Understanding the functional roles of shallow and deep water sponge assemblages using Remotely Operated Vehicles and SCUBA

Supervisor: Associate Professor James J. Bell, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.
Project overview: despite sponges being widespread and abundant throughout New Zealand little is known about their ecology or threat status. Importantly, we have very limited information on the sponge fauna between 50-200 m, where sponges dominate rocky environments as algal populations decline. This project will use SCUBA and a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to investigate shallow and deep water sponge ecology in New Zealand. Recent research at VUW in shallow water (<20 m), where sponge abundance is less than 10% cover, has shown that sponges pump vast quantities of water through their bodies, and in doing so can remove >90% of the available plankton in the water column. This simple action of feeding means sponges are exerting a major influence on the water column, and therefore are likely to be very important in coastal ecosystems. However, in deeper water, from 50-200 m, sponges are even more abundant and cover can often exceed 50% of the rock surface. In these environments sponges are likely to have even more important functional roles through their feeding activities that may have implications for shallower water communities, especially if mobile species like fish are moving between these habitats. In addition, recent studies overseas have shown that sponges assimilate other potential food sources, particularly dissolved organic carbon (DOC), which they likely transform to different carbon sources that can become available to other marine organisms and support entire local ecosystems. This may be an even more significant impact of sponges than feeding on picoplankton, especially in deeper waters where plankton is less abundant; this requires further investigation to fully understand the functional roles of sponges in temperate coastal ecosystems. The work will be based at Victoria of University in Wellington with fieldwork in the Taranaki region, which supports some magnificent sponge ‘gardens’, particularly in Paraninihi Marine Reserve. Unusually, these sponge assemblages, where rock coverage can exceed 50%, occur in very shallow water (5 m) and the assemblages are more typical of deeper water ecosystems. This project will focus on these sponge gardens and determine how these reefs function compared to shallow water sponge assemblages elsewhere, and also to deeper water sponge assemblages. The overall aim of this project is investigate the functional roles of shallow compared to deeper water sponges assemblages focusing on feeding, competition and habitat provisioning. This project might include fieldwork/studies, feeding experiments and ecological modeling.
Other information: The successful candidate will need SCUBA experience and ideally have experience of temperate ecosystems and working in remote locations. Applicants would be expected to have already completed an MSc or equivalent. The project is fully funded by the Georg Mason Trust to include a 3-year scholarship (stipend and fees worth NZ$35,000 per year) and travel and consumable costs. 

In the first instance please send a full CV, copies of academic transcripts and names of two referees who we can contact to support your application to Associate Professor James Bell (james.bell@vuw.ac.nz<mailto:james.bell@vuw.ac.nz>). We will be considering applications as they arrive as we need to fill this position quickly, with a final closing date of 18/11/16.
For further information about Victoria University of Wellington, about the city of Wellington and life in New Zealand, please refer to the VUW website – ([http://www.victoria.ac.nz<http://www.victoria.ac.nz]www.victoria.ac.nz<http://www.victoria.ac.nz>). This PhD opportunity is open to individuals of all nationalities. If English is not your first language, then please note the English language requirements –
http://www.victoria.ac.nz/fgr/prospective-phds/qualifications-required. Please note postgraduate fees for PhD in New Zealand are the same for both domestic and international students, therefore this opportunity is open to students from all countries. Minimum requirement for admission to our 3 year PhD programme is a Bachelor of Science with honours (or equivalent) degree from a university (or equivalent) that is
recognised by Victoria University of Wellington. Please contact Associate Professor James Bell for further details (james.bell@vuw.ac.nz<mailto:james.bell@vuw.ac.nz>)

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