The Lyell Centre, Institute of Life & Earth Sciences, Heriot-Watt University & The Roslin Institute, University of Edinburgh

ScalloPopMap: Generating population genomic and stable isotope maps of Scottish scallop populations to inform marine [conservation] management


Scallops are an increasing favourite on UK menus and represent a significant commercial fishery around British waters, but we know comparatively little about their population structure. Understanding the connectivity between 'patches' of scallops in the waters around Scotland and their links with populations further afield is an important component of sustainable management, informing the appropriate spatial scale at which to manage the fishery. This PhD project will contribute to the development of management measures in the fishery improvement project 'Project UK', by applying state-of-the-art genomic and chemical analysis approaches to mapping scallop populations in Scottish waters.

The objective of the PhD is to understand the sources and sinks for scallop larvae. Scallop larvae can spend up to 35 days in the water column and potentially travel hundreds of kilometres depending on local oceanographic conditions. Equally, larvae can become locally entrained in gyres and other oceanographic features that limit dispersal. Using oceanographic modelling, it is possible to infer the destination of larvae from specific scallop beds, but such models require empirical verification to directly assess connectivity and the extent to which sweep-stake spawning events occur (i.e. when most scallops in a bed originate from relatively few parents) as applied to other shellfish stocks such as cockles in the Irish Sea (Coscia et al., 2012).

The project will use contemporary genomic analysis (e.g. RADseq) to investigate the population genetic structure and diversity of scallops, before examining cohorts within discrete scallop beds around the coast of Scotland and adjacent waters to infer their genetic population and parental origins. Using isotopic signatures at different points in the scallop shell, we will determine scallop age, and use water temperature and shell chemistry signatures to investigate the geographic origin of the scallops (e.g. Lorrain et al. 2004). The results of genetic and isotopic approaches will be combined to better understand how sweep-stake spawning and seasonality affect the extent of connectivity within the scallop fishery.

The supervisory team brings the following skill sets to the project:

Prof Michel Kaiser (HWU): Fisheries data requirements to underpin sustainable fisheries, fishing industry and UK Government and agency linkages, direct engagement with fishing industry. Scallop biology and sustainability of scallop fisheries.
Prof Rob Ogden (Roslin Institute, University of Edinburgh): Expertise in conservation genetics and marine fisheries traceability.
Dr Babette Hoogakker (HWU): Use of chemical and isotope signatures in hard biological structures to infer local climatic regimes.
Dr Jo Porter (HWU): Population genetics of marine biota, including shellfish and other sessile invertebrates.


Coscia, I., Robins, P.E., Porter, J.S., Malham, S.K. and Ironside, J.E., 2013. Modelled larval dispersal and measured gene flow: seascape genetics of the common cockle Cerastoderma edule in the southern Irish Sea. Conservation Genetics, 14(2), pp.451-466.

Lorrain, A., Paulet, Y.M., Chauvaud, L., Dunbar, R., Mucciarone, D. and Fontugne, M., 2004. ?13C variation in scallop shells: increasing metabolic carbon contribution with body size?. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 68(17), pp.3509-3519.


The project is funded for 3.5 years and covers the PhD fees and stipend (currently 15 285 per annum) and has a generous travel and consumables budget. Funding for this project is already secured from industrial sponsors


This project is available to home (UK) or EU students. The successful candidate will have a B.Sc. (2/1 or higher) and M.Sc. (preferably at distinction) or equivalent in biological or environmental sciences, ideally with project experience with some application of genetics or use of stable isotopes. You will be highly self-motivated and confident enough to seek out solutions beyond the current team if required. Candidates that have some appreciation of fisheries or practical experience of working at sea would be preferred. The PhD may require sea-time on board fishing vessels to collect scallop samples. As a result, you must be capable of passing an ENG1 medical and survival at sea course. You will embrace new challenges and environments and be able to fit into new teams rapidly. You must be able to describe complex issues in a means that is accessible to fishermen with whom you will work. The student will be based at Heriot-Watt University but will spend prolonged periods working at the Roslin Institute for the genetics component of the project. Both institutions are within a short car journey of each other. For this reason, the ability to drive is advantageous.

How to apply

You are requested to send a cover letter stating why you are interested in the PhD, what ideas you could bring to the project, and outline any relevant experience. You are also requested to submit a CV with all qualifications to date. The cover letter and CV should be sent to Prof Michel Kaiser ( Candidates are invited to contact Prof Kaiser for an informal discussion about the project.

In addition, to apply you must complete our online application form. Please select PhD programme Marine Biology and include the full project title, reference number and supervisor (Prof MJ Kaiser) on your application form. Ensure that all fields marked as 'required' are complete.

You must complete the section marked project proposal; upload a supporting statement documenting your reasons for applying to this particular PhD project, and why you are an ideal candidate for the position. You will also need to provide a CV, a copy of your degree certificate/s and relevant transcripts. You will be asked to enter details of an academic referee who will be able to provide a technical reference. Until your nominated referee has uploaded their statement, your application will not be marked as complete and will not be considered by the review panel. You must also provide proof of your ability in the English language (if English is not your mother tongue or if you have not already studied for a degree that was taught in English within the last 2 years). We require an IELTS certificate showing an overall score of at least 6.5 with no component scoring less than 6.0 or a TOEFL certificate with a minimum score of 90 points.

Please contact Prof Michel Kaiser ( for further information or an informal discussion.


The closing date for applications is 5 March 2021, with interviews held in early March. Applicants must be available to start the PhD as soon as possible, but no later than August 2021.

posted: 03 February 2021     Please mention EARTHWORKS when responding to this advertisement.