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PhD: The relationship between marine extinction and climate change in space and time

Project Title

The relationship between marine extinction and climate change in space and time


University of Birmingham

Supervisors and Institutions

Dr. Shan Huang (University of Birmingham), Dr. Kirsty Edgar (University of Birmingham), Dr. Katie Collins (Natural History Museum, London).

Funding Status

Funding is in competition with other projects and students

Project Description

Project overview
The fossil record provides a direct window to the processes of past biodiversity losses, their links to environmental drivers and their ecological consequences. For example, the exceptional fossil record of marine bivalves shows that globally extinctions during the last 65 million years were intensified by rapid climate changes, both cooling and warming. Significant regional extinctions of marine bivalves also occurred in the UK and worldwide during the Pliocene-Pleistocene transition in response to high-amplitude climatic fluctuations, which shaped the modern marine biota. Regional extinctions alter the geographic distributions of species and can put tremendous stress on local ecosystems but are rarely synthesized into global analyses of climatic impacts. Furthermore, quantitative investigation beyond taxonomic loss is urgently needed. Specifically, the morphology of organisms determines their behaviours and ecological functions and thus how they survive through changes. Therefore, assessment of the ecomorphological selectivity of past extinction events and their impact on the ecological communities is essential for understanding and mitigating the current biodiversity crisis.

You will conduct a multi-dimensional investigation of marine bivalve extinctions through prominent climatic changes during the Palaeocene-Eocene (PE, ~60-50 million years ago, Ma) and Pliocene-Pleistocene (PP; ~5-1 Ma) transitions. You will compile fossil data from the literature and museum collections for widely separated regions (e.g. UK, New Zealand, and US), which serve as natural experiments for assessing the relationship between extinction dynamics and climate change at regional versus global scale. Your research will lead to a deeper understanding on the intrinsic vulnerability of modern lineages to global climate changes to inform marine conservation practice.

Training opportunities
You will gain experience in using state-of-the-art digital techniques (e.g. CT scanning and 3D morphology reconstruction) and highly transferable skills (e.g. literature review, data science and programming) that are widely useful across professions, including scientific research. In addition to working with supervisors at UoB and Natural History Museum in London, you will also join an international collaborative team, including Professor David Jablonski (University of Chicago) and Dr. Stewart Edie (Smithsonian Institute), and undertake research visits to world-leading institutes (e.g. NHM in London and the Smithsonian Institute, USA) in biodiversity research.

Research Environment
UoB has one of the largest clusters of paleobiologists in the UK, with a thriving Palaeobiology program, and is part of Earth and Environmental Sciences which was ranked 2nd in the UK for research quality in the most recent Research Excellence Framework Exercise in 2021. It provides a vibrant and supportive academic environment, including regular (often interdisciplinary) seminars/discussions, analytical consultancy, engagement and training opportunities.

Equal opportunities
We are committed to equality of opportunity and encourage applications from under-represented groups (e.g., home student who identifies as BAME or those who grew up or went to school in an area where young people are less likely to enter higher education).

How to apply
Applications should be sent direct to Dr. Shan Huang ( and include:
1) Application form:
2) CV
3) Academic transcripts
4) Names and contact details of two referees (for shortlisted candidates, references will be requested to support the nomination before June 14th)

Nominated candidates will be interviewed on Thursday June 22 or Friday June 23 only, on zoom.

Funding notes:
This PhD studentship is funded by the College of Life & Environmental Sciences (LES), University of Birmingham and covers UK tuition fees and monthly stipend (UKRI rate) for 3.5 years. All nominated candidates will be interviewed by a balanced panel with school representatives in LES, who will make the final decision on studentship allocation. At least a 1st class or 2:1 degree in geology, paleobiology, ecology, evolution, biology or natural sciences is required. A relevant MSc degree and/or experience with processing and analysing complex, large datasets, R programming, literature survey and/or museum work is desirable but not necessary.

Contact Name

Shan Huang

Contact Email

Link to More Information

Closing Date

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Expiry Date

Tuesday, June 6, 2023
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