Institute of Marine Science


Postgraduate research opportunities

Our staff are looking for postgraduate students to join their research groups and offer pre-defined topics to students. If you are looking for a topic for your Masters or PhD thesis, select your postgraduate thesis topic from our diverse range of research projects, find a supervisor in your area, and become inspired by the projects other students are currently working on.

Explore our academics' research interests


We are happy for you to contact us to discuss your ideas | Staff research interests | or read through the opportunities below.

 

Incidence of microplastics in New Zealand fish


Level: MSc
Supervisors: Darren Parsons, Julie Hope

Microplastics are plastic fragments or fibres that can accumulate in marine systems. They can have detrimental effects on the physiology of marine organisms, which might cascade through marine food webs to influence ecosystem function and potentially even human health. While the problems that microplastics may cause are very topical, nothing is currently known about the incidence of microplastics in New Zealand fish.

This project will assess whether wild marine fish in New Zealand contain microplastics in their guts and other tissues. Comparisons between species with different feeding modes and from locations with potentially different exposures to microplastics will also be addressed. Experiments addressing the accumulation of microplastics in different tissue types will also be incorporated.

There is no application closing date for this project. 

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Ecosystem function in coastal soft-sediment habitats and the implications of climate change.


Level: PhD
Supervisor: Professor Simon Thrush

A funded PhD research project is available working on determining how ecosystem function could change associated with climate impacts in coastal marine habitats. The research will focus on ecosystem functions that underpin critical services and seeks to develop models of how the performance of specific ecosystem functions could be affected by climate change. Climate change is expected to strongly impact coastal and estuarine ecosystems; effects might include elevated temperature, flat desiccation, increased storm frequency, sea level rise and ocean acidification.

It is anticipated that the research will start with developing a conceptual analysis of selected ecosystem function performance curves and an analysis of how selected climate change stressors might influence functional performance. It is anticipated that field and/or laboratory studies will be designed to assess the efficacy of these models.

This project will be under the supervision of Prof Simon Thrush, Institute of Marine Science, The University of Auckland, New Zealand. Work for the project may involve being based either at the University’s city campus or at Leigh Marine Laboratory.

To apply for this position potential candidates need to send a letter of application, an outline of their research proposal (1 page max) and CV to Jaime Rowntree.

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Investigating the resilience of kelp forests to sedimentation and climate change


Level: PhD
Supervisor: Dr Nick Shears

Kelp forests represent highly valuable coastal ecosystems that provide food and shelter for a myriad of other species. However, these ecological services are threatened by a variety of human-induced stressors, and climate change is expected to exacerbate these effects. Recent research has indicated that while the resilience of kelp forests may be affected by increasing temperature these effects are likely to be compounded severely by existing anthropogenic factors such as reduced water clarity due to sedimentation. In New Zealand, sedimentation is considered a major threat to coastal ecosystems that is likely to increase with climate change.

The proposed research program will utilise the unique physical setting of the Hauraki Gulf to explore how the resilience of the kelp Ecklonia radiata is impacted by coastal sedimentation. A comparative experimental approach will be used whereby kelp removals will be carried out across a sedimentation gradient, and the recovery of kelp monitored. In addition, analogous removals will be carried out in both warmer and cooler parts of New Zealand to explore the role of temperature in determining the resilience of this important kelp species. The student will be expected to further develop and examine related research questions on the ecological function, productivity and resilience of kelp in New Zealand. This research will also contribute to the Kelp Ecosystems Ecology Network (KEEN; www.kelpecosystems.org), which aims to assess the impacts of global change on kelp forests worldwide. Consequently, there will also be opportunities to collaborate with other KEEN researchers and students, and carry out similar research on kelps in other parts of the world.

The scholarship consists of a stipend of $25,000 per annum tax-free and also covers University of Auckland PhD fees. The duration of the scholarship is three and a half years (maximum).

Applicants for this project should hold a first class MSc or honours degree, or equivalent. They should include evidence of qualifications (academic transcript) and research experience, together with a curriculum vitae and contact details of two academic referees. Applications should be supported by a cover letter that states why the candidate is interested in the position and how their qualifications are suited to the proposed research.

The project will involve SCUBA diving so the applicant should have relevant experience in research diving and at a minimum be qualified to Rescue Diver. The PhD position will be based at the recently refurbished Leigh Marine Laboratory.

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Marine Macroalgae


Level: MSc/PhD
SupervisorProf Wendy Nelson

New Zealand has a very rich macroalgal flora, although many species remain undescribed or incompletely characterised.   Projects on marine macroalgae can include a range of approaches, with a focus on deepening understanding and contributing to knowledge of the flora, including systematics, ecology, life histories, and with work on native and introduced species.

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Global Biogeography and biodiversity


Level: PhD
SupervisorProf Mark Costello and Dr Shane Wright

A graduate would focus on a particular taxonomic or functional group of species. Initial analyses would use existing online databases (e.g. GBIF, OBIS, WoRMS) complemented by and quality controlled using the published literature. Species ranges and macro-ecological patterns would be modelled using global environmental data and distribution modelling (which can be re-run under past and future climate change scenarios). Options include taxonomic studies, examination of specimens in museum collections and targeted field sampling to test hypotheses generated by modelling and/or fill key gaps in knowledge. This would lead to a global review of the biogeography of the species selected, including areas of endemicity, latitudinal and geographic patterns in species richness, and perhaps analyses of implications for the conservation of biodiversity under climate change, and designing networks of Marine Reserves.

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Gracilariales


Level: MSc/PhD
SupervisorProf Wendy Nelson

  • Systematics and ecology of Melanthalia in NZ:  preliminary research has shown there are three species in New Zealand (2 northern and one southern), only one of which has been described. How does the southern species differ from Melanthalia found in northern New Zealand? What is the distribution of the new northern species, currently known from a single collection?
  • Systematics & ecology of NZ Curdiea species: our recent molecular sequence investigations show that there are several undescribed species and an undescribed genus in the group currently placed in Curdiea in New Zealand. The cell wall polysaccharides in members of this group are very unusual with properties not found in any other agars. Species need to be characterised and described.
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Global Marine Ecosystems


Level: PhD / MSc
SupervisorProf Mark Costello

Recent studies by our group have used field data and models to develop world maps of marine biogeographic realms, biomes, ecosystems, and compiled a collection of over 50 global marine environmental datasets. This research would build on these data and knowledge to design a world network of Marine Reserves.  Other applications regarding invasive e species and climate change could be considered. The work is thus largely computational and desk based. Prior skills in GIS are necessary.

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Ulvales


Level: MSc/PhD
Supervisor: Prof Wendy Nelson

Description and characterisation of NZ species UlvaUmbraulva and Gemina: these green algal genera include a range of species found from the far north of New Zealand (Rangitāhua/Kermadecs) through to the subantarctic islands, and from the high intertidal through to very deep water.  New Zealand has both native and introduced species – and more work is required to compare New Zealand species with those found in other parts of the world.  Some Ulvales are found in early succession stages after disturbance, some cause nuisance blooms, and other species have been used an indicator species for various types of human modification.

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Marine invasive species


Level: PhD / MSc
Supervisor:  Prof Mark Costello and Shyama Pagad

The World Register of Marine Species has been expanded to establish a World Register of Introduced Marine Species (WRiMS), and is including increasing numbers of species’ traits and attributes, including their status as introduced and invasive, native range, body size, and taxonomic relationships. This project would compare global marine alien and invasive species to the world list of marine species to see if alien and invasive species are a random set of species, or if particular factors (size, habitat, benthic or pelagic, dispersal mechanism) seem to predispose some species to becoming alien. It could add traits to marine species from the literature, and use of GIS would be very useful. This will contribute to invasive species risk assessments.

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Coralline algae


Level: MSc/PhD
SupervisorProf Wendy Nelson

Systematics and ecology of selected NZ coralline algae (both geniculate and non-geniculate species)

  • Characterising and describing new species of coralline algae: Both articulated and crustose species that have been discovered to be genetically distinct need to be investigated and characterised and then given formal scientific names.  This involves consideration of ecological, distributional, morphological and anatomical features and comparison with known and described species.
  • Rhodoliths in New Zealand: ecology and responses to human induced change.
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Light-traps as a standard method for sampling marine biodiversity


Level: PhD / MSc
SupervisorProf Mark Costello

Light-traps are a standard for monitoring insects on land, and have been occasionally used for sampling particular marine species (e.g. fish larvae). Preliminary work found placing 1-litre traps on the seabed by hand for 1-hour collected a great diversity of animals (12 Orders), especially crustaceans from both the plankton and benthos. The excellent condition of the animals aided their identification. Collecting these animals by conventional benthic samples and plankton nets is time-consuming and expensive (it may require boats etc.). Thus although they are a key component of fish diet and the ecosystem food web, they are rarely studied.

Several projects are envisaged, including development of the methodology to recommend a standard method of use (e.g. effect of time in water, size of trap), comparison of diversity across habitats, comparison of diversity between human impacted (e.g. harbours) and less impacted (e.g. marine reserves) areas, and potential of the traps for surveillance for introduced and invasive species. The traps may be a cost-effective method for routine monitoring of a key component of marine ecosystems.

An interest in sampling methods, species identification and taxonomy, and marine biodiversity and ecology is required. Although considerable time may be spent identifying species under a microscope, and unexpected discoveries are anticipated (including some rare and previously unknown species).

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Bangiales


Level: MSc/PhD
SupervisorProf Wendy Nelson

Life histories, ecology and systematics of NZ species (many undescribed species requiring characterisation).

Bangiales: New Zealand has a very rich flora of red algae in the order Bangiales – this order of seaweeds (including species known as karengo, nori, laver, zicai) are valued worldwide for their nutritional qualities. In New Zealand there are at least 30 undescribed species and three undescribed genera – and they need to be investigated and then described using life history, field, genetic, anatomical and morphological features.

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Ecology and behaviour of fish ectoparasites


Level: PhD / MSc
Supervisor: Prof Mark Costello

Fish lice, caligid copepods, are widespread on marine fish. The behaviour and ecology of only one species is well-known, namely the salmon louse Lepeophtheirus salmonis because of its economic impact on farmed salmonids. This project would initially survey the lice of marine fish in the Hauraki Gulf, New Zealand to determine their host specificity and abundance, and potential risk to farmed fish. An ability to coordinate collection of samples from recreational and/or commercial fishermen would be necessary. The behaviour of the larvae and adults of selected species would then be studied in the laboratory to understand how they disperse and find new hosts.

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Codium


Level: MSc/PhD
SupervisorProf Wendy Nelson

Revision of the genus Codium in New Zealand: both branched and prostrate species are found in intertidal and subtidal environments around New Zealand, but the majority of the crustose/prostrate species remain poorly characterised and need investigation employing a range of techniques.

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Prasiolales


Level: MSc/PhD
SupervisorProf Wendy Nelson

Prasiolales: This group of green algae grows in unusual environments where there are high levels of nutrients and often with only intermittent water, including on open coasts and in urban environments. How do these species survive and reproduce in these challenging environments? How many species are present in New Zealand?

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Ice-Ocean Interactions | Oceanic-preconditioning of polynya processes


Level: PhD
Supervisor: Assoc Prof Craig Stevens

A pair of key functions in the climate system occur in polynya – this is where sea ice is made and also where deep or bottom water is formed.  Polynya are typically driven by strong winds blowing off the Antarctic continent.  This project would examine the hypothesis that preconditioning of the ocean waters that flow into the polynya region is a key factor in the polynya operation. The work could include data analysis, modelling and collection of new observations.

 

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Cook Strait | quantifying extreme tides


Level: MSc
Supervisor: Assoc Prof Craig Stevens

For a strait of its size, Cook Strait sustains some of the fastest tidal flows in the world.  This provides some challenges to traditional tidal analysis.  This project would look at a substantial dataset and also potentially participate in collecting new data.

 

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