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Defining the role of Stygofauna in groundwater ecosystem services: A combined eDNA and taxonomic approach.

Dr. Louise Weaver, Institute of Environmental Science and Research Ltd

Dr. Kim Handley, University of Auckland

Dr. Annette Bolton, Institute of Environmental Science and Research Ltd

About the Project:

Groundwater is the often-overlooked part of the water cycle – underground and out of sight and yet it provides a vital part to maintaining clean water. A plethora of subterranean organisms undertake a role in the maintenance of the water cycle. From the microscopic to the macroscopic, those organisms interact in a food web to remove contaminants and maintain flow paths.

We are looking for a student to work on macroscopic organisms (termed stygofauna) which live in groundwater aquifers and range from biofilm grazers to predatory organisms. Currently there are limited investigations globally into stygofauna and their role in groundwater quality maintenance. Furthermore, there are sparse investigations using molecular tools to identify what animals are present in these systems. The student will combine taxonomic identification with next generation sequencing (NGS), including the use of environmental DNA (eDNA). The student will utilise these techniques amongst others to build a picture of the function of these organisms in groundwater. Detailed investigation of these organisms’ presence across NZ, with identification of their function will fill the knowledge gap in their roles in supporting groundwater ecosystem services.

The PhD student will:

  • Use a combined approach of taxonomic identification with next generation sequencing of specimens and eDNA to identify stygofauna and gain a picture of the distribution of these organisms in NZ aquifers.

  • Compare data obtained in Aotearoa to that from overseas through our international collaborators in Europe and Australia to establish a global picture of Stygofauna diversity.

  • Ideally, we are looking for someone that has knowledge and interest in the following areas: Freshwater ecology, Molecular biology, Microbiology, Taxonomic identification of freshwater macroinvertebrates, DNA extraction from specimens, Microbiological techniques, Field sampling, Bioinformatic analysis of whole metagenomic and/or amplicon-based sequencing, Database curation.

  • You will need to be a self-starter, with the ability to work alongside others in a highly collaborative environment.


Applicants must have completed a postgraduate bachelors (honours) degree with first class or second class (division 1) honours, or a masters degree with first class or second class (division 1) honours in biological sciences or related subject.

Additional information about the University of Auckland Doctoral Entry requirements can be found here:

Funding Information:

We are offering a full scholarship which, includes a $28,200 annual tax-free stipend plus annual university tuition fees, for 3 years. The duration of the PhD programme is 3 years.

Please email an expression of interest letter, your CV, your academic transcripts, and the names of at least three referees to Dr Louise Weaver (email: The position will close once a suitable candidate is found so we encourage applicants to apply promptly. The starting date will be as soon as possible.

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