PhD position: Long-term assessment of the role of cephalopods in the diet of wandering albatrosses in the Southern Ocean: implications in Antarctic conservation policies – Deadline 31 May 2023

This study aims to make a substantial contribution to understanding of changes in pelagic marine food webs in the Southern Ocean in the last 50 years to define conservation policies developments. The overall objectives is to test whether food web structure and predator-prey interactions are influenced by climatic change, focusing on cephalopods as sentinel species. Cephalopods are excellent bio-indicators in the Southern Ocean and, therefore, used as a model taxa for assessing the impact of environmental change on the Southern Ocean pelagic ecosystem as a whole (Xavier et al. 2018, Abreu et al. 2020). Pelagic cephalopods are hard to catch in fishing nets and so most information about the biology and biogeography of many species comes from predator diet samples. The wandering albatross, Diomedea exulans, is much better than humans at collecting samples in the open ocean. It breeds biennially on several sub-Antarctic islands around Antarctica, and feeds on > 40 cephalopod species from Antarctic, sub-Antarctic and subtropical waters (Xavier et al. 2003). As Wandering albatrosses are listed as Vulnerable to extinction (IUCN 2022) and several cephalopod species have the potential for commercial exploitation in the future (Xavier et al. 2007), it is vital to understand their population dynamics to ensure stocks would be managed sustainably in the future, through science-based conservation policies. This PhD project focuses on the cephalopod diet of wandering albatrosses breeding at Bird Island, South Georgia, capitalising on long-term monitoring (1976-2023 and ongoing) involving the annual collection of large samples of cephalopod beaks regurgitated by chicks shortly before fledging. Such long-term datasets are very rare in the Southern Ocean, and can provide unique insights into prey dynamics and predator-prey interactions in the Southern Ocean. Training will be provided in the methods to identify cephalopod beaks, stable isotope, statistical, GIS and other analyses of the nearly 50 years of samples (Xavier & Cherel 2021). The project will address several key scientific questions such as “Does any change in the status of cephalopods or their importance in the diet of wandering albatrosses or other predators have implications for policy or conservation”, given that albatrosses and large petrels are listed under the Agreement for the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP), and are species of interest for the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) and Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings (ATCM). The policy applications of the research will be facilitated by the supervisors, as Prof. Xavier (at ATCM), and Prof. Phillips (ACAP and CCAMLR), and links to the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) program SCAR Ant-ICON (that directly links science into policy development), Association of Polar Early Career Scientists (APECS), Polar Educators International (PEI) and the European Polar Board (EPB)

The project is low risk in terms of the availability of samples, as large numbers (1000s) of beaks have been collected annually at Bird Island since 1976 and are held at British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge. Many of these beaks have been identified and measured in previous studies, providing a foundation and time series that can be greatly extended by the student during her/his PhD

Profile of applicants:

The ideal student will be interested in marine ecology, with experience working on feeding ecology and diets of predators. The student must have a degree or MSc in any discipline related to ecology. Familiarity with identification of fish or invertebrates using hard structures, such as otoliths or squid beaks is desirable. The project will involve considerable time spent in the laboratory, either in Coimbra and/or Cambridge:


Prof. José Xavier | University of Coimbra
Prof. Richard Phillips | British Antarctic Survey

Host institutions:

University of Coimbra, Portugal, in collaboration with the British Antarctic Survey, UK

Doctoral programme:

PhD in Biosciences, University of Coimbra, LINK.


Scholarships are annual, renewable to a maximum of 4 years.


Applications and all supporting documents must be submitted online using the Application Form available on each scholarship page. Applications submitted by other means will not be accepted.

Application Process

Please note that you will need the items listed below. To ease the submission process, we suggest you gather them before you start your application:

  • Copy of your Identification Document (ID card, passport);
  • Certificate degree and grades transcript.
  • Your Curriculum Vitae and saved as PDF;
  • A Motivation Letter;
  • 2 Recommendation letters.

Notification of results

Evaluation results will be communicated to the email address provided by the candidates in the application form.


May 31 , 2023 |  23:59 Lisbon Time

Before applying, we STRONGLY RECOMMEND that you carefully read the Public Notice of the Call for detailed information on the application, evaluation and selection process.

Notice of the Call ( english version)

For  further information about this opportunity, click here.

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