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AI for Ecology and Biodiversity: Inferring habitat-species interactions from historical records


   Cardiff School of Computer Science & Informatics

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  Prof C Jones, Dr P Corcoran, Dr Sarah Perkins, Dr Kristin Stock  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

This project will apply artificial intelligence methods for natural language processing and machine learning to extract ecological and biodiversity data from textual descriptions of the environments in which biological specimen were collected. Since the ‘Age of Discovery’ (global exploration by humans) centuries ago, wildlife populations have been in decline, with rapid acceleration in species loss in the last 50 years. This biodiversity loss is driven by human development and exploration of the landscape alongside the introduction of invasive non-native species. These anthropogenic activities are a key evolutionary force altering habitat and changing species interactions, meaning species must adapt to survive. In order to help understand these interactions and changes over space and time the project will exploit historic records of plants and animals, stretching back over 100 years. These species descriptions sometimes include written notes on the environment in which the specimens were collected and so may contain valuable information about the habitat of the given species at a time period where anthropogenic pressure was significantly less than the present day. Interpreting these descriptions will allow us to assess changes in species-habitat associations in recent centuries and what impact increasing human pressures may have had, providing crucial data for conservation and maintenance of biodiversity.

The project will be a collaboration between the School of Computer Science and Informatics and the School of Biosciences in Cardiff University, and Massey University in New Zealand. It will entail access to specimen collection records from various sources including Manaaki Whenua – Landcare New Zealand, and from UK museums and archives including the Natural History Museum and Kew Gardens. Data from New Zealand for example has the potential to understand change in geographic distribution and the interactions with particular habitats of invasive species that have had a devastating effect on native wildlife populations, particularly of birds. 

The project will involve:

·      The use of deep learning methods to determine associations between natural language descriptions of habitat and standard land cover categories (from other data sources);

·      Data mining and statistical methods to determine relationships between selected species and their habitats over time; and the interactions between invasive non-native species and affected native species;

·      Testing hypotheses about the influence of particular non-native invasive species on individual native species.

·      Creation of maps and space-time visualisations of habitat and species interactions. 

Keywords: Ecology, biodiversity, invasive species, landcover, natural language processing; deep learning, geographical information systems.

Contact for information on the project: [Email Address Removed]

Academic criteria: A 2:1 Honours undergraduate degree or a master's degree, in computing or a related subject.  Applicants with appropriate professional experience are also considered. Degree-level mathematics (or equivalent) is required for research in some project areas.

Applicants for whom English is not their first language must demonstrate proficiency by obtaining an IELTS score of at least 6.5 overall, with a minimum of 6.0 in each skills component.

How to apply:

Please contact the supervisors of the project prior to submitting your application to discuss and develop an individual research proposal that builds on the information provided in this advert. Once you have developed the proposal with support from the supervisors, please submit your application following the instructions provided below

Please submit your application before the application deadline 29th April 2022 via Computer Science and Informatics - Study - Cardiff University

In order to be considered candidates must submit the following information: 

  • Supporting statement 
  • CV 
  • In the ‘Research Proposal’ section of the application enter the name of the project you are applying to and upload your Individual research proposal, as mentioned above in BOLD
  • In the funding field of your application, insert “I am applying for 2022 PhD Scholarship in Computer Science and Informatics”, and specify the project title and supervisors of this project in the text box provided.
  • Qualification certificates and Transcripts
  • References x 2 
  • Proof of English language (if applicable)

Interview - If the application meets the entrance requirements, you will be invited to an interview

If you have any questions or need more information, please contact [Email Address Removed]


Funding Notes

A School-Funded PhD Scholarship is available for entry 2022/23.
In the Funding field of your application, insert "I am applying for 2022 PhD Scholarship" and specify the project title and supervisor of this project in the fields provided.

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