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Can behavioural and physiological plasticity help animals to survive in a changing environment?

   Faculty of Science

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  Dr Julia Nowack, Dr Ross Macleod, Dr Christine Beardsworth, Dr Davina Hill  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

This PhD project aims to gather crucial information for predicting the ability and requirements of wildlife to cope within anthropogenically-modified environments, using the European hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) as a model species.

We are currently observing a rapid decline in biodiversity across the world, with climate change and urbanization among the main drivers of species loss. Urbanisation poses challenges to animals through increasingly fragmented landscapes, chemical, light and noise pollution as well as changes in food resources and the thermal environment. Thus, it is not surprising that urban areas often experience reduced biodiversity and have long been perceived as spaces of little conservation relevance. However, certain species are progressively colonising human settlements and we do not yet understand the factors that enable these urban adapters to flourish and coexist with us in cities.

During this PhD the student will use a combination of indicators to quantify wildlife responses to urbanisation. This will involve monitoring and tracking of free-living hedgehogs along rural-urban gradients around Liverpool. The use of biologging methods will allow the collection of data on activity, timing of reproduction, nest site choice and home range use. Monitoring of appropriate indicators of state, including torpor characteristics and reproductive timing, and use of thermal imaging to record stress responses, in relation to environmental variables will help to identify the intrinsic and extrinsic factors essential for urban adaption. Through this combination of techniques, the student will assess the link between habitat features, physiological and behavioural adaptations, and individual state.

The results will increase our knowledge about species sensitivity to urban habitats and help future-proof our natural environments by informing urban planning and conservation policies aiming to mitigate the impact of human-induced urbanisation.

The PhD student will join our flourishing School of Biological & Environmental Sciences at Liverpool John Moores University and work under a multidisciplinary supervisory team.

In addition to holding a masters or strong first degree in zoology or an equivalent biological/environmental sciences field, the ideal applicant will be able to demonstrate significant interest in eco-physiology and have experience with fieldwork. Strong organisational skills and the ability to work both independently and collaboratively with a team as well as a good working knowledge of statistical analysis using R would be advantageous. Full training in eco-physiological research methods, science communication techniques, advanced statistical analysis and appropriate research methods will be provided by the supervisory team and through our Doctoral Academy.

Funding Notes

The selected applicant will be entered for the 2023/24 round of LJMU’s VC PhD Studentship funding scheme. If successful, the applicant will start in February 2024 and will receive three years funding covering tuition fees, UKRI-standard student stipend and research support. The VC PhD Studentship competition is open to both UK and International students, and applications from candidates from under-represented ethnic minority backgrounds are encouraged. Please see the VC PhD Studentship Website for further funding and eligibility details.


For an informal discussion or to enquire about this opportunity candidates are strongly encouraged to email Dr Julia Nowack ( for more information.

To apply, email a CV and covering letter detailing your suitability for the project and contact details of two referees to Dr Julia Nowack ( Applicants need to be available for interview (by video) in early July and able to start in February 2024.
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