Applications for this PhD have now closed.
Location University of Technology Sydney, Plant Functional Biology and Climate Change Cluster
App. deadline 15/01/2018
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Eligibility Australian residents only

Understanding nutrient acquisition strategies in planktonic dinoflagellates under different regimes of environmental variability

Dinoflagellates are a diverse functional group of phytoplankton that occupy important niches in marine and freshwater environments. Many species have major ecological and economic impacts, including the formation of harmful algal blooms, symbioses with marine animals that ultimately underpin coral reef ecosystems, and play key biogeochemical and trophic role in pelagic coastal and open ocean environments. In comparison to other functional groups, dinoflagellates grow more slowly and take up nutrients less efficiently, but how they persist in dynamic aquatic environments is still relatively unexplored. 

This project will investigate the strategies dinoflagellates use to grow under increasing environmental variation; specifically examining whether they transition from a principally autotrophic (photosynthetic) to mixotrophic mode, whereby cells subsidise their light-driven carbon fixation by taking up organic nutrients or engulfing prey (phagotrophy).

The PhD candidate will undertake acclimation and experimental evolution studies with numerous dinoflagellate taxa to investigate responses to changes in environmental variability on two timescales: (1) short (weeks) time scales where acclimation responses dominate, and the impact of different types of variability (i.e., predictability, uncoupling of co-correlated environmental parameters) on organismal responses will be quantified; and (2) long (evolutionary) time scales that include evolutionary dynamics, to investigate how the intensification of a single type of environmental variability drives trait evolution. 
Given that mixotrophy has a profound impact on the movement of nutrients and energy through the aquatic foodweb, we will focus on nutrient acquisition traits to resolve this key uncertainty in forecasts of ocean nutrient cycling. By understanding how the action of natural selection is affected by environmental variability, these experiments will also provide insight into the choice or selective engineering of phytoplankton stock cultures used in aquaculture, an industry that currently relies on a few selected algal genotypes. Thus, the project has both fundamental and applied science outcomes.

Desirable skills and qualifications of applicants

We are seeking a highly motivated PhD candidate with a background in microbiology, algal physiology, molecular ecology or a related field, and a keen interest in data analytics and bioinformatics. In addition to meeting the general PhD entry requirements of UTS, the ideal candidate should have a first class Honours or Master’s (research) degree and/or published work or research experience. A strong background in genetics and microbiology is desirable; experience with command line and programming skills preferred. 

Overseas applications are welcomed (with current IELTS assessments), but the successful applicant must commence their studies no later than 31 August 2018 (visa approved).

How to apply

Expressions of interest including a CV should be sent to Prof Martina Doblin.

Applications close: 15 January 2018, at 5 pm EST.

Applicants for the scholarship must also apply to be admitted to the PhD degree at UTS.

Please Note: Should this listing mention details of an available scholarship, it is your responsibility to confirm the specifics with the university / institute prior to applyiing. Terms and conditions are in some cases subject to change and are not always reflected immediately within listings.

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Further Information / Application Enquiries

Prof Martina Doblin