About this project
Invasive non-native species (INNS) are one of the five global drivers of biodiversity loss and the rate of biological invasions is increasing. Dreissenid mussels (zebra mussels Dreissena polymorpha and quagga mussels D. rostriformis bugensis) are INNS that are high on the UK priority list for monitoring and management, due to their potential for rapid spread and negative impacts to biodiversity, infrastructure and human health. Dreissenids can rapidly colonise hard surfaces, causing major problems for the water industry and power companies by clogging pipes and encrusting other artificial structures. In Yorkshire alone, removal of zebra mussels from pipework currently costs £600K per annum.
Early detection is key to preventing establishment and further spread of INNS, but this is particularly challenging for species that have microscopic life stages. Environmental DNA (eDNA) is a sensitive new method that is starting to revolutionise how we monitor INNS. We have recently developed eDNA assays for Dreissenid mussels that are highly sensitive for detection of both adult and larval stages. The successful student will use these tools to obtain novel insights into the dynamics of Dreissenid eDNA and to improve understanding of the species’ distribution and impact. Methods and data generated during the studentship will be critical for facilitating Dreissenid monitoring, management and mitigation.
- To understand the temporal dynamics of Dreissenid eDNA and inform future sampling campaigns.
- To understand the spatial dynamics of eDNA distribution and determine which key environmental variables influence the probability of detection of Dreissenid eDNA
- To use eDNA to identify key pathways and vectors for Dreissenid spread
- To evaluate the impact of Dreissenid mussels on the structure and function of invaded ecosystems
You will be supervised by Dr. Lori Lawson Handley and Dr. Bernd Hänfling from the EvoHull Group at the University of Hull, Dr. Alison Dunn from the School of Biology, University of Leeds and our CASE partner, Dr. Ben Aston from Yorkshire Water. You will also collaborate with Nature Metrics, the leading UK consultancy for DNA based monitoring. The project will provide specialist training in:
- Environmental DNA sampling, capture and analysis
- qPCR and High Throughput Sequencing (metabarcoding)
- Statistical modelling (including site occupancy modelling) in R
EvoHull is one of the most experienced groups in the UK for eDNA analyses, has dedicated eDNA facilities, and currently supports 6 PhD students working on eDNA. Alison Dunn’s team are UK leaders on biosecurity and work closely with the water industry and other partners to reduce the spread of INNS. Yorkshire Water has extensive experience of supervising PhD students and offers a supportive environment to enable students to improve career prospects.
You will have the opportunity to work alongside the YW Environment Assessment team and access training programmes, an industry mentor, and work space. Collectively, we have an excellent track record in training PhD students, publishing high impact research, and are highly active in national and international networks that will help you to develop external contacts and career prospects.
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