Home / Early Career / Trainings, Courses and Cruises / MSc project: Fine scale stable isotope analysis of Southern Ocean fur seals, Port Elizabeth Museum and Pretoria University, South Africa

MSc project: Fine scale stable isotope analysis of Southern Ocean fur seals, Port Elizabeth Museum and Pretoria University, South Africa


Title: Fine scale stable isotope analysis of Southern Ocean fur seals.

Supervisors: Dr. Greg Hofmeyr (Port Elizabeth Museum), Prof. Marthán Bester (Mammal Research Institute, Dept. Zoology & Entomology, University of Pretoria) and Dr. Maëlle Connan (Dept. Zoology, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University)

We invite applications for the above full-time study opportunity based at the University of Pretoria and the Port Elizabeth Museum.

Aims & Objectives: The Southern Ocean is experiencing increasing climate change and commercial exploitation. Monitoring these changes is crucial for assessing risks to this environment and the species present. An increasingly used and cost effective method is through the monitoring of indicator apex predators. Behavioural and demographic parameters, in addition to diet of these predators, have been linked to variations in populations of prey. While diet studies originally used traditional scat and stomach content analyses, these are now complemented by indirect methods such as stable isotope analysis (SIA). However, the latter method has further potential. This project will assess aspects of historical environmental and spatial changes in the diet of Antarctic (Arctocephalus gazella) and Subantarctic (A. tropicalis) fur seal through the examination of stable isotope values archived in teeth. Specimens available from museum collections will be supplemented by more recently collected material. The aim is to assess the extrinsic and intrinsic factors influencing the trophic ecology of fur seals of the Southern Ocean. This will be achieved by examining spatial and temporal variations across the range of the species in question. Several research questions are available for the MSc project and they will be chosen at a later stage according to the student interests.

Methods: This project will expose the student to a number of recently developed techniques and experts and give them diverse training. Teeth will be prepared at the Port Elizabeth Museum and Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, where the aging of animals will take place. The sampling of material from teeth will take place at the University of Montpellier, France. During the course of the project additional samples will be collected during annual relief voyages to Marion and Gough Islands in the Southern Ocean. Participation by the student in this is a possibility. A SANAP MSc bursary is available, which may be supplemented by a university bursary. The opportunity exists to apply for other bursaries and travel expenses. All project running costs have been secured.

The successful applicant must possess or be in the process of obtaining a relevant BSc honours degree and be a South African citizen. To express interest please email Greg Hofmeyr (greghofmeyr@gmail.com). Applicants will also be asked to send a CV (including academic record and the names and contact details of three referees) and a brief motivation explaining why you wish to undertake this research.

Deadline for applications: 11th of December 2015