Constraints of plant-herbivore interactions under global change

   Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences

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  Dr Joshua Lynn, Prof D Johnson  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

Roughly 10% of global leaf area is consumed by herbivores, annually, representing one of the largest transfers of energy and nutrients in terrestrial ecosystems. Herbivores forage for plant food based on nutritional quality and quantity in interaction with the evolved defences of the plants against being consumed. Plant-herbivore interactions have long been hypothesized to structure plant communities and contribute to geographical diversity gradients. Yet large knowledge gaps remain on the biophysical and evolutionary constraints of plant-herbivore interactions. Such knowledge gaps limit our ability to make robust predictions of how plant-herbivore interactions will respond to interacting global change drivers and their consequences for communities, ecosystems, and pest management. This project will address fundamental questions and fill knowledge gaps on how plant-herbivore interactions are shaped by global change. For instance, how do rising temperatures and drought affect plant consumption by insect herbivores and leaf defensive chemistry? Will increasing consumer-essential micronutrient deposition reshape plant and insect communities? How does nutrient availability determine plant defence investment and rates of consumption by herbivores? And how will climate change reshape insect herbivore body size distributions? Such questions are crucial to address to predict and manage the consequences of global changes for biodiversity and agriculture.

The student will have the opportunity to be trained in a broad suite of experimental techniques centred around global change, including CO2 enrichment, drought, and warming experiments. Additionally, the projects offer the opportunity to estimate herbivore damage, plant secondary chemistry, and nutrient composition, plant volatile organic compound emission, invertebrate abundance estimation, plant community composition, and more. Students will also be trained in a diverse suite of statistical and theoretical tools that are valuable in both academic and non-academic career paths.

Students with a broad interest in plant-herbivore interactions, ecological theory, and global change biology are encouraged to apply. The exact direction of the project will be developed in collaboration with the student and can include experimental, observational, and review/metanalysis methods. The group primarily works in temperate, alpine, and arctic systems as well as at macroecological scales, but with an openness to expanding to new systems based on the questions at hand.

Applicants must make direct contact with the supervisors before applying. It is your responsibility to make arrangements to meet with potential supervisors, before submitting a formal online application. Additionally, a research proposal is part of the application process. This proposal should be roughly 1000 words in length and include a motivation of one or more of the above questions, hypotheses, and a brief proposal on how to test them.

Dr Joshua. S Lynn’s University Webpage:

Prof David Johnson’s University Webpage

Equality, diversity and inclusion is fundamental to the success of The University of Manchester, and is at the heart of all of our activities. We know that diversity strengthens our research community, leading to enhanced research creativity, productivity and quality, and societal and economic impact. We actively encourage applicants from diverse career paths and backgrounds and from all sections of the community, regardless of age, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender expression, sexual orientation and transgender status.

 We also support applications from those returning from a career break or other roles. We consider offering flexible study arrangements (including part-time: 50%, 60% or 80%, depending on the project/funder). 

Biological Sciences (4) Environmental Sciences (13)

Funding Notes

3.5 years fully funded, with stipend at the current UKRI rate


Lynn, Joshua S., Jason D. Fridley, and Vigdis Vandvik. "More than what they eat: uncoupled biophysical constraints underlie geographic patterns of herbivory." Ecography (2022): e06114.
Welti, Ellen AR, et al. "Nutrient dilution and climate cycles underlie declines in a dominant insect herbivore." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 117.13 (2020): 7271-7275.
Endara, María‐José, and Phyllis D. Coley. "The resource availability hypothesis revisited: a meta‐analysis." Functional Ecology 25.2 (2011): 389-398.

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