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Competition and coexistence in complex ecological communities

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  • Full or part time
    Dr A Rossberg
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Theoretical ecology is increasingly embracing successfully methods from statistical mechanics and the theory of complex, nonlinear systems. This leads to improved understanding of both predictability and uncertainty in ecology (e.g. https://mbi.osu.edu/event/?id=876#description), and opens new avenues for dealing with persistent ecological questions.

This project addresses a fundamental unsolved ecological problem: how many species will typically coexist in an ecological community structured by an interaction network (e.g. a food web)? Using a bit of matrix trickery, one can reduce this problem to a question about the eigenvalues of an effective competitive overlap matrix, which has ones on the diagonal and off-diagonal elements distributed depending on details of the underlying system (Rossberg 2013, ISBN 9-780470973-55-4). Observations, simulations, and heuristic arguments suggest that, through species turnover, the number of species eventually adjusts itself such that the area in the complex plane covered by the eigenvalues of that matrix touches zero. Aim of the project is to derive, for increasingly realistic community models, analytic predictions of the species richness where this happens, and to map out the full extent to which the theory explains existing field data.

The student will work under the supervision of Dr Axel G. Rossberg in the Department of Organismal Biology. The project provides opportunities for training in areas including (i) theoretical ecology; (ii) design, interpretation and analysis of mathematical models; (iii) numerical and formal mathematical techniques; (iv) random matrix theory; (v) science communication. An educational plan will be drafted that includes attendance of courses and (international) meetings. All PhD students are part of the QMUL Doctoral College, which provides support with high-quality training and career development activities.

QMUL is committed to the highest quality research and part of the 24 strong Russell Group of elite research intensive universities, which together attract well over two-thirds of all available research funding in the UK. QMUL is unique in London by providing a completely integrated residential campus (for more information please visit http://www.qmul.ac.uk/studentlife/accommodation/index.html).

We welcome applications from outstanding students with, or expecting to be awarded, a first class honours degree (or equivalent qualification) or MSc in an area relevant to the project (e.g. theoretical ecology, applied mathematics, statistical physics). Non UK students are required to provide evidence of their proficiency in English language skills. Candidates are strongly encouraged to e-mail to Dr Rossberg ([Email Address Removed]) with cover letter and CV to verify eligibility for the position. Formal applications to the College will require completion of the online application form (http://www.qmul.ac.uk/postgraduate/research/subjects/biological-and-chemical-sciences/index.html)

The School holds an Athena SWAN Silver Award and is committed to supporting equality and diversity for all staff and students.

Funding Notes

The studentship will cover tutition fees and provide an annual tax-free maintenance allowance for 3 years at Research Councils UK rates (£16.057 in 2015/16).

How good is research at Queen Mary University of London in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 23.39

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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