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ACCE DTP project: Ants as ecosystem engineers: using ants to promote biodiversity


Department of Biology

About the Project

We are looking for an enthusiastic and ambitious student to develop an exciting project using field experiments to quantify the relationship between meadow ants and management regimes, and how these together affect biodiversity and soil function. The ideal candidate will enjoy interacting with both academics and stakeholders and will want to apply their scientific training to an important applied question.

Ants act as effective geoengineers, increasing habitat heterogeneity and constructing niches. Yellow meadow ants, Lasius flavus, were historically common on pastures and promote biodiversity, for example increasing floral species richness. Many modern farming practices reduce or eliminate their populations.

Belton House, a National Trust property including 650 hectares of historic wood pasture parkland, a UK priority habitat, has areas hosting unusually high densities of meadow ants, but also other areas where they are entirely absent. Previous management of the site has resulted in some over-grazing and soil compaction. The site is undergoing a period of management change, to a more biodiversity-friendly approach of mixed and lighter grazing.

Objectives
- To assess the impact of management regimes on ant populations, using controlled manipulations
- To assess the role of soil-dwelling ants as agents of rehabilitation of compacted soil using experimental transplantation
- To identify the ecological processes mediating the unusually high ant population densities at certain sites, using behavioural and genetic data

Project benefits
The student will receive thorough postgraduate training supported by a multidisciplinary team of supervisors with strong research backgrounds and experience in postgraduate supervision. The student will gain ecological research skills including: empirical field techniques; cutting-edge laboratory equipment techniques; spatial analysis methods. This study will provide novel data on the impact of ants on soil rehabilitation and ecosystem function, and on how grassland management impacts these processes: it will benefit the academic ecology/evolution communities, policy-makers and land managers.

The ACCE DTP is committed to recruiting future scientists regardless of age, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, disability, sexual orientation or career pathway to date. We understand that commitment and excellence can be shown in many ways and we have built our recruitment process to reflect this. We welcome applicants from all backgrounds, particularly those underrepresented in science, who have curiosity, creativity and a drive to learn new skills.

Funding Notes

This project is part of the NERC ACCE Doctoral Training Programme. Appointed candidates will be fully-funded for 3.5 years. The funding includes:

Tax-free annual UKRI stipend (£15,285 for 2020/21)
UK tuition fees (£4,473 for 2021/22)
Research support and training charges (RSTC)

International candidates (including EU) will be considered however they will need to have adequate funds to meet the difference in tuition fees. International tuition fees for 2021 entry is £22,250.

Not all projects will be funded; a limited number of candidates will be appointed via a competitive process.

References

ENTRY REQUIREMENTS: Students with, or expecting to gain, at least an upper second class honours degree, or equivalent, are invited to apply. The interdisciplinary nature of this programme means that we welcome applications from students with backgrounds in any biological, chemical, and/or physical science, or students with mathematical backgrounds who are interested in using their skills in addressing ecology and evolution questions. If English is not your first language, you will need to meet the minimum entry requirements for your country. Please check our website https://www.york.ac.uk/study/postgraduate-research/apply/international/english/

START DATE: 1st October 2021

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