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Designing landscapes that are robust to climate change

Institute of Integrative Biology

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Dr SJ Cornell , Dr J Hodgson , Prof CD Thomas No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

A PhD position is available to develop new mathematical and computational methods that will support the design of new nature networks. Your mathematical models will account for population dynamics and dispersal, ensuring that the best ecological information is used when designing ‘connected landscapes’ that will allow species to shift their geographic distributions in response to climate change.

Global warming and habitat loss present significant challenges because a species needs to be able to reach new (climatically suitable) locations before its current geographical range becomes inhospitable. Therefore, the limited amount of habitat that can be preserved or restored must be arranged as networks that are sufficiently well connected to allow species’ ranges to shift over time, and extensive enough that they can move long distances. But, what is the best design for these networks? Unfortunately, existing computer models that incorporate realistic details of a species’ ecology are far too slow to design habitat networks, and currently available tools make over-simplistic assumptions.

You will build on recent advances in mathematical population dynamics to develop new and efficient methods for accurately predicting the spread of populations through habitat networks, and you will test the robustness of the model’s predictions using empirically observed range expansions for butterfly species in the UK.

This project will suit a graduate of a quantitative discipline (e.g. mathematics, physics, computer science) who wishes to apply their skills to environmental change biology, or a biologist with strong mathematical and/or computational skills. You will be part of the NERC ACCE PhD programme, which will provide both support and training, and based at the University of Liverpool. You will be supervised by a multi-disciplinary team comprising Stephen Cornell (Mathematical Ecologist), Jenny Hodgson (Conservation Biologist), and Chris Thomas (Biodiversity Researcher).

Funding Notes

Competitive funding of tuition fee, research costs and stipend (£15,009 tax-free, 2019-20) from the NERC Doctoral Training Partnership “Adapting to the Challenges of a Changing Environment” (ACCE, ). ACCE – a collaboration between the Universities of Liverpool, Sheffield,and York – is the only dedicated ecology/evolution/conservation Doctoral Training Partnership in the UK.

Applications (CV, letter of application, 2 referees) by email to [Email Address Removed] deadline: January 8th 2020. Interviews in or after the week commencing : 10th February 2020. Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed for only one project from the ACCE partnership.


J A Hodgson, D W Wallis, R Krishna, and S J Cornell. How to manipulate landscapes to improve the potential for range expansion. Methods in Ecology and Evolution, 7:1558-1566 (2016)

S J Cornell, Y F Suprunenko, D Finkelshtein, P Somervuo, and O Ovaskainen. A unified framework for analysis of individual-based models in ecology and beyond. Nature Communications 10:4716 (2019),

Crone EE, Brown LM, Hodgson JA, Lutscher F, Schultz CB, Faster movement in nonhabitat matrix promotes range shifts in heterogeneous landscapes. Ecology Early View, e02701 (2019)

C J Wheatley, CM Beale, RB Bradbury, JW Pearce‐Higgins, R Critchlow & C D Thomas. Climate change vulnerability for species—Assessing the assessments. Global Change Biology 23 (9), 3704-3715 (2017)

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