PhD: The effects of wading birds on intertidal mudflats: sediment dynamics, biogeochemical properties and ecosystem services

Project Description


This project will investigate how wading birds mediate processes on intertidal mudflats to deliver ecosystem services; specifically effects on sediment stability, nutrient flux and productivity.

Intertidal mudflats provide numerous ecosystem services, support a diverse biota and are one of the planets most imperilled ecosystems, disappearing faster than tropical rainforest. Previous studies have highlighted how wading birds alter processes such as biostabilisation of sediments, but our understanding remains poor. Improving our knowledge of how birds mediate processes is vital for predicting and mitigating the effects of climate change on these important habitats.


Research methodology

Field studies provide the best information for understanding mudflat processes. You will design manipulative field experiments to alter the numbers and species diversity of wading birds in plots on intertidal sediments. You will monitor these plots using non-invasive techniques and take sediment samples for analysis of biogeochemical properties in the laboratory. You will analyse these data to determine the effects of wading birds on ecosystem services.



Training will be provided in multidisciplinary science, experimental design, multivariate analysis, statistics and techniques including: PAM fluorometry, erosion devices (FloWave, Cohesive Strength Meter), cryogenic sediment coring (contact core) and biogeochemical analysis (grain size, organic matter, pigments, nutrients). You will spend part of the year working with Professor Graham Underwood, Essex University, training in nutrient flux measurements, exopolymer analysis and microalgal productivity. A yearly placement with the National Trust (Blakeney Nature Reserve), will provide experience in coastal management.


Person specification

This highly multidisciplinary project requires a background in one or more of: sedimentology, ecology, marine biology, biogeochemistry, environmental science. You need good laboratory based analysis skills. Ability to identify benthic macrofauna would be advantageous. Work will be done in challenging muddy coastal environments, so you must be able to demonstrate excellent field skills.



T.J. Tolhurst et al. (2009) Muddy sediment erosion: insights from field studies. Journal Hydraulic Engineering. 135 (2): 73-87.

M. G. Chapman et al. (2010) Complex and inconsistent patterns of variation in benthos, micro-algae and sediment over multiple spatial scales. MEPS. 398: 33-47.

A.R.M. Hanlon et al. (2006) Dynamics of EPS production and loss in an estuarine, diatom-dominated, microalgal biofilm over a tidal emersion immersion period. Limnol. Oceanogr. 51: 79-93

D.C.O. Thornton et al. (2007). Sediment-water inorganic nutrient exchange and nitrogen budgets in the Colne estuary (UK). MEPS. 337: 63 – 77


Start date: October 2015

Programme: PhD

Mode of Study: Full Time


Read more and apply online.