Cold-adapted species, including those restricted to mountains, are highly vulnerable to climate change. For UK butterflies, cold-adapted species are similarly threatened by climate change mediated decline, with some species demonstrating range retractions concurrent with recent warming.
Consequently, upland species are becoming a priority for many conservation organisations both in the UK and globally. However, developing adaptation strategies for these species is hampered by a lack of a mechanistic understanding of climate change impacts, a knowledge gap that needs addressing. Furthermore, as climate change can have complex and conflicting impacts during different stages of a butterfly’s life-cycle, studies need to consider the sensitivity of each stage to climate variation, although this is rarely done.
We are looking for an enthusiastic PhD candidate interested in investigating how climate change is negatively affecting the persistence of a threatened, climate-sensitive butterfly, the Mountain Ringlet in the Lake District. The project will explore issues around which butterfly’s stages (eggs, caterpillars, pupae and adults) are more sensitive to temperature variation, how thermal tolerance differ among populations along altitudinal gradients and which are the genetic bases of those differences. The project also aims to explore potential mitigation measures by assessing how active habitat management (e.g. controlled grazing) could increase the availability of suitable microhabitat/microclimate in the landscape, to enhance the persistence of the Mountain Ringlet in the face of future climate change.
The successful candidate will develop skills in field ecology, thermal tolerance assays, molecular and statistical modelling techniques. The student will be based at Lancaster under the supervision of Dr Rosa Menendez and will be co-supervised by Dr Melanie Gibbs (CEH-Wallingford) and Dr Steven Ewing (RSPB). As part of the project the student will spend time working in close collaboration with RSPB (project Case-partner) and other conservation organisations involved in habitat management in the Lake District.
Applicants should hold a minimum of a UK Honours Degree at 2:1 level or equivalent in a subject such as Biology, Ecology or Natural Sciences. Fieldwork experience in uplands and a keen interest in insects will be advantageous.