The evolutionary history and phylogeography of Southern Ocean Scaphopoda - has climate shaped biodiversity?


A resesearch boat in the Southern Oceans, sea sampling and a scaphopod.


This project aims to advance the current understanding of the evolutionary history of Southern Ocean scaphopods.

The studentship is part of the Southampton Partnership for Innovative Training of Future Investigators Researching the Environment (SPITFIRE) funded by NERC and starts 1 October 2018.

Apply for this course

Read the eligibility criteria and application guidance below, then apply via the Spitfire Online Application Service.

Application deadline: 5 January 2018

Research focus

The student's analyses will be the first population genetic studies on scaphopods, and will provide the opportunity to assess whether these Southern Ocean molluscs have endured bottlenecks that might have been caused by the glacial history of the Antarctic continent and survival in refugia.

Supervision and training

The SPITFIRE DTP programme provides comprehensive personal and professional development training alongside extensive opportunities for students to expand their multi-disciplinary outlook through interactions with a wide network of academic, research, industrial and policy partners. The student will be registered at the University of Southampton and hosted at the British Antarctic Survey.

Travel between supervisory institutes is encouraged, to capitalize on their own specialisms, unique research and academic cultures.

The project provides broad, multidisciplinary training to understand the biodiversity and phylogeography of Southern Ocean scaphopods, ranging from morphological and molecular taxonomy to anatomy, population ecology, molecular phylogenetics, biogeography and GIS analysis.

The student will receive specific training in:

  • SEM and micro-CT application
  • molecular laboratory skills, eg DNA extraction, gene amplification, Sanger and next generation sequencing, and mitogenomics
  • ddRAD in collaboration with Prof Gonzalo Giribet at Harvard University (the student will spend three to six months at Harvard)
  • bioinformatics and statistical software to analyse genetic data
  • the ArcGIS package


The student will use the comprehensive and unique collections of Southern Ocean scaphopods held by the British Antarctic Survey. These contain over 2,000 specimens assigned to the five dominant nominal species:

  • Dentalium majorinum
  • Siphonodentalium dalli
  • Cadulus thielei
  • Pulsellum falklandicum
  • Striopulsellum minimum

They were collected at numerous sites in the Amundsen, Weddell and Scotia seas from 200 to 4,900 metres deep.

The student will assess the validity of these species by molecular delimitation techniques and examine the resulting units for morphological and anatomical characteristics and distribution ranges.

The student will sequence multiple genetic loci (eg CO1, 12S, 16S and 28S) to investigate phylogenetic relationships for all species using maximum likelihood and Bayesian analyses, and use COI haplotype networks and RAD-seq to investigate population structuring of selected species with high abundances (more than 30 individuals per site).

These results will be placed into phylogenetic and biogeographic contexts and will significantly advance the current knowledge on the evolutionary history of Southern Ocean scaphopods.


The Southern Ocean is globally important in understanding how ecosystems and biodiversity respond to climate change, as Antarctica's unique tectonic, oceanographic and climate history meant that many Southern Ocean species evolved and diversified in relative isolation.

Recent studies on the evolutionary and biogeographic history of contemporary fauna showed:

  • the Southern Ocean biodiversity to be richer, more ecologically diverse and biogeographically structured than previously thought
  • placed constraints on Antarctica's glacial history
  • the presence of refugia during glacial maxima

Previous analyses concentrated on species-rich taxa with adaptive radiations in the Southern Ocean such as isopod crustaceans, octopuses or sea spiders but few analyses have been conducted on taxa with low diversity.

The Scaphopoda (tusk shells) are a low diversity class - approximately 600 species are known worldwide, with just 13 listed for the Southern Ocean.

Of these species, only D. majorinum, S. dalli, C. thielei, P. falklandicum and Str. minimum are reported frequently south of the polar front. These species are an ideal group to study as they are locally abundant, found along large geographical and depth ranges. Studying the evolutionary history of these low diversity taxa under past climate change could predict how they will respond to future change. To date molecular studies on Scaphopoda are rare and there are no population genetic studies.


This project is open to applicants who meet the SPITFIRE eligibility and other exceptional applicants.

SPITFIRE seeks excellent prospective research students regardless of their particular scientific background. We aim to recruit the best students rather than to fill particular projects. We put a huge amount of effort into the recruitment process to meet this objective. 

Minimum Academic Eligibility Criteria: 

  • BSc/MSci 2:1
  • and/or Masters (MSc or MRes) at Merit/Distinction level (>60%).
  • and/or evidence of significant relevant professional experience equivalent to Masters level.

How to apply

Apply using the Spitfire Online Application Service, please include:

  • A short statement of your research interests and rationale for your choice of project(s) - in the Personal Statement section of the application form
  • Curriculum vitae - giving details of your academic record and stating your research interests.
  • Names of two current academic referees - with an institutional email addresses in the Reference section of the application form. On submission of your online application your referees will be automatically emailed requesting they send a reference to us directly by email.
  • Academic transcripts and IELTS/TOEFL certificate if applicable.

As far as possible please upload all documents in pdf format.

Interview dates

For successful candidates are:

  • Thursday 22 February 2018
  •  Friday 23 February 2018
  • Thursday 1 March 2018
  • Friday 2 March 2018

Successful candidates will be invited to interviews.

Please note they are all day events and will be allocated based on interview panel availability.

General enquiries should be directed to the SPITFIRE Team on

The deadline for applications is 5 January 2018.

Any questions?

You are encouraged to contact potential supervisors by email to discuss project-specific aspects of the proposed research at an early stage.

If you have any questions about the project please contact

Main supervisor: Dr Katrin Linse


Convey P, Stevens MI, Smellie JL, Hillenbrand C-D, Barnes DKA, Clarke A, Pugh PJA, Linse K, Cary SC (2009) Exploring biological constraints on the glacial history of Antarctica. Quaternary Science Reviews 28: 3035-3048

Steiner G, Dreyer H (2003) Molecular phylogeny of Scaphopoda (Mollusca) inferred from 18S rDNA sequences: support for a Scaphopoda-Cephalopoda clade. Zoologica Scripta 32: 343-356

Flot J-F (2015) Species delimitation's coming of age. Systematic Biology 64: 897-899. 

Southampton Partnership for Innovative Training of Future Investigators Researching the Environment

This a joint PhD training partnership between the Natural History Museum and SPITFIRE a NERC Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) creating an innovative multi-disciplinary experience for the effective training of future leaders in environmental science, engineering, technology development, business, and policy.

Funded by 

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