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LIST OF THE DISSERTATION TOPICS AND POSSIBLE SUPERVISORS 2016

Proposed dissertation themes for the Doctoral degree Studies in Ecology and Environmental Science at Klaipėda University

Study period: 2016-2020 m.

The doctorate study program in Ecology and Environmental science aims at development of marine natural sciences. Investigations are focused on interaction of natural and anthropogenic processes in the marine and coastal environments. The complexity of the research objects determines wide variety of scientific problems to explore; it requires consolidation of the interdisciplinary research potential. The doctorate study program provides excellent research opportunities for geographers and geologists, physicists and chemists, mathematicians and computer scientists, environmental engineers, and, of course, biologists and ecologists. The strategic research areas are following:

  • Natural marine and coastal resources and ecosystem services under to global change conditions.
  • Integrated coastal zone management and marine spatial planning for sustainable development of coastal and maritime economic development.
  • Development of innovative monitoring, data management and modeling methods and their application for forecasting and management of marine and coastal processes.

The proposed dissertation themes are defined in a framework of the above strategic research areas.

Human pathogens and micro-plastics in the eastern Baltic coastal and marine environment

Brief description of the topic In recent years, bathing water quality became an issue of scientific interest and high practical relevance. The EU Bathing Water Directive has a new focus on human-pathogenic organisms such as vibrions, E.coli 157 and enterococci. Beside ‘new’ pathogens the emissions and concentrations of micro-plastics in the marine and coastal environment seem to increase. New challenge is the potential vector function of micro-plastics for pollutants and micro-organisms. Micro-plastics can serve as substrate for various microbial biofilms in coastal waters and pathogens, originating from sewage treatment plants or animal faeces, potentially can be concentrated on and distributed with micro-plastics. The work will focus on the Lithuanian coastal and marine waters, with some additional studies in other Baltic countries. Tasks are to a) investigate the existence and the potential risk in bathing waters arising from ‘new’ human pathogens; b) sample and analyse micro-plastics, its spatial distribution, abundance and composition in the coastal and marine environment and c) to carry out field and laboratory experiments on the relationship between micro-plastics and human pathogens.
Requirements for a candidate The candidate should have good knowledge in microbiology, molecular biology, laboratory experience and good knowledge of English language.
Existing research experience The topic is related to the projects: a) UBA Marine Litter: Marine litter in German seas: sources and monitoring (2014-2018); b) MikrOMIK: the role of microplastic as a carrier of microbial populations in Baltic Sea (2014-2017); c) submitted BONUS project MICROPOLL: Multilevel assessment of micro-plastics and associated pollutants in the Baltic Sea.
Existing research infrastructure The work will be financially supported by and linked to running projects at KU and the Institute of Baltic Sea Research (IOW, Germany). The work will be carried out in the genetic lab of KU. The candidate will get the possibility for longer research stays at IOW to work in the genetic and security laboratories and to use the micro-plastics analytical equipment.
Potential supervisor Prof. Dr. Gerald Schernewski (gerald.schernewski@io-warnemuende.de)

Regional and global patterns of marine biological invasions

Brief description of the topic Biological invasions are widely recognized as a significant component of human-mediated global change; often they cause unpredictable severe effects upon biological diversity and losses in economic values. The aim of this PhD project is to describe and quantify patterns of human-mediated aquatic bioinvasions at various geographical scales, from regional (e.g. Baltic Sea) to pan-European and global. AquaNIS, an internationally recognized information system on aquatic non-indigenous and cryptogenic species, developed and maintained at Klaipėda University, will be used as a main tool for data mining and meta-analysis of the biological traits, introduction vectors, physiological tolerance limits, environmental and socio-economic impacts of marine non-indigenous species.
Requirements for a candidate A prospective doctorate student should have strong knowledge in aquatic ecology, ability to analyze biological and interdisciplinary environmental data, good English language skills (knowledge of other languages is advantage).
Existing research experience A doctorate student will join the research team which took part in several EU Framework programs 6 and 7 projects aimed on biological invasion studies: DAISIE, IMPASSE, ALARM, MEECE, VECTORS and DEVOTES.
Existing research infrastructure Work will be performed in a framework of the Taiwan – Latvia – Lithuania cooperation project BALMAN (“Development of the ships’ ballast water management system to reduce biological invasions”, 2015-2017).
Potential supervisor Prof. habil. dr. Sergej Olenin (sergej.olenin@jmtc.ku.lt)

Integrated indicator system for integrated coastal zone management and marine spatial planning

Brief description of the topic Marine spatial planning (MSP) and integrated coastal zone management is a necessary measure in order to balance economic growth and quality of life of coastal communities, while preserving the good status of the environment and the sustainable use of coastal and marine resources. In recent years, much attention is paid to environmental studies for integration into the spatial planning process, as well as assessing the impact of planning decisions efficiency. Aggregate indicator system should integrate well known and the indicators used, and to propose methods that allow to draw conclusions about the spatial solutions for efficiency, environmental impact and economic rationality. It also aims to create additional – integrated indicators, which make it possible to objectively determine the social, economic and environmental quality of the causality of changes and trends
Requirements for a candidate The applicant must be able to perform comprehensive assessment of environmental studies, to be familiar with marine planning and integrated coastal zone management principles, have knowledge of statistics, indicators systems. The spatial planning experience is an advantage.
Existing research experience Klaipeda University scientists are closely involved in integrated coastal zone management and development of marine spatial planning principles and MSP implementation not only in Lithuania but also in the entire Baltic Sea region. This topic was addressed already in several INTERREG IIIA Neighbourhood Programme, South Baltic, Intelligent Energy Europe and the Baltic Sea Region Programme projects. KU scientists have produced the first Lithuanian marine spatial plan and are currently involved in the preparation of the Latvian marine plan. KU researchers led the development of the first South East Baltic coastal state Atlas. The research team involves two doctors, one PostDoc and three junior researchers; one doctoral dissertation is in preparation.
Existing research infrastructure Data required for the study is collected by the State Statistics Department, Klaipeda University Marine Research Open Access Center, Port Authority, Maritime Safety Administration, Department of Marine Research (EPA) and the Fisheries Research Laboratory.
Potential supervisor dr. Nerijus Blažauskas (nb@corpi.ku.lt), 846 398838

Long-term term trends in the Curonian Lagoon phytoplankton under conditions of local and global environmental change

Brief description of the topic Phytoplankton is one of the most important components of aquatic ecosystems and excellent indicator of environmental change. The studies of the Curonian Lagoon phytoplankton began in the first half of the XX century and, since 1980 are carried out on the regular basis. Long-term (over 30 years) data on phytoplankton species composition, abundance and biomass together with hydrological and hydrochemical information collected in the same research stations is available. Over the past three decades there have seen significant changes in the lagoon basin land use, industrial and municipal sewage treatment practice, which have influence on nutrients stimulating phytoplankton growth, especially the amount and the ratio of nitrogen and phosphorus compounds. The proposed theme aims to describe and quantify phytoplankton dynamics in the Curonian Lagoon in the past decades, revealing their dependence on long-term changes in nutrient content and physical parameters.
Requirements for a candidate Good knowledge of numerical methods and skills in their application to application to environmental data, the ability to analyze biological and physical environment data, strong aquatic ecology knowledge.
Existing research experience There are several doctoral dissertations defended in the field of plankton ecology at KU. Also, there is necessary expertise in the field of multivariate statistical analysis and environmental investigation methods. The results are published in more than 30 publications in international scientific journals (Hydrobiologists, International Review of Hydrobiogy, Marine Pollution Bulletin, Boreal Environmental reseach, et al.).
Existing research infrastructure The databases of Marine Research Department accumulate all phytoplankton data and basic hydrological parameters records needed for the research. The required licensed software is available at KU.
Potential supervisor Dr. Ričardas Paškauskas (ricardas.paskauskas@jmtc.ku.lt) or Dr. Irina Olenina (i.olenina@aaa.am.lt)

Macrophytobenthos species distribution and relationship to environmental factors in the south-eastern Baltic Sea coast

Brief description of the topic Macrophytobenthos species are good bioindicators of the coastal ecosystem status since bottom vegetation is being formed under conditions of constant impact of hydro-chemical and hydro-physical factors, and generally reflects the trophic level of water. Many macrophytobenthos form benthic habitats, some of them being of European importance, serve spawning and nursery grounds for commercially important fishes, and, together with other benthic organisms, create hot spots of local biodiversity. The first investigations on macrophytobenthos diversity, abundance and distribution in the coastal waters of Lithuania started in 1949 (Curonian Lagoon) and 1955-1956 (Baltic Sea). Later macrophytobenthos studies were performed episodically, mainly focusing only on one red algal species. The systematical evaluation of coastal benthic vegetation resources and their ecological status is still lacking, and requires dedicated research. Therefore, the aim of this study is to assess macrophytobenthos species distribution and determine its empirical relationships with environmental factors in the south-eastern Baltic Sea coast.
Requirements for a candidate Basic knowledge of fundamental hydro-physical, hydro-chemical and biological processes in the Baltic Sea, which influence benthic vegetation. Desirable is good knowledge of statistical methods and their applications, especially for statistical modelling species distribution; skills in video data analysis and GIS methods.
Existing research experience Marine benthic habitats have been investigated by Klaipeda University since 1993. First descriptions of macrophytobenthos diversity and maps of the main vegetation communities in the coastal waters of Lithuania were made in 1990s, require reevaluation. While distribution patterns and ecological role of the red alga (Furcellaria lumbricalis) were accessed thoroughly, other macrophytobenthos species were not considered in detail. In the Curonian Lagoon, the diversity of submerged vegetation was described in 1997 – 2002. Several recent projects addressed various aspects of benthic vegetation research MARBEF, BALTIC MPA’s, BONUS + PREHAB and MAURAKUMA.
Existing research infrastructure Massive amount of underwater video material and SCUBA divers’ descriptions is available for examination. There are well-equipped laboratories with all necessary infrastructure, underwater video systems and SCUBA equipment (for additional data) as well licensed and open sources GIS and statistics software for data treatment and modelling.
Potential supervisor dr. Martynas Bučas (martynas@corpi.ku.lt), +370 61 471162

Aquatic ecosystem services under increasing eutrophication and chemical pollution

Brief description of the topic Increasing eutrophication and chemical pollution is a threat for species and functional diversity of aquatic ecosystems, as well as for sustainability of ecosystem services. The aim of this project is to evaluate sustainability prerequisites for ecosystem services using socio-economic criteria and to prepare the guidelines for the governance of ecosystem services. Different types of aquatic ecosystems were selected, to reflect eutrophication and pollution gradients. Basic information will include ecosystem species and functional diversity, importance of food chains in the flows of toxic materials, genotoxic effects and other characteristics, relevant to ecosystem services, such as water transparency, quality of human food items etc.
Requirements for a candidate Basic knowledge of aquatic ecology, ability to analyse interdisciplinary information, ability to learn new statistical methods, knowledge of the English language.
Existing research experience Team of scientists has a long-term experience in functional ecology. Scientific advisors are planned for the socio-economic part of the project.
Existing research infrastructure This work will be implemented through the participation in the national research project RETRO (2015-2018).
Potential supervisor Dr. Jūratė Lesutienė (jurate.lesutiene@apc.ku.lt) arba prof. dr. Zita Gasiūnaitė (zita@apc.ku.lt).
Potential scientific advisor prof. Vytautas Juščius (Klaipėda university), dr. Andrius Kažukauskas (Umea university)

Natural resources and ecosystem services of marine and transitional water ecosystems under global climate change

Brief description of the topic The theme includes a wide range of aquatic ecology and environmental research topics, addressing the interaction of physical factors and various ecosystem components. Study of environmental factors and biogeochemical processes in relation to spatial and temporal dynamics of the biological components of ecosystem, allows a deeper understanding of mechanisms controlling the state of ecosystems. The research is focusing on the causes and consequences of eutrophication, benthic habitat structure and function. The knowledge gained can be applied for the aquatic spatial planning, remediation and conservation marine environment. Various human activities may cause spread of alien species into new ecosystems; such biological invasion process is being considered one of the most remarkable phenomena of global change, and on another hand a natural experiment (either intentional or unintentional) that allows better understanding of the ecosystem functioning and change patterns. The common goal of the proposed topic is to assess the global and local processes in marine and transitional water ecosystems, their interactions and role in the change of natural resources. The dissertation work may focus on one or several inter-related components of aquatic ecosystems, processes, natural phenomena or consequences of anthropogenic activities.
Requirements for a candidate The prospective doctoral student should have a solid background in aquatic ecology, the ability to analyze biological and interdisciplinary environmental data, numerical methods skills, good English language skills (knowledge of other languages is an advantage).
Existing research experience There are several PhD holders working within this theme, which is traditional for Klaipėda University marine ecology and environmental studies. Over 50 scientific publications have been published in high-ranked scientific journals.
Existing research infrastructure Regularly there are several international and national research and development projects. A doctorate student can join such ongoing projects as BALTCOAST, BSCP, BIO-C3 DEVOTES, etc.
Potential supervisor One of the following scientists: prof. dr. Darius Daunys (darius.daunys@jmtc.ku.lt), prof. habil. dr. Sergej Olenin (sergej.olenin@jmtc.ku.lt), doc. dr. Martybas Bučas (darius.daunys@jmtc.ku.lt), dr. Ričardas Paškauskas (ricardas.paskauskas@jmtc.ku.lt), doc. dr. Anastasija Zaiko (darius.daunys@jmtc.ku.lt)

Ecological modelling and prediction of harmful algal blooms

Brief description of the topic Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) have serious economic, ecosystem and health impacts as they produce compounds that are toxic to wildlife and humans. The ability to foresee HAB occurrence at a certain location will allow water authorities to take measures on time and reduce the risks. Work will be organized around the use of 2 ecological models – one developed jointly by KU and ISMAR CNR and second developed in Deltares (Netherlands). We want to compare both models for Dutch lakes and the Curonian lagoon for which we have extensive data. PhD student expected to have a practical placement in DELTARES at least for 6 months. Further model development should connect the commercial fish recruitment and survival with HABs.
Requirements for a candidate Good IT practical skills as well as experience in numerical modelling is expected.
Existing research experience There are already a number of publications derived from the output of international projects. PhD topic is linked to the FP7 INFORM and HORIZON2020 ECOPOTENTIAL projects.
Existing research infrastructure All necessary computational facilities as well as access to the databases are available.
Potential supervisor Prof. Dr. Artūras Razinkovas-Baziukas (art@corpi.ku.lt), +37046398844
Potential scientific advisor Miguel Dionisio Pires (DELTARES)

Influence of hazardous meteorological conditions on the hydrological regime and environment of the Klaipeda Strait and the Curonian Lagoon

Brief description of the topic Klaipėda port is operating in the hydrodynamically active Klaipeda Straight, which connects the Curonian Lagoon with the adjacent Baltic Sea. The Strait is affected by meteorological events, which may cause abrupt fluctuations in the water level, harbour oscillation intensity, generate different types of waves, and may cause extreme hydrological conditions in the Klaipeda Strait. This, in turn, effects Klaipeda port operations, hydrophysical conditions in the Curonian lagoon and, eventually, its environment. Unexpected short-term water level fluctuations are dangerous to ships in the port as their possible damage may cause risks of environmental pollution. The aim of this project is to identify influence of the hazardous meteorological conditions on the Klaipeda straights hydrological regime and assess its impact on the Curonian lagoon’s natural resources and an incident of environmental pollution risks.
Requirements for a candidate Skills in statistical and numerical methods, and their application in synoptical meteorology and oceanography, ability to work with massive datasets, experience of work with MATLAB.
Existing research experience KU in cooperation with the Wave engineering laboratory (Tallinn University of Technology, TUT) starts a new research direction on impacts of meteorological factors on hydrological processes in Klaipeda port and their possible influence on the Curonian Lagoon environment. The experience of TUT scientists, who have developed longstanding expertise in the field (e.g. over 50 ISI WOS publications have been issued during recent 5 years) will be transferred to KU to promote international cooperation and the transfer of knowledge.
Existing research infrastructure KU and TUT have acoustic water level sensors (5Hz frequency) which will be installed in the Klaipeda Strait and river Dangė mouth to collect extreme water levels changes in different parts of the Klaipeda port in situ. Marine Research Department at Environmental Protection Agency and Lithuanian Hydrometeorological Service Marine Forecasting Division have accumulated long-term data of water level changes in the Klaipeda harbor and meteorological data, which can be used for the analysis of extreme situations of changes in water levels and reconstruction of such cases.
Potential supervisor Assoc .prof. dr. Loreta Kelpšaitė-Rimkienė (loreta.kelpsaite@jmtc.ku.lt)
Potential scientific advisor Prof. dr. Tarmo Soomere (Tallinn University of Technology), prof. Inga Dailidienė (KU).