Early-Stage Researcher (ESR)/PhD position as part of the MSCA ETN '4D-REEF'


Project title: Composition and ecology of microgastropod assemblages in relation to reef habitat quality

Host: Natural History Museum, London (UK)

Supervisors: Dr Jon Todd (Natural History Museum, London), Dr Owen Wangensteen (University of Tromsų)

Benthic gastropods are among the most diverse and abundant macro-organisms of tropical reefs, both recent and fossil. Molluscs are frequently used as indicators for habitat degradation in aquatic ecosystems but they have yet to be widely used in reef habitats.

In this ESR project we will quantify change in Coral Triangle microgastropod assemblages in space (along degradation transects) and deep time to test their potential role as indicators of reef health.

In Neogene to recent tropical reef-associated sediments, gastropods and microgastropods (< 4mm), in particular, have been neglected despite being the most species-rich, free-living, skeletonized taxon. Reefal habitats can be finely discriminated by their micromolluscan assemblages in the fossil record, where fossils are abundant and excellently preserved. Microgastropod taxa show a wide range of ecological traits, but are dominated by carnivores that are often highly co-evolved with their reef prey. Feeding and other traits are conserved at high levels in snail taxonomy, allowing them to be equally accessible in Recent and fossil assemblages. Because microgastropods have short lifespans we expect changing assemblages to reflect environmental change with great fidelity.

Healthy reefs are expected to contain a higher diversity of benthic organisms than impacted ones and therefore a greater diversity of microgastropods living across the wide range of niches available. Stressed reefs are hypothesized to show reduced species richness and increased assemblage volatility.

We also aim to explore the application of molecular assessment techniques, both on recent and ancient sedimentary DNA (sedaDNA) to reconstruct living and past microgastropod assemblages along present gradients of anthropogenic impact and through the Holocene.

Objectives of the project

  1. Sample molluscan shell assemblages from comparable habitats in the Pliocene, Holocene and Recent to characterise them taxonomically and ecologically.
  2. Uncover the unsampled component of Holocene reefs through sedaDNA and compare to Recent reefs to establish anthropogenic impact on the entire gastropod fauna over the past few thousand years.
  3. Determine assemblage, taxic, and funtional response along gradients of anthropogenic impact in the Spermonde Archipelago.
  4. Establish a monitoring tool for reef health using microgastropod taxa and assemblages.

Expected Results

  1. Quantify changes in turbid reef microgastropod assemblages through deep time.
  2. Establish the response of Recent microgastropod assemblages to natural and anthropogenic impacts.
  3. Identify the unrecovered taxonomic component of Holocene gastropod assemblages by developing novel molecular assessment techniques based on sedaDNA.
  4. Identify novel snail-based metrics for measuring reef health.

More information about 4D-REEF is available at: https://www.naturalis.nl/en/4d-reef


  1. Naturalis Biodiversity Center (Leiden, the Netherlands): to sample existing mollusc collections from the Spermonde Archipelago & to be trained in quantifying taphonomic processes translating modern communities into the fossil record.
  2. University of Tromsų (Norway) to be trained in molecular biodiversity assessment techniques, develop novel metabarcoding primers for gastropods and generate high-throughput sequencing data from recent and ancient sedimentary samples.

Eligibility criteria

EU eligibility criteria for candidates: Candidates of any nationality, but in order to be eligible for the positions the following criteria applies to all applicants: 1) The applicant shall at the time of recruitment be in the first four years of his/her research career and have not been awarded a doctoral degree. 2) The applicant must not have resided or carried out his/her main activity in the country of the host institute for more than 12 months in the 3 years immediately prior to the recruitment.

Candidate profile

Candidates must hold a Bachelor or Master degree in Life or Earth Sciences (Marine Biology, Palaeontology or similar subjects). We are looking for a highly motivated researcher, willing and able to contribute to interdisciplinary research within the network and with good communication skills. Advanced SCUBA certification is desirable but not essential (training will include obtaining a European Scientific Diving License. Experience with molecular biology (DNA extraction, high throughput sequencing), coral reef or molluscan ecology, microscopy techniques, biodiversity databases and/or bioinformatics, are desirable.

For any queries you may have, please contact: Please feel free to contact Jon Tod (j.todd@nhm.ac.uk)

How to apply?

Please apply here before 16 September 2016:

4D-REEF has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research
and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement
No 813360

posted: 30 August 2019     Please mention EARTHWORKS when responding to this advertisement.