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Balancing Nutritional Food Security and Biodiversity in a Globalized World (based at the University of Edinburgh)

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  • Full or part time
    Dr J Ge
    Dr G Polhill
    Dr P Alexander
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

For many developing countries ensuring food security for its people and preserving the rich biodiversity on its untainted land are often regarded as a tradeoff. The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) propose that food security will not only end hunger but also meet the nutritional needs of the global populations. They also include sustainable production and consumption, health and wellbeing, and protecting life on land and below water. However, to date, ensuring enough energy for populations without considering nutrient deficiencies, has been the foremost focus of food security. With a growing global population, achieving food security and reducing global malnutrition in the future will require agricultural expansion and intensification if current consumption patterns do not change. Agricultural expansion however is one of the greatest threats to biodiversity, numerous tropical countries with high biodiversity are projected to require up to 30% more agricultural land by 2050 (e.g. Ecuador, Brazil, and China). The tropics are also experiencing the highest rates of extinction, at a time when global species extinction rates have been estimated to be 1000 times the geological background rate. In addition to the pressure of achieving nutritional food security, another important driver of ecosystem and biodiversity degradation is the production of goods for export. Some estimate that as much as 30% of global biodiversity threats are linked to production for international trade.
Therefore, achieving food security in nutritional value, including both macronutrition (such as calorie and protein) and micronutrition (such as Vitamin A and Iron), while preserving biodiversity and ecosystem functioning in a world of global trade will be one of the greatest challenges of the coming century. The current state of art in research into these interactions, however, mainly focuses on the ecological and natural aspect of the issue. Few studies include social factors such as global food trade and the nutritional values of food in their agricultural or ecological models. In this project, we propose to address this gap and establish a holistic framework that incorporates various socio-economic factors, especially the impact of global trade, and nutritional data. The integrated framework will help us identify development pathways that will both ensure nutritional food security and preserve biodiversity in a globalized world. The project will shed light on how we can achieve (seemingly) conflicting SDGs using an integrated modeling approach.
This project aims to use the integrated modeling framework to answer research questions on the interrelationship between global trade, food security and biodiversity. More specifically this project aims to: (1) Explore future global pathways to safe nutritional food security, and how these are affected by socio-economic factors, such as trade, and environmental factors such as climate change. (2) Understand the impact of achieving nutritional food security, through global land use change, on biodiversity.
The main methodological innovation and challenge of the project lies in the integration of two existing models: FEEDUS and PLUMv2. FEEDUS is an agent-based model of global food trade developed by the supervisors at The James Hutton Institute. PLUMv2 is a global land use model developed by the supervisors at the University of Edinburgh. Both models are at the forefront of their respective fields. Although both models are equipped with the flexibility and capacity to be integrated with other models, it still requires a tremendous effort for a person to have a thorough understanding of both models and to carry out the integration that avoids creating internal inconsistencies, sometimes termed ‘integronster’ .
The prospective PhD student thus enjoys a unique advantage of having developers of both models as the supervisors, who can help him/her understand the modeling details and provide timely feedback on integration. The two modeling teams will also meet on a regular basis (virtually or in person) to discuss and clarify issues arise from integration. We will use the ‘agile’ approach during the integration process, meaning that the student and the supervisors engage in short and frequent feedback sessions where the supervisors who are also the developers of the original model provide feedback on integration to the student, and vice versa.

Funding Notes

The studentship is funded under the James Hutton Institute/University Joint PhD programme for a 4 year study period, in this case with the University of Edinburgh. Applicants should have a first-class honours degree in a relevant subject or a 2.1 honours degree plus Masters (or equivalent).Shortlisted candidates will be interviewed in Jan/Feb 2019. A more detailed plan of the studentship is available to candidates upon application. Funding is available for European applications, but Worldwide applicants who possess suitable self-funding are also invited to apply.


Voinov, Alexey, and Herman H. Shugart. "‘Integronsters’, integral and integrated modelling." Environmental Modelling & Software 39 (2013): 149-158.

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