant’s ability to work at the academic level associated with doctoral study.
  • Please note that if successful you may be required to produce evidence of your qualifications at registration.
  • Applicants must not be holding another full Scholarship for the 2019/20 academic session.


How to Apply

To apply, send a covering letter and up-to-date CV to Deadline for application is the 5th of April 2019. Candidates will then be selected and interviewed in Stirling within two weeks of the deadline. If shortlisted for interview, you will need to be available to attend interview within this period. Candidates who are unable to travel may have the opportunity to be interviewed by Skype, VC or telephone.


The 3½ year studentship covers:

  • Tuition fees each year;
  • A maintenance grant;
  • Funding for research training;
  • Part-time study is an option, with a minimum of 50% of full-time effort being required.


If you are selected for an award, you will be expected to start on 30th September 2019 and attend a SUPER DTP induction event in Glasgow on 1st October 2019.


If you have an academic query, please contact the Lead Supervisor: Dr Stefano Carboni (


About the funders

Funded by NERC Studentships awarded to the SUPER Doctoral Training Partnership.


The SUPER DTP partner Universities are: St Andrews University, Aberdeen University, Edinburgh Napier University, Heriot-Watt University, the University of the Highlands and Islands, Stirling University, University of Strathclyde and the University of the West of Scotland.


Underpinning these research partners, providing additional training and projects are Marine Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage, and the James Hutton Institute, among a total of 40 stakeholder organisations including industry and government agencies and international collaborators.


Furthermore, the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre, the Association of Scottish Shellfish Growers and The fishmongers’ Company are co-sponsoring this scholarship and may be part of the interviewing panel.


More Information on the SUPER DTP can be found at the following link:


For full details and information on how to apply: 

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