PhD Studentship - Genomic Tools for Pearl Mussel Conservation

University of the Highlands and Islands

Stipend of £14,000 pa

Paid • Full Time • Fixed Term Contract

Sectors: ecology, conservation & wildlife

Closing date: Friday, 19 May 2017

PhD Research Studentship Opportunity

Rivers and Lochs Institute

University of the Highlands and Islands

Genomic Tools for Pearl Mussel Conservation

Applications are invited for a 3 year SNH funded PhD studentship project entitled “Genomic tools for Pearl Mussel Conservation” The studentship will be based with the Rivers and Lochs Institute (RLI), Inverness College UHI at the Inverness Campus. The RLI offers graduate studies and research opportunities in the aquatic biodiversity management sector, and works closely with public agencies, NGOs and industry, to meet local research and training needs. The research is supported by the Institute’s new state-of-the-art applied genomics laboratory.

The studentship will be co-supervised by Dr Barbara Morrissey, Professor Eric Verspoor, and Dr Mark Coulson, of the Rivers and Lochs Institute, and Dr Iain Sime of Scottish Natural Heritage (the industry funding partner in the studentship programme). The studentship will commence 1st October 2017.

Informal enquiries about these opportunities may be made to Dr Barbara Morrissey ( or Prof Eric Verspoor ( or

PhD Studentship

The freshwater pearl mussel Margaritifera margaritifera is listed on Annex II of the Habitats Directive and is critically endangered across much of its range. Even in Scotland, a stronghold for the species, populations are generally declining and continue to be threatened by illegal exploitation, habitat degradation, and in-river engineering work. Unusually, given its parasitic nature, effective conservation requires managing both the species itself and host populations, which can encompass either or both brown trout and Atlantic salmon. The overall aim is to develop molecular genomic tools for eDNA assessment of the presence, abundance, reproductive status and host-specificity of pearl mussel populations.

The work of the student will focus on:

  • validation of existing published eDNA based assays for detecting pearl mussels in river water in respect of marker robustness (e.g. susceptibility of degradation) and develop cost-effective screening protocols
  • optimization and field validation of eDNA sampling protocols
  • development of eDNA approaches for assessing abundance and effective population size
  • catchment surveys of presence/absence/abundance in the Rivers Moriston and Spey
  • development of DNA markers for host-specificity variation for characterization of local population types
  • field testing of host-specificity markers on populations with known and unknown host specificity

The project will be lab focused and the student will utilize a wide-range of molecular genomic methods in the study including DNA extraction, PCR, qPCR and exploit RAD sequencing approaches using NextGen technology to resolve markers for assessments of molecular diversity. They will work closely with a second studentship focused on the development of optimal field sampling protocols and surveying the distribution, abundance and reproductive status of the species in Scottish rivers.

Ideally the candidate will have a strong undergraduate training and specific interest in molecular genomics and its application to biodiversity conservation, and experience or willingness to undertake field work.


Studentships include an annual stipend of (£14,000) and full UK/EU UHI tuition fees (£4,195/yr). Applications will be accepted from International students providing they can meet the difference between UK/EU and International Tuition fees from their own resources for the duration of study.

Application Process

Applicants should go online to: and click on the studentship. Complete the online fields with personal details. Do not complete an application form as instructed in step1. Instead applicants should to provide the following as an attachment combined in one pdf document:

  • A cover letter explaining why you would like to be considered for this PhD by Research and how you meet each of the criteria listed in the Person Requirements (Annex 1), your research interests, and long-term career goals.
  • A curriculum vitae (CV).
  • A short statement (max 500 words) explaining how you might approach the research.
  • Official transcript(s) of your undergraduate/postgraduate degrees.
  • Two academic references.
  • English qualifications obtained, if English is not your first language.

These should be appended using the application form attach facility in the online application.

Shortlisted candidates will be invited to an interview and an appointment will be made subject to suitable academic references.

Closing date for receipt of applications: 19th May 2017

Interviews will be held in June 2017

The studentship is expected to start 1st October 2017

Please mention when responding to this ad.