Postdoctoral Research Associate in Ecological Modelling of the Antarctic

Durham, United Kingdom
£33, 797 - £35,845 per annum
16 Jul 2021
End of advertisement period
13 Aug 2021
Contract Type
Fixed Term
Full Time

Postdoctoral Research Associate in Ecological Modelling of the Antarctic from zooplankton to predators (Job Number: 21000696)

Department of Geography

Grade 7: - £33, 797 - £35,845 per annum
Fixed Term - Full Time
Contract Duration: 36 months
Contracted Hours per Week: 35
Closing Date: 13-Aug-2021, 6:59:00 AM 

Durham University

Durham University is one of the world's top universities with strengths across the Arts and Humanities, Sciences and Social Sciences. We are home to some of the most talented scholars and researchers from around the world who are tackling global issues and making a difference in people's lives.

The University sits in a beautiful historic city where it shares ownership of a UNESCO World Heritage Site with Durham Cathedral, the greatest Romanesque building in Western Europe. A collegiate University, Durham recruits outstanding students from across the world and offers an unmatched wider student experience.

Less than 3 hours north of London, and an hour and a half south of Edinburgh, County Durham is a region steeped in history and natural beauty. The Durham Dales, including the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, are home to breathtaking scenery and attractions. Durham offers an excellent choice of city, suburban and rural residential locations. The University provides a range of benefits including pension and childcare benefits and the University’s Relocation Manager can assist with potential schooling requirements.

Durham University seeks to promote and maintain an inclusive and supportive environment for work and study that assists all members of our University community to reach their full potential. Diversity brings strength and we welcome applications from across the international, national and regional communities that we work with and serve.

The Department

Durham Geography is a vibrant community of over 60 academic staff (approximately equally divided between physical and human geography), a graduate school of around 100 research and 40 taught postgraduate students and more than 750 undergraduates. The Department is well supported by technical staff, including a cartography unit, and administrative staff.

The most recent QS rankings for Geography placed Durham 12th overall in the world. The department is recurrently ranked in the top handful of programmes in the UK by various league tables; in 2021, we were ranked 3rd in The Times/Sunday Times Good University Guide and 6th in the Guardian University Guide. The Department was graded top for research power (quality weighted by volume) among UK geography departments in the most recent Research Excellence Framework exercise in 2014 and 3rd for iGPA (average score scaled by the proportion of staff submitted). With 43% of work assessed as being in the highest category, it produced the largest number of world-leading (4*) publications in the country.

The post-holder will also work closely with the Department of Biosciences, which comprises 55 staff in four groups spanning biochemistry, molecular biology, plant sciences and ecology, hosting 118 postgraduate students. The department is ranked 6th in the Complete University Guide and 8th in the UK for world-leading research impact.

The Role

The Department of Geography at Durham University seeks to appoint a full-time Post-Doctoral Research Associate in Ecological Modelling of the Antarctic with a focus on modelling past, present and future distributions and abundance of Antarctic species from zooplankton to predators, with a particular focus on snow petrels (Pagodroma nivea). The PDRA will join the interdisciplinary research team led by Professor Erin McClymont as part of the Leverhulme Trust-funded project “Unlocking evidence for Antarctic sea-ice evolution from a novel biological archive”. The PDRA will work under the supervision of both Professor McClymont (Geography) and Professor Stephen Willis (Biosciences) at Durham University and will collaborate with other members of the team including Professor Richard Phillips (British Antarctic Survey).

The wider, inter-disciplinary, Leverhulme Trust-funded project aims to reconstruct histories of snow petrel diet and the sea-ice environment using biogeochemical changes in snow petrel stomach oils. The project focuses on the Antarctic sea-ice zone, from the Last Glacial Maximum to the present. Other members of the team will be examining the evolutionary history of snow petrels using DNA, reconstructing past diet using trophic biomarkers in the stomach oil deposits, analysing current habitat use and preferences using tracking data, and modelling sea ice conditions through time. The project team includes 2 PhD researchers, 3 PDRAs, and investigators at both Durham University and the British Antarctic Survey.

The overall aim of this PDRA position will be to reconstruct past and predict future snow petrel distributions and abundance under differing sea-ice scenarios. The PDRA will develop basic species distribution modelling for a range of Antarctic taxa, including other seabirds and marine species, and including prey species of snow petrels. They will focus in particular on simulating the foraging and nesting distributions, cycles of occupation of potential breeding sites (nunataks), and the abundance of snow petrels over time. This will incorporate changing marine and terrestrial conditions (including ice cover), and other aspects of the species ecology, including habitat preferences, foraging capability (from linked tracking studies) and prey distributions. The outcomes of this work will be used to predict past distributions of snow petrel prey, informed by CMIP6 model outputs of past climate intervals, for comparison with the independent biogeochemical data generated by other members of the team. The PDRA will test the hypothesis that sea-ice distribution affected snow petrel populations in the past by influencing prey availability. They will also apply these models to future scenarios to infer how snow petrels will fare under alternative scenarios of climate change.

Please see the full list of responsibilities and person specifications given below.

The successful applicant will join the Leverhulme Trust project team (10 members) and large internationally recognised groups of researchers in the Departments of Geography and Biosciences Durham University, including the ‘Ecology, Evolution and Environment’ cluster (https://www.durham.ac.uk/departments/academic/biosciences/research/groups/ecology-evolution-and-environment/) and the ‘Sea Level, Ice and Climate’ cluster (https://www.dur.ac.uk/geography/slic/). In Biosciences, the applicant will join the Conservation Ecology Group (www.conservationecology.org), a vibrant group of staff, PDRAs and postgraduates, many of whom work on simulating the responses of species to ecosystem perturbations such as climate change. At present, the group contains at least five PDRAs/PhD students working on species distribution modelling, across terrestrial and marine systems. The PDRA will have access to multiple bespoke multi-processor PCs for modelling locally in Biosciences, as well as to the university’s high-performance computing facilities.

Responsibilities :

  • To develop species distribution models for a range of Antarctic species with a particular focus on snow petrels and their prey, incorporating published and recently collected data on their foraging niche.
  • To apply species distribution models to investigate the impact of changing climate and sea ice distributions under past and future climate scenarios for the Antarctic region.
  • To understand and convey material of a specialist or highly technical nature to the team or group of people through presentations and discussions that leads to the presentation of research papers in conferences and publications.
  • To prepare and deliver presentations on research outputs/activities to audiences which may include: research sponsors, academic and non-academic audiences.
  • To publish high-quality outputs, including papers for submission to peer-reviewed journals and papers for presentation at conferences and workshops under the direction of the Principal Investigator or Grant-holder.
  • To assist with the development of research objectives and proposals.
  • To conduct individual and collaborative research projects under the direction of the Principal Investigator or Grant-holder.
  • To work with the Principal Investigator or Grant-holder and other colleagues in the research group, as appropriate, to identify areas for research, develop new research methods and extend the research portfolio.
  • To deal with problems that may affect the achievement of research objectives and deadlines by discussing with the Principal Investigator or Grant-holder and offering creative or innovative solutions.
  • To liaise with research colleagues and make internal and external contacts to develop knowledge and understanding to form relationships for future research collaboration.
  • To plan and manage own research activity, research resources in collaboration with others and contribute to the planning of research projects.
  • To deliver training in research techniques/approaches to peers, visitors and students as appropriate.
  • To be involved in student supervision, as appropriate, and assist with the assessment of the knowledge of students.
  • To contribute to fostering a collegial and respectful working environment that is inclusive and welcoming and where everyone is treated fairly with dignity and respect.
  • To engage in wider citizenship to support the department and wider discipline.
  • To engage in continuing professional development by participation in the undergraduate or postgraduate teaching programmes or by membership of departmental committees, etc. and by attending relevant training and development courses.     

This post is fixed term for a maximum of 36 months. The funding for this post is available from 1st September 2021

The post-holder is employed to work as part of a larger research project, led by Professor McClymont. Whilst this means that the post-holder will not be carrying out independent research in his/her own right, the expectation is that they will contribute to the advancement of the project, through the development of their own research ideas/adaptation and development of research protocols.

Successful applicants will, ideally, be in post by 1st September 2021

How to Apply

For informal enquiries please contact Professor Erin McClymont (erin.mcclymont@durham.ac.uk) and/or Professor Stephen Willis (s.g.willis@durham.ac.uk).   All enquiries will be treated in the strictest confidence. 

We prefer to receive applications online via the Durham University Vacancies Site. https://www.dur.ac.uk/jobs/. As part of the application process, you should provide details of 3 (preferably academic/research) referees and the details of your current line manager so that we may seek an employment reference.

At Durham University, our aim is to create an open and inclusive environment where everyone can reach their full potential and believe our staff should reflect the diversity of the global community in which we work.  We welcome and encourage applications from members of groups who are under-represented in our workforce including people with disabilities, women and black, Asian and minority ethnic communities.

When appointing to this role the University must ensure that it meets any applicable immigration requirements, including salary thresholds that are applicable to some visas.

What to Submit

All applicants are asked to submit:

  • An academic CV
  • Covering letter which details your experience, strengths and potential in the requirements set out below;
  • Contact details of 3 academic/research referees. Referees will be contacted following the short-listing process

Next Steps

The assessment for the post will include will be based on the criteria outlined here. Shortlisted candidates will be invited for an interview and assessment at the end of August.

The Requirements



  • A good first degree in biological or environmental sciences, or a related discipline.
  • A PhD (or be close to submission) in biology, ecology, marine science or related field.


  • Experience in developing species distribution models, or related ecological models
  • Experience in conducting high-quality academic research.
  • Demonstrable ability to write material of a quality commensurate with publication in highly-ranked journals.
  • Demonstrable ability to present research papers at national and international conferences and communicate complex information to specialists and within the wider academic community.


  • Proven experience in statistical modelling
  • Knowledge of spatial ecological modelling.
  • Demonstrable ability to report, interrogate and interpret tracking and remote-sensing data
  • Excellent R skills
  • Demonstrable ability to work cooperatively as part of a team, including participating in research meetings.
  • Ability to work independently on own initiative and to strict deadlines.
  • Excellent interpersonal and communication skills.



  • Strong publication record in peer-reviewed journals, commensurate with stage of career.
  • Knowledge of Antarctic ecology and/or knowledge of marine systems and seabirds.
  • Modelling of multi-species systems
  • A track record of presenting research at conferences, symposia, or meetings, commensurate with stage of career.


  • Experience in applying Species Distribution Models, including ensemble modelling.
  • Familiarity with, and ability to compile environmental data layers including climatic data.
  • GIS expertise.
  • Demonstrable ability to plan and manage independent research. 

DBS Requirement: Not Applicable.

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