We are seeking an enthusiastic and highly motivated student to undertake a fully-funded PhD project
investigating trace metal nutrient limitation of phytoplankton growth in New Zealand lakes. The project will
involve working with a team of lake and geochemical scientists from the University of Otago, the National
Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research (NIWA), and Cawthron Institute, New Zealand.
Principal Supervisor: Associate Professor Claudine Stirling - Department of Chemistry, University of Otago,
Dunedin, New Zealand
Co-supervisors: Dr Piet Verburg - NIWA, Hamilton, New Zealand
Dr Susie Woods – Cawthron Institute, Nelson, New Zealand
Context for the project
There is growing concern about blooms of cyanobacteria that produce toxic
compounds and degrade lake water quality. All phytoplankton species need trace
metals to grow, particularly cyanobacteria, which require them to access dissolved
nitrogen gas in water. Trace metals may allow cyanobacteria to countermand nitrogen
load reduction to limit phytoplankton growth in lakes, by fixing atmospheric nitrogen.
However, in lakes in the Taupo Volcanic Zone (TVZ), which covers the central North
Island of New Zealand, trace metal concentrations may be low as a result of the trace
metal poor volcanic soils. The project combines trace metal concentration
measurements of the TVZ lakes with laboratory-controlled phytoplankton growth
experiments to determine whether trace metal concentrations limit phytoplankton
growth and nitrogen fixation by cyanobacteria.
The student will play a key role in the project coordinating the various aspects of the research, and addressing
the following key research questions:
- What are the concentrations of key trace metals in lakes in the TVZ and is there seasonal variation in the bioavailability of and demand for trace metals?
- Are trace metals limiting growth of phytoplankton and in particular of cyanobacteria?
- What are the rates of nitrogen fixation by cyanobacteria and are they affected by trace metal availability?
- Is phytoplankton species composition affected by availability of trace metals and other nutrients?
The project involves clean room chemistry, water pre-concentration methods, and sector field inductively
coupled plasma mass spectrometry (SF-ICPMS) for the quantification of trace metals in TVZ lake waters and
phytoplankton culture experiments. A moderate amount of fieldwork for lake water sampling will be required.
Details of scholarship
Applicants with a strong background in the geosciences, chemistry, ecology or a related quantitative
discipline, and with demonstrated academic and research excellence at the Bachelor (Honours) or Masters
level, are encouraged to apply. The successful candidate must be able to work both independently and in a
team, and be prepared to travel as part of the project. The successful applicant should be eligible to register
for doctoral studies at the University of Otago, but will spent time off-campus at partner institutions for
periods of the studentship. The selected candidate will be awarded a PhD Scholarship comprising a 3-year
stipend of NZ$ 25,000 per year (tax free and includes a fee waiver) and project costs. Both New Zealand and
international students are encouraged to apply. This PhD project forms part of a multi-disciplinary research
programme funded by the NZ Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE).
Applicants should submit a cover letter with a statement of research interests and experience, a complete CV
(including academic transcripts), and the names and contact information of at least two referees in a single
pdf file, as well as a copy of their postgraduate thesis, by e-mail to Dr Claudine Stirling (E:
Applications received on or before 4 May, 2018 will be considered for this position.
Contact Dr Piet Verburg (T: +64 (07) 867 1787; E: firstname.lastname@example.org) or Dr Claudine Stirling for further
information about the project. Additional information about the Department of Chemistry at the University of
Otago, NIWA and Cawthron Institute can be found at http://neon.otago.ac.nz/chemistry,
https://www.niwa.co.nz/ and http://www.cawthron.org.nz