Project title: Bottom-up influence of climate change on endangered marine top predators via trophic coupling and retroactive top-down influence of these predators on their environment
Supervisor: Dr Lorien Pichegru Co-supervisor: Prof Nadine Strydom
Understanding the effects of climate change on marine ecosystems is complicated by a lack of research into trophic interactions at different spatio-temporal scales. In the Benguela Upwelling Ecosystem off South Africa, climate driven oceanographic processes are known to have a significant impact on the distribution and abundance of small pelagic fish and these secondary consumers play an important role in regulating the entire ecosystem from primary producers to top predators. Dramatic declines in top predator populations that prey on these fish have prompted scientists to intensify research efforts into possible causes of this phenomenon. Trends in these predator populations provide useful signals to explore fluctuations in dynamic ecosystem processes. Populations of African Penguins have decreased by 70% over the last 12 years with most of the remaining breeding population residing in Algoa Bay. This species biology has been monitored since 2008 to gain insights into possible drivers of these trends. Fine-scale pelagic fish surveys have been conducted since 2011 to gauge the response of various breeding and foraging parameters of penguins to the variation in their prey abundance. A typical missing dimension, however, is an understanding of the bottom-up as well as top-down processes that are fundamental to these systems’ functioning. Here we propose an integrated approach that looks at the influence of climate driven processes on primary producers, secondary consumers and ultimately top predators to understand the relationship between projected climate change scenarios on the dynamics of these ecosystems. The top-down influence of the predator colony in their environment via nutrient input will be integrated in our ecosystem model. This research aims to discover those limiting factors that can help inform adaptive strategies for effective resource and biodiversity management.
APPLICATIONS AND FUNDING
Candidates should have a PhD degree in the field of marine ecology and modelling. The candidate should have experience in planktology and of complex data processing and modelling techniques in R. The successful candidate will form part of a dynamic research team. The value of the bursary is R150 000 per year for up to three years. Renewal each year will be contingent on satisfactory academic progress. To apply, please send a CV (including academic records & names and contact details of three referees) and a short motivation letter to Dr Lorien Pichegru (lorien.pichegru AT nmmu.ac.za).
Closing date: 21st January 2017