Skip to main content

Postgraduate research project

Understanding the role of cell motility in resource acquisition by marine phytoplankton

Fully funded (UK and international)
Type of degree
Doctor of Philosophy
Entry requirements
2:1 honours degree View full entry requirements
Faculty graduate school
Faculty of Environmental and Life Sciences
Closing date

About the project

Phytoplankton are often considered as drifters that are at the mercy of oceanic currents. However, many phytoplankton species are motile and can exhibit motile responses to light, temperature and nutrients. The prevalence of motility as a trait (e.g. >50% of Baltic Sea phytoplankton species were classed as motile) suggests that this ability is of major ecological significance, with evidence for important roles both at the microscale (e.g. exploiting heterogeneous nutrient patches) and the mesoscale (e.g. vertical migration or formation of thin layers). However, the many aspects of phytoplankton motility remain poorly understood, making it difficult to understand the wider contribution of this trait to phytoplankton physiology and ecology.  

This project will address the following major questions: 

How do abundant phytoplankton groups with distinct physiologies (e.g. haptophytes, cryptophytes and dinoflagellates) differ in their motile responses to light, temperature and nutrients? 

  1. Can microbially-derived organic nutrients act as chemoattractants for marine phytoplankton? 
  2. How are these motile responses influenced by physiological status (e.g. nutrient limitation, availability of light)? 
  3. What cellular mechanisms do phytoplankton use to integrate inputs from multiple stimuli to coordinate motile responses (e.g. molecular coordination of phototaxis and chemotaxis)? 

For full project details visit the Inspire project page.

Lead supervisor

  • Doctor Glen Wheeler (Marine Biological Association)


  • Jan Janouskovec (University of Southampton)