Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structures: Evaluating Biodiversity in polar areas (Antarctica and Arctic)


This project aims to describe marine benthic encrusting biodiversity in the polar and cold temperate regions and understand how such biodiversity has changed over time using ARMS (Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structures), related settlement panel technologies and eDNA.

This PhD project will study the biodiversity associated with polar ARMS collected from Rothera Research Station, Antarctica, Disko Bay, Greenland and Ny Alesund, Svalbard. The data from Antarctica will be compared to similar settlement panel data collected 20 years ago from the same site (Bowden et al., 2006) to identify how this encrusting community has changed over time in Antarctica.

These polar data will also be compared with deployments made near the Dove Marine Laboratory, Newcastle. The student will compare how similar the molecular characterisation of ARMS, standard settlement panels and eDNA are in representing the benthic biodiversity. Furthermore additional panels (ARMS and standard settlement panels) will be deployed
at the Dove Marine Laboratory and retrieved on a regular basis to enable examination of community succession. The PhD student will also deploy modified ARMS near the Dove Marine Laboratory to identify how colonisation is affected by the use of different materials, such as wood, metal, plastics etc


ARMS (Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structures) are a standardised method of collecting data on marine benthic encrusting biodiversity, developed by the Smithsonian Institute ( ARMS are being deployed in a global network with all data publicly available. This particular project is linked to a wider EU project ( and therefore the student will have privileged access to samples and data from Greenland, Svalbard and Terra Nova Bay Antarctica via collaborations with Dr Jakob Thyrring, Assistant Professor Piotr Kuklinski and Associate Professor Schiaparelli, respectively, in addition to European collaborators. Furthermore, training in the bioinformatics of ARMS data will be provided via Dr Matthias Obst at the University of Gothenburg. Samples from the ARMS will be studied via photographic records, standard microscopy and use of taxonomic keys. Molecular analyses, in the first instance will consist of metabarcoding, with more detailed studies possible, as defined by the student, but could include whole genome metagenomics using MinION technologies. Training in the bioinformatics of ARMS data will be provided by the University of Gothenburg. The student will be able to deploy ARMS and standard settlement panels at the Dove marine laboratory, with regular retrieval to examine community succession and how these data compare with eDNA samples. They will also deploy modified ARMS produced from different materials to identify how they change colonisation. Standard methodologies, as detailed above, will be employed throughout.

No fieldwork beyond work offshore at the Dove Marine Laboratory is envisaged. Because of the long timescales needed for deployment and colonisation in the polar regions, such samples will have already been collected by the time the studentship starts.

The student will be based at BAS with significant time spent at the Dove Marine Laboratory.

Project Timeline

Year 1

• NU graduate school induction; agreed formal teaching plan; initial supervisory meetings; devise work plan; literature review.
• Data available from Greenland and Svalbard at the start of the project with training in molecular analyses by the University of Gothenburg team. Analysis of Greenland and Svalbard data.
• Design of experiment to analyse community succession of ARMS, standard settlement panels and eDNA at the Dove: deployment of experiment in the spring of 2023.
• Samples from Rothera due in the UK in June 2022. Samples treated and sent for molecular analyses.

Year 2

• Analysis of Antarctic data
• Comparative analysis of data between polar regions and with Newcastle data.
• Comparative analysis of Rothera data from current samples and 2002.
• Analysis of community succession data from the Dove using different technologies (from previous year’s deployment).
• Design and deployment of ARMS made from different materials at the Dove.
• PGR conference at NU

Year 3

• Analyses of data from ARMS made of different materials
• Continue analyses from previous year (which are considerable)
• Potential for a third deployment (experiment as defined by the student) at the Dove.
• Student will be able to carry out more targeted analyses (e.g. in specific taxa, global wider comparisons etc) as developed by the student based on current results

Year 3.5

• Complete thesis
• NU viva exam
• Submit first paper
• Presentation at an international conference

& Skills

Training in the bioinformatics pipeline associated with the ARMS will be provided by Matthias Obst. BAS will provide training in taxonomy, molecular techniques, GIS and public engagement. The student will benefit from being part of a BAS DTP cohort, with dedicated training courses and wider training opportunities within the Cambridge area, and also part of the NU DTP cohort where the student will also acquire data analysis skills through existing ecological modelling and related post-graduate modules at NU. Other cross-disciplinary skills (e.g. project planning and management; scientific writing and critical analysis; data analysis and statistics) will be gained through the supervisory team and/or specialist modules at NU.


References & further reading

• Barnes et al. (2014) Climate-linked iceberg activity massively reduces spatial competition in Antarctic shallow waters. Curr. Biol. 24, R553-R554
• Bowden et al. (2006) Antarctic sessile marine benthos: colonisation and growth on artificial substrata over three years. Mar. Ecol. Prog Ser. 316, 1-16.
• Vause et al. (2019) Spatial and temporal dynamics of Antarctic shallow soft-bottomed benthic communities: ecological drivers under climate change. BMC Ecology 19, 27

Further Information

For further details contact Professor Melody Clark at or Dr Ben Wigham on

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