• Image of the west coast of Scotland in summer
    blue background
    West coast: an adventurer's paradise
  • Image shows two marine robotics scientists in the North Atlantic Glider Base
    white background
    Outstanding research infrastructure...
    enables outstanding research
  • Picture of physical oceanographer Prof Stuart Cunningham in his office
    white background
    SAMS supervisors: world-leading experts
  • Photo showing benthic biodiversity in deep waters
    white background
    Marine biodiversity:
    treasure trove for researchers

Find a PhD at SAMS

We currently have one fully funded (42 months) PhD vacancy:

Where's my dinner? Do Arctic benthic communities show preferential food uptake?

Supervisors: Dr Bhavani Narayanaswamy (Director of Studies), Dr Kim Last, Dr Tom Brown, Dr David Mckee (University of Strathclyde), Dr Paul Renaud (Akvapla-niva), Professor Bodil Bluhm (University of Tromsø)

Application deadline: 14 May, 5 pm BST

Interview date: 30 May 2019

Project start date: 30 September 2019

Project overview

The project will investigate the benthic macrofaunal communities along a longitudinal transect in the Barents Sea, and over different seasons to try and determine whether the fauna preferentially feed on ice algae as opposed to phytoplankton.


Project details

The Arctic is changing rapidly in response to warming global climate, with reduction in sea-ice coverage providing the most obvious indicator. However, the impact of this reduction in sea ice on water column & seafloor ecology is much less certain. Changing physical conditions potentially impacts on the timing, magnitude & distribution of both ice algae & pelagic primary production(1,2) with as yet unresolved effects on trophic pathways which support both pelagic & benthic consumers(3).

As late spring approaches, ice-algae dissociates from underneath the ice & sinks rapidly to the seafloor providing a sudden & large input of food to the benthic community underneath. Phytoplankton production starts only once sea-ice has started to melt leading to a temporal discontinuity between sea-ice & open-water production. Using fatty acid biomarkers Wang et al(4) found that the relative amounts of diatoms/dinoflagellates/bacteria in ice particulate organic matter differed from pelagic POM and that it changed seasonally within pelagic POM.

Pelagic grazing pressure in the Arctic is relatively low, thus the benthic fauna tend to receive a greater fraction of available organic material and respond quickly to this input by utilising it for growth/reproduction before it is lost through burial within the sediment(5,6).

Much of the work looking at uptake of ice algae versus phytoplankton has been conducted on zooplankton, pelagic fauna & larger mammals, with relatively little research undertaken on benthic communities. Research by Søreide et al(3) investigated the macrobenthic communities around northern Svalbard from samples collected in 2003/2004. They studied the uptake of sympagic algae versus phytoplankton by the benthos in the region using stable isotopes & fatty acid tracers. These first results indicate that the benthic community feeds primarily on ice algae & that they had high proportions of diatom fatty acid trophic markers implying that the benthic fauna are selectively retaining high quality food. The slight exception to this is the suspension feeders as they also appear to utilise the phytoplankton as a food source.


Samples have been collected using trawls & corers from different research cruises in the Barents Sea, East of Svalbard. Faunal identification to lowest possible taxonomic level will be undertaken between SAMS, Akvaplan-niva & UiT and suitable training will be given. Stable isotope analysis will be undertaken in conjunction with the NERC Mass Spectrometry Facility in East Kilbride. Highly branched isoprenoid (HBI) analysis indicating uptake of sea-ice algae will be undertaken at SAMS. In addition, total lipid amount which provides a measure of level of nutrition will also be measured and analysed at SAMS. Interpretation and analysis of remote sensing data will be undertaken in conjunction with the University of Strathclyde.

The results gathered here will be compared with those of Søreide et al.(3). Potential changes in the preferential uptake of food will be assessed & links to overall changes in climate & thus hydrography, ice cover and food availability will be investigated. This work will be supported by generation of time series of remote sensing data (WP1) to cover the period between 2003 and the current sample effort. This proposed work to be undertaken by the student will add an additional and valuable element to the larger Changing Arctic Ocean – Arctic PRIZE project, by investigating whether we can detect a preference for either ice-algae or phytoplankton and as a result elucidate their trophic position, relationships and resource partitioning. The student will be also be expected to disseminate and publish their work.

Time plan

Year 1: Literature review on the changing faunal community in the Barents Sea, and more widely in the Arctic and the impact of a changing climate and food resources. To identify the fauna to allow for determining the composition and, species and functional diversity of the benthic communities

Year 2: Time spent at Akvaplan-niva/University of Tromsø to aid with identification. Investigations of the highly branched isoprenoids found in the larger benthic fauna.

Year 3: To determine the molecular (lipids) and isotopic (δ15N and δ13C) ratios of selected fauna representing the different size classes at pre-determined locations in order to identify trophic position, relationships and resource partitioning.


Research facilities and environment

SAMS has excellent facilities for marine environmental research. The student will have access to computing, library and laboratory facilities as required. SAMS hosts approximately 40 postgraduate students who are supported by both SAMS and UHI graduate schools.



1Arrigo et al. 2015 https://doi.org/10.1002/2015JC010888

2Leu et al. 2015 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pocean.2015.07.012

3Søreide et al. 2013 https://doi.org/10.1080/17451000.2013.775457

4Wang et al. 2013 https:// doi:10.3189/2013AoG62A135

5Renaud et al. 2007 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jmarsys.2006.07.006

6Morata et al. 2015 https://doi.org/10.1007/s00300-013-1414-5


Funding notes

This project is funded by NERC and UHI. The studentship is 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, UK applicants must satisfy all the following conditions:

1. Have settled status in the UK, meaning they have no restrictions on how long they can stay;

2. 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)’

3. 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 who were ordinarily resident in the EU immediately before the period of full-time education).

To be eligible for a tuition fees only award, i.e. no maintenance award payable, applicants from EU countries other than the UK must satisfy the following condition:

1. Be ordinarily resident in a member state of the EU, in the same way as UK students must be ordinarily resident in the UK.

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.

Students must be domiciled in the Highlands and Islands transition region during the course of their study to be eligible for funding.

Below are some ideas put forward by staff for students who want to self-fund a PhD project:

  • >The genetic stabilit of microalgal strains used in biofuel production (Dr Michele Stanley)
  • >Modelling the hydrodynamics of large scale macroalgae cultivation (Dr Michele Stanley)
  • >Oyster culture in Scotland (Drs Adam Hughes and Michele Stanley)
  • >The war of the marine worlds: Do pathogens contribute to the resilience of marine ecosystems against biological invasions? (Dr Claire Gachon)
  • >Genomics of algal defenses against their pathogens (Dr Claire Gachon)
  • >The evolution of pathogenicity among oomycetes: a comparative genomics approach (Dr Claire Gachon)
  • >Implications of large offshore renewables arrays for fisheries (Dr Clive Fox)
  • >Prey selection by gadoid larvae (Dr Clive Fox)
  • >Behaviour of the marine predatory copepod Euchaeta norvegica (Dr Clive Fox)
  • >Reproductive behaviour of a southern copepod in the changing environment of the west of Scotland (Dr Clive Fox)
  • >Feeding preferences of Nephrops larvae (Dr Clive Fox)
  • >Dispersal of early life stages of flatfish on the west of Scotland (Dr Clive Fox and Professor Michael Burrows)
  • >Fine scale passive acoustic tracking of harbour porpoises: investigation of echolocation behaviour and practical applications (Professor Ben Wilson)
  • >Arctic wide zooplankton migration behaviour (Professor Finlo Cottier and Dr Kim Last)
  • >Developing a fjord box model for high latitudes (Professor Mark Inall and Profesor Finlo Cottier)
  • >How does vertical mixing influence ocean-glacier interactions? (Professor Mark Inall and Professor Finlo Cottier) 

Many PhDs come with full studentships, which cover fees and living expenses, so that students can focus on their research and be expected to complete their studies in 3 or 3.5 years.

Self-funded students will require to have IRO £14,500 per year for living expenses to be in line with RCUK doctoral stipends on top of the fees.

For UHI PhD projects, click here for the current fees.

Most our PhD projects are registered through the University of the Highlands and Islands, and this page outlines the application procedure for UHI PhDs. Please note that we have several other doctoral training partnerships - most notably with the University of Edinburgh, and applications to these programmes follow procedures by other universities. Information regarding these can be found on the individual project adverts.

We adhere strictly to equality and diversity policies during all phases of recruitment so that we find the most talented and motivated students to join us.


To be eligible to study for a PhD at SAMS UHI, who need to possess - in a relevant discipline and from a reputable institution:

  • >A Master's qualification and / or
  • >A Bachelor degree with first class or upper second class honours and / or
  • >Another qualification or substantial experience that demonstrates your academic competence to complete doctoral training successfully (to be approved by the UHI Research Degrees Committee on the recommendation of the SAMS Director).
  • >Additionally, international students whose first language is not English and who do not hold a prior degree obtained in English must hold an IELTS qualification with a score of 6.5 (6+ in writing), gained within two years prior to your registration date.

How to apply

Most importantly you need to have identified an approved PhD project (including a Director of Studies / supervisory team) that you are unquestionably excited by. This can be a ready made project advertised on these pages OR a proposal you have developed with a SAMS supervisor and have funding for.

PhD Studentships 2018-19 Application guidance

To apply, you will need to submit the following::

  • >Completed application form (Gradschool application form 2019)
  • >Copies of all official qualification certificates and transcripts. If your official certificates/transcripts are not in English, this must be accompanied by a fully certified translation provided by a professional translator/translation company
  • >For applicants whose first language is not English, an English language test certificate (IELTS or eqv.) is required and the certificate must have been gained within the past 2 years
  • >A copy of the photo page of your passport if you are not a UK national. Also include any pages which indicate a right of abode in the UK.
  • >Copy of all your official degree transcripts (BSc & MSc - as appropriate). If you have not yet completed your degree, please send a transcript showing all your modules and grades.
  • >Two references. Send the Gradschool PGR reference form 2018 reference request form to each referee and ask them to return them to phd@sams.ac.uk before the application deadline

These documents should be sent to reach us by the deadline advertised on each advert.

By post
Academic Registry Officer: Post Graduate
The Scottish Association for Marine Science
Argyll PA37 1QA


By Email

Interview information

The best candidates on paper will be invited for face-to-face interview. Applicants who cannot attend an interview in Oban may be offered Skype interviews.

Most PhD students will want to meet their potential supervisors to discuss the project, their personal suitability and to ascertain that they will be able to work together for a prolonged period of time.

For administrative issues, your first and main point of contact is the postgraduate registry officer, Anna Kane:

E: PhD@sams.ac.uk T: +44 (0) 1631 559 000 (reception)
T: +44 (0) 1631 559 427 (direct)

The SAMS graduate school is convened by marine deep-sea ecologist, Dr Bhavani Narayanaswamy:

E: Bhavani.Narayanaswamy@sams.ac.uk T: +44 (0) 1631 559 305 (direct)