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Cambridge NERC Doctoral Training Partnerships

Graduate Research Opportunities
Brief summary: 
Investigation of changes in the fauna of the North Sea against the shifting back drop of environmental change associated with climate change over 4 million years
Importance of the area of research concerned: 
The highly fossiliferous Neogene sediments of East Anglia span 4 million years recording the shallow marine communities living in the North Sea Basin through a period of environmental change from apparently warm 'Mediterranean' type deposits of the Coralline Crag, to those which are more 'boreal' of the Red and Norwich Crags. Interrogation of these fossils provides an excellent opportunity to understand changing faunal composition across a critical period of global climate change and fluctuating sea level. This project will primarily use material from well documented and localised existing collections from Neogene sites, whose faunas have not be reappraised in a significant way for over 100 years. The time is now ripe for an assessment of the changing faunal composition, coupled with integration with data on the physical environment (such as sea water temperature), to establish patterns of ecological change and also extend to comparison with the modern North Sea fauna.
Project summary : 
The Sedgwick Museum houses a substantial amount of material from the relevant deposits, including thousands of specimens in the Philip Cambridge Collection which have never been scientifically studied. The study will concentrate on the molluscan, brachiopod and bryozoan taxa that dominate the faunas but will also encompass other invertebrate groups. The aim will be undertake a thorough survey of taxonomic identification and ecological determination (including surveying faunal interactions), coupled with collection of stable isotope data and field observations of the sedimentological environment.
What will the student do?: 
The student will undertake a thorough re-evaluation of the fauna of the different Crag Formations. This will necessitate a comprehensive review of the identity of the different constituents to place them into our modern understanding of the taxonomy of various groups and to gain any understanding of their spatial and temporal distribution both within the Crags but also compared to that of closely related modern forms (either conspecifics or congenerics). Ecological information will also be captured, including trophic position, longevity, faunal interactions (competition, predation, parasitism). Specific taxa will be selected for stable isotope work to examine environmental parameters. Field work will be undertaken for further collection and examination of context. The data analyses will enable the student to write a series of first author scientific papers and a thesis. There is also the expectation that the results will be presented to the science community in conferences and to the public in a range of media. Association with the Sedgwick Museum will also give experience of working in a museum environment and also provide opportunities for science communication.
References - references should provide further reading about the project: 
Harper, E.M., Crame, J.A. & Pullen, A.M. 2019. The fossil record of durophagous predation in the James Ross Basin over the last 125 million years. Advances in Polar Science 30: 199-209.
Johnson, A.L.A., Harper, E.M. Elizabeth M. Harper and 6 others. 2019. Growth rate, extinction and survival amongst late Cenozoic bivalves of the North Atlantic, Historical Biology, DOI: 10.1080/08912963.2019.1663839
Vignols, R.M., Valentine, A.M., Finlayson, A.G., Harper, E.M., Schöne, B.R., Leng, M.J., Sloane, H.J. & Johnson, A.L.A. (2019). Marine climate and hydrography of the Coralline Crag (early Pliocene, UK): Isotopic evidence from 16 benthic invertebrate taxa. Chemical Geology 526: 62-83.
You can find out about applying for this project on the Department of Earth Sciences page.
Prof Elizabeth Harper
Department of Earth Sciences Graduate Administrator