The origin of Antarctic ice shelf fauna, the timing of its emergence and the demographic stability of the fauna over time

Comparative marine biodiversity and depth zonation in the Southern Ocean: evidence from a new large polychaete dataset from Scotia and Amundsen seas

This PhD project will study the Antartic under-ice shelf fauna with a focus on polychaetes, helping to provide independent evidence for ice shelf retreats and expansions.

The studentship is part of the INSPIRE Doctoral Training Partnerships, funded by NERC, and starts October 2019.

Apply for this course

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

Application deadline: 4 January 2019


The objective is to study the taxonomy, biodiversity, phylogeography and population genetic patterns of under-ice shelf fauna with a focus on polychaetes. This will help provide independent evidence for ice shelf retreats and expansions as reflected by the evolutionary and demographic history of fauna that depend on ice shelf cover.

The Antarctic ice sheet drains towards and terminates in the ocean, where it forms floating glaciers, or ice shelves, overlying vast sub-ice cavities. The largest of the ice shelves are the size of France, and they are unexplored oceans underlying sheets of ice that are 300-100 m thick.

There are only a handful of published investigations of under-ice shelf fauna (Lipps et al., 1979; Post et al., 2007; Sugiyama et al., 2014), none with genetic data. The phylogenetic origin of the under-ice shelf fauna is as of yet unknown. Did it evolve from nearby Antarctic shelf species or did elements of this fauna colonize from the surrounding deep sea, already adapted to an energy-poor environment? (Neal et al 2017).

The evolutionary origin and age, as well as demographical changes to this fauna, can be assessed through phylogenetic and population genetic analyses (Brasier et al., 2016; Brasier et al., 2017). Together, these new genetic data can provide an independent, biological, line of evidence regarding the timing of ice-sheet advance and retreat.


The new collections from the Larsen-C Benthos expedition will be studied using morphological and molecular taxonomy of polychaetes coupled with eDNA metabarcoding of filtered bottom water. Additional eDNA samples will be made available from the Thwaites glacier project via samples taken with the new University of Gothenburg AUV. This will be the first time these types of samples have been analysed for ice shelf fauna.

Specifically, detailed taxonomic studies and library creation of polychaetes will involve electron microscopy, photomicroscopy, molecular barcoding, sequence alignment, phylogenetic analysis using Bayesian inference and genetic distance estimation to differentiate species.

This new library of barcoded polychaetes will be combined with the extensive data already created by NHM/BAS group from the BIOPEARL 1 and 2 expeditions (Neal et al., 2017; Brasier et al., 2016, 2017). This will create an unparalleled opportunity to undertake metabarcoding approaches with a comparative library rather than just creating a list of unknown taxonomic units.

Supervision and training

The INSPIRE 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 and industrial/policy partners. The student will be registered at the University of Southampton and hosted at NHM with visits to all partners. Specific training will include: 

At-sea specimen collecting and imagery including eDNA, light and scanning electron microscopy, dissection, high-resolution specimen photography, data management (DarwinCore, OBIS, WoRMS), molecular barcoding techniques, phylogenetic analysis, population genetic analysis, metabarcoding analysis, next-generation sequencing and bioinformatics. It is likely the student will be able to participate in further Antarctic or other deep-sea cruises through collaboration.


Each INSPIRE project comes with a 3.5 year fully funded studentship for UK students and EU students who meet the RCUK eligibility criteria. Stipend in line with RCUK stipend levels.

To be eligible for a full award (stipend and fees), a student must satisfy all of these conditions:

  • Settled status in the UK, meaning they have no restrictions on how long they can stay.
  • Been ‘ordinarily resident’ in the UK for three years prior to the start of the grant. This means they must have been normally residing in the UK (apart from temporary or occasional absences).
  • Not been residing in the UK wholly or mainly for the purpose of full-time education. (This does not apply to UK or EU nationals.)

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

Applications are made through the University of Southampton's Online Application Form. The University has detailed guidance on how to apply.

In summary, 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.

General enquiries should be directed to the  GSNOCS (Graduate School of the National Oceanography Centre Southampton) team on

The deadline for applications is 4 January 2019.

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 Adrian Glover


Natural History Museum

Main supervisor: Dr Adrian Glover

University of Southampton

Co-supervisor: Dr Jon Copley

University of Gothenburg

Co-supervisor: Dr Thomas Dahlgren

British Antarctic Survey

Co-supervisor: Dr Katrin Linse


Neal L, Linse K, Brasier MJ, Sherlock E, Glover AG. Comparative marine biodiversity and depth zonation in the Southern Ocean: evidence from a new large polychaete dataset from Scotia and Amundsen seas. Marine Biodiversity. 2018 Mar 1;48(1):581-601

Brasier MJ, Wiklund H, Neal L, Jeffreys R, Linse K, Ruhl H, Glover AG. DNA barcoding uncovers cryptic diversity in 50% of deep-sea Antarctic polychaetes. Royal Society open science. 2016 Nov 1;3(11):160432

Brasier, Madeleine J., et al. Distributional Patterns of Polychaetes Across the West Antarctic Based on DNA Barcoding and Particle Tracking Analyses. Frontiers in Marine Science 4 (2017): 356

Interdisciplinary Southampton Partnership for Investigators Researching the Environment

This is a joint PhD training partnership between the Natural History Museum and INSPIRE, 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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