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Functional changes in coral reef marine protected areas

Ecology has traditionally assessed communities based on species identity, but increasingly the traits of those species are being assessed instead, to measure functional diversity. By focussing on traits, such as body size, diet, and growth form, this approach aims to capture some of the characteristics that define the functional roles of species.

Functional diversity approaches hold great promise for understanding high diversity systems, such as coral reefs. One of the most common management approaches on coral reefs are marine protected areas. By stopping fishing in a given spatial area, fish communities can recover, with ramifications for the ecosystem. A substantial literature has documented the recovery of fish species and abundance in MPAs. However, we have a poor understanding of how functional diversity changes in marine protected areas.

This study will ask 1) how functional diversity changes on coral reefs following protection in MPAs, 2) how the functional diversity of small MPAs diverges from expectations of unfished baselines, 3) how climatic disturbances influence the functional diversity of reef communities in MPAs, and 4) how the selective exclusion of certain traits influence the functioning of the system.

These questions will be addressed using a combination of existing data and novel manipulative field experiments. With supervisory and project support at Lancaster University, Bangor University, the University of Montpellier, and the Wildlife Conservation Society, the project offers unique opportunities for research and training in coral reef science.

Applicants should hold a minimum of a UK Honours Degree at 2:1 level or equivalent in subjects such as Marine Biology, Environmental Science, Ecology, or Geography. Applicants with Master’s degrees, relevant research experience, or publications will be highly competitive. Exposure to statistical analyses and community ecology is desirable.

For further details, or to enquire about eligibility please send a short statement regarding your background and interest in the project, and a CV, to Professor Nick Graham.