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EASTBIO Sustaining biodiversity through mixed farming systems

PHD Opportunities

About the Project

Agriculture has seen a trend over recent decades away from mixed farming systems and towards increased homogenisation of land use over large areas. In particular, many lowland arable areas no longer have inputs from grazing livestock. Livestock grazing and associated inputs through manure, has potential to benefit key biodiversity groups(1,5). However, presence of grazing animals can also negatively impact some groups, for instance through disturbance or by limiting resource availability. This project will investigate how livestock presence and density influence key biodiversity groups that provide ecosystem services, such as pollination and pest control. Further, it will investigate whether such biodiversity is promoted at sites where livestock have been re-integrated into cropping systems, such as through cooperative use of land resources on a multi-farm catchment-scale, compared to sites where livestock have not been re-established.

This project combines study of controlled, long-term experimental platforms in the UK with a wider survey of agricultural landscapes with documented land-use histories, such as through the AHDB monitor farm network.

Plant diversity/sward will be measured to characterise differences in resources available to phytophagous invertebrates resulting from farming systems with different livestock densities. Biodiversity response measurement will focus on groups that are known to respond to gradients of agricultural intensity. These will include 1) arthropods, especially flying species such as moths, through sweep netting and light trapping, and 2) arthropod predators, especially bats (2). The latter will include trialling audiomoths (a recently-developed, open-source programmable acoustic recorder (3) alongside full-spectrum recorders to assess their suitability for studying relative activity levels in agricultural landscapes. This research will help develop resilience in future farming landscapes and will aid delivery of the 2020 Challenge for Scotland’s Biodiversity and optimise land sharing for biodiversity (4).

The student will undertake core bioscience and generic skills training as part of the host partners’ doctoral training programmes. They will develop specific skills in experimental and field survey design, species identification and field sampling, with potential also to develop techniques for automated machine-learning classification of acoustic recordings. During their second or third year or study, the student will undertake a placement with The Mammal Society which advocates science-led mammal conservation. A senior Mammal Society representative is part of the supervisory team. This placement will give the student experience of developing policy-relevant advocacy materials aimed at ensuring compatibility of sustainable food production with maintaining or enhancing key providers of ecosystem services.

We seek a student who is ambitious to contribute to sustainable solutions for maintaining biodiversity, as key delivery agents of ecosystem services, within modern farming systems. The student should be numerically competent, be an enthusiastic fieldworker and be a confident communicator for liaising with host landowners and managers.

References and further reading:
1. Fuentes‐Montemayor et al. (2010) Journal of Applied Ecology, 48, 532-542.
2. Fuentes-Montemayor et al. (2011) Biological Conservation, 144, 2233-2246.
3. Hill et al. (2018) Methods in Ecology and Evolution, 9, 1199–1211.
4. Tscharntke et al. (2012) Biological Conservation, 151, 53–59.
5. Wallis De Vries et al. (2007) Grass and Forage Science, 62, 185–197.
Applicants should download the required forms from and send the following documents to :
a. EASTBIO Application Form
b. EASTBIO DTP Equality Form
c. CV
d. Academic transcripts (a minimum of an upper second class or first class honours degree or equivalent is required for PhD study
e. Two references should be provided by the deadline using the EASTBIO reference form ( Please advise your referees to return the reference form to .
f. If you are nominated by the supervisor(s) of the EASTBIO PhD project you wish to apply for, they will provide a Supervisor Support Statement.

Funding Notes

This 4 year PhD project is part of a competition funded by EASTBIO BBSRC Doctoral Training Partnership View Website. This opportunity is open to UK and International students and provides funding to cover stipend and UK level tuition (Please state if your institution will provide funding to cover the difference in fees). Please refer to UKRI website and Annex B of the UKRI Training Grant Terms and Conditions for full eligibility criteria.


Two references should be provided by the deadline using the EASTBIO reference form ( Please advise your referees to return the reference form to

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