Application of environmental DNA (eDNA) techniques for the determination of important fish species distributions Studentship

Working towards the monitoring and protection of aquatic species.  

An opportunity for a fully-funded PhD studentship is currently being offered by the Faculty of Health and Applied Sciences at UWE Bristol. 

The closing date for applications is Monday 6 February 2017. 

About the studentship

This studentship focuses on the development and application of environmental DNA (eDNA) as a technique for investigating elusive and endangered species. Recently developed techniques to capture and analyse free-floating DNA, known as environmental DNA (eDNA), have the potential to provide a rapid and robust method for determining the presence and distribution of aquatic species. A further and increasingly important feature of this emerging technology is that the use of eDNA is both non-invasive and non-damaging to species and ecosystems.

The dramatic decline in recruitment of the European Eel (Anguilla anguilla) over the last 25 years in UK and European waters has led to its classification as ‘Critically Endangered’ on the IUCN Red List and the introduction of the EU Eel regulation (EC 1100/2007). Assessing eel populations by traditional methods is notoriously difficult as they have a complex life history, are migratory and live cryptically in a range of habitats. All monitoring methods are damaging to the eels or permanently remove individuals from the population. The successful application of eDNA will enable frequent routine sampling which is urgently needed by water companies and regulatory bodies which use and inform current EU Eel Management Plans. 

This research will initially focus on developing and validating this novel method of detecting eels. We plan to further develop these techniques to assess application for other estuarine and coastal fish groups, such as other migratory species of conservation concern or more elusive commercial species. This part of the project will be in association with Dr Jim Ellis (Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, CEFAS). This PhD studentship will also build on existing links with the Sustainable Eel Group, Bristol Water, Bristol Zoological Society and Bristol Aquarium. The nature of this applied research will allow the successful candidate to develop strong links with collaborators.

The aims of this project are to:

  1. develop and validate an eDNA technique using water samples for the identification and quantification of target fish species.
  2. apply this novel technique to evaluate existing species distribution models.
  3. application of eDNA techniques for tracking potential changes in species distributions.

The student undertaking this project will receive in-depth training in ecological and genetic survey techniques; DNA extraction, using DNA markers, real time PCR, sequence analysis, and experience of working closely with strategic collaborators.

Funding details

The studentship will start on 3 April 2017 and consists of an annual tax-free stipend of £14,296, subject to satisfactory progress, for three years. In addition, full-time tuition fees will be covered for three years.

The studentship will only fully fund applicants who are eligible for Home/EU fees. Applicants who are normally required to cover overseas fees will have to cover the difference between the Home/EU and the overseas tuition fee rates.

Eligibility criteria

We are looking for a highly motivated and enthusiastic student capable of working independently with a broad interest in ecology and conservation.  They should be willing to learn and develop the interdisciplinary skills required for this project. Although the successful student will receive in-depth training, it is desirable that applicants have some experience of molecular work. The successful applicant will be working primarily in an academic environment, supported by a range of experts, and should demonstrate a willingness to engage with collaborating organisations, such as local water companies and regulatory bodies to whom this work will be of interest. 

Applicants must have a good honours degree (2.1 or equivalent) in Biological or Environmental disciplines. A relevant Masters qualification is desirable, but not essential if the applicant has relevant research experience. If the language of first degree or Master's degree is not English, a recognised English language qualification is required.

How to apply

Please read the further details document

Download and complete the application form  and send it directly to the UWE Graduate School. Please ensure you include the title of the research project you propose to undertake and detail why you are interested in undertaking this PhD project and what relevant knowledge, experience and qualifications you would bring to the research. Please see the guidance notes for further information about how to complete the application form.

Please also complete the Equal opportunities form and complete the first section of the Application reference sheet before sending to your nominated referees.

For an informal discussion about the studentship, please contact Dr Stephanie Sargeant at or tel: +44(0) 117 32 87542.

Closing date

The closing date for applications is Monday 6 February 2017.

Further information

Interviews will take place in the week commencing Monday 20 February 2017.

If you have not heard from us by Monday 20 February 2017, we thank you for your application, but do not wish to pursue it on this occasion.

The starting date of this PhD studentship is Monday 3 April 2017.

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