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Ecology and conservation of blue ground beetles: from microhabitat use to landscape connectivity. PhD in Biosciences (NERC GW4 + DTP)

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Monday, January 06, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Lead Supervisor:
Dr Nick Royle, Department of Biosciences, Centre for Ecology & Conservation, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter

Additional Supervisors:
Dr Ben Raymond, Department of Biosciences, Centre for Ecology & Conservation, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter
Dr Peter Kennedy, Department of Biosciences, Environment & Sustainability Institute, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter

Location: University of Exeter, Penryn Campus, Penryn, Cornwall TR10 9FE

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC GW4+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP). The GW4+ DTP consists of the GW4 Alliance of research-intensive universities: the University of Bath, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and the University of Exeter plus five unique and prestigious Research Organisation partners: British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory. The partnership aims to provide a broad training in the Earth, Environmental and Life sciences, designed to train tomorrow’s leaders in scientific research, business, technology and policy-making. For further details about the programme please see

For eligible successful applicants, the studentships comprises:

- An stipend for 3.5 years (currently £15,009 p.a. for 2019/20) in line with UK Research and Innovation rates
- Payment of university tuition fees;
- A research budget of £11,000 for an international conference, lab, field and research expenses;
- A training budget of £3,250 for specialist training courses and expenses.
- Travel and accommodation is covered for all compulsory DTP cohort events.
- No course fees for courses run by the DTP

We are currently advertising projects for a total of 10 studentships at the University of Exeter

Project Background

The charismatic Blue ground beetle Carabus intricatus is the largest and one of the rarest species of ground beetle in the UK with a very restricted distribution, mostly on Dartmoor in Devon. All known populations are apparently small and fragmented. Species of large, flightless carabids such as Blue ground beetles typically have slow life-histories (i.e., are long-lived with low rates of reproduction) with poor dispersal abilities, so are particularly vulnerable to the effects of habitat loss and fragmentation. However, relatively little is known about Blue ground beetle biology, particularly specific (micro-)habitat requirements, population size and structure and foraging ecology. Such knowledge is essential in order to be able to implement successful conservation practices to boost populations of this and other woodland species.

Project Aims and Methods

Key questions that will be addressed include: How do Blue ground beetles utilize available habitat? Does this vary across years and different woodland sites? Do different life stages have different habitat requirements? How does the utilization of habitat change seasonally and why? How large are populations and how are they structured (sex, age)? How well connected/fragmented are these populations? How much competition is there between large carabid species? How important are climatic variables such as temperature, rainfall and humidity and food availability in explaining Blue ground beetle behaviour and ecology?

Students will have involvement to the final design and specific direction of the research but we anticipate the following general outline for the research programme: Field survey work of Blue ground beetles and key prey species (tree slugs Lehmannia marginata, in particular) in conjunction with microhabitat surveys will be conducted at sites on Dartmoor and possibly also Cornwall during spring and summer over three years. Beetles encountered will be captured and given a unique ID then released as part of a mark-release-recapture study to estimate population sizes and determine population structure (sex and age). Furthermore we plan to use radio-tracking to complement the survey and microhabitat work to assess movements of adult blue ground beetles in spring and summer as well as foraging ecology. In addition to fieldwork in spring and summer survey data will also be collected during the winter to determine microhabitat preferences and characteristics of overwintering sites used by Blue ground beetles.

The data collected will help inform vital decisions about how to manage existing woodland habitat within the National Nature Reserves including the extensiveness of grazing, the dead wood resource and any new sustainable management techniques by identifying key factors that determine Blue ground beetle habitat use and preferences, population characteristics and likely impediments to population expansion. It will help create a resilient Dartmoor landscape and establish what scale of woodland habitat restoration is needed to help build that connectivity.

Funding Notes

NERC GW4+ funded studentship available for September 2020 entry. For eligible students, the studentship will provide funding of fees and a stipend which is currently £15,009 per annum for 2019-20.


Background reading list

There are no peer-reviewed papers on Blue-ground beetles available but the following references on similar topics involving other species of carabids would make a useful reading list starting point:

Hansen, A. K. et al. (2018) Insect Conservation and Diversity, 11, 255–266; Keller, I. et al. (2005) Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 18, 90–100; Negro, M. et al. (2017) Forest Ecology and Management, 406, 125–137; Volf, M. et al. (2018) Journal of Insect Conservation, 22, 321–328; Völler, E. et al. (2018) Journal of Insect Conservation, 22, 163–169.

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