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Declining insects – climate change impacts and community consequences

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  • Full or part time
    Dr K L Evans
    Dr K Parr
  • 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

Severe insect population declines have recently started to be documented even in strictly protected areas. The evidence base for these declines is extremely patchy, and is negligible for temperate woodland communities. Whilst insects are predicted to be very vulnerable to climate change, the causes and consequences of these declines are very poorly understood. This needs to be addressed urgently given that insects are extremely diverse, contribute significant biomass to ecosystems and contribute substantially to numerous ecological functions.

This project will use and build on a long-term database monitoring the abundance and phenology of caterpillars and volant insects across eight woodland sites in the Rivelin Valley, Sheffield. It will:
a) Quantify the direction and magnitude of woodland insect population trends and phenological shifts for a wide range of taxa that have divergent ecological functions.
b) Quantify the contributions of inter-annual variation in weather to these population trends and determine the cues used to determine the timing of phenological events.
c) Assess if changing phenological patterns across multiple insect taxa create ’hunger gaps’ during which insectivorous birds experience reduced food supplies.
d) Conduct experiments that simulate changing environmental conditions to test mechanisms through which climate change could drive insect population declines (e.g. warmer conditions disrupting diapause, trophic mismatch reducing food supplies).

The project focuses on the use of a novel dataset that simultaneously captures the phenology and population trends of a diverse set of UK woodland insect populations. This dataset will be used to address novel hypotheses (objectives a, c and to a lesser extent b) and to inform the design of rare experiments (objective d) that test mechanisms through which key climatic variables could drive insect population trends.
This project exploits a dataset that is now becoming sufficiently long-term to address key questions concerning insect population declines which have recently received intense scientific and public interest.

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Funding Notes

Fully funded studentships cover: (i) a stipend at the UKRI rate (£15,009 per annum for 2019-2020), (ii) research costs, and (iii) tuition fees. Studentship(s) are available to UK and EU students who meet the UK residency requirements.
This PhD project is part of the NERC funded Doctoral Training Partnership “ACCE” (Adapting to the Challenges of a Changing Environment ACCE is a partnership between the Universities of Sheffield, Liverpool, York, CEH, and NHM.
Shortlisted applicants will be invited for an interview to take place in the w/c 10th February 2020.

How good is research at University of Sheffield in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 44.90

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