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From the UK to Australia: when a native species becomes an invader. Biosciences PhD Studentship .

College of Life and Environmental Sciences

, Prof Salit Kark Monday, May 24, 2021 Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Join a world-leading, cross-continental research team

The University of Exeter and the University of Queensland are seeking exceptional students to join a world-leading, cross-continental research team tackling major challenges facing the world’s population in global sustainability and wellbeing as part of the QUEX Institute. The joint PhD programme provides a fantastic opportunity for the most talented doctoral students to work closely with world-class research groups and benefit from the combined expertise and facilities offered at the two institutions, with a lead supervisor within each university. This prestigious programme provides full tuition fees, stipend, travel funds and research training support grants to the successful applicants. The studentship provides funding for up to 42 months (3.5 years).

Eight generous, fully-funded studentships are available for the best applicants, four offered by the University of Exeter and four by the University of Queensland. This select group will spend at least one year at each University and will graduate with a joint degree from the University of Exeter and the University of Queensland.

Project Description


Three elements underlie invasive impacts, for both green crab and all invaders:

i) Speed, direction, and means of invasive spread.

ii) Invader abundance in a given environment11.

iii) How many and which native species are affected by a single invader (‘per capita effects’).

Ecological and economic impacts vary between locations because all three elements are mediated by environmental conditions, particularly climate and climate change, and interactions with native biodiversity12.

Green crab is an influential species in ecosystems, aquaculture, and fisheries in its native UK, but becomes devastating in its invasive range. Moreover, environmental change has meant that green crab can even become problematic for ecosystems in its native range, for example hindering seagrass restoration. A QUEX studentship is a unique opportunity to conduct in-depth comparisons of impact between the UK and Australia under environmental change, and to link to a broader analysis of impacts throughout the rest of the world.

Aims: 1) Provide the first comprehensive analysis of drivers of variation in invasive impacts at continental and global extents. 2) To quantify environmental and biotic drivers of green crab impacts in its native range (UK), an area where it is rapidly invading (Australia), and throughout its global invasive range. 3) Forecast environmental futures for biodiversity, livelihoods, and food security under multiple biosecurity and management scenarios.

Objectives, approaches, expertise:

1.     Create the first database of green crab’s global distribution and abundance.

Method: Expert consultation and literature review (both PIs expert).

2.     Develop the first systematic assessment of variation in invasive impacts for any invader, breaking new ground in an emerging area of scientific understanding.

Method: Use Environmental Impact Classification for Alien Taxa (EICAT, PI Early pioneering with the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES)).

3.     Evaluate environmental effects on the species’ current and future spread and abundance globally.

Methods: Use cutting-edge statistical modelling13, employing remotely-sensed oceanographic variables that affect green crab recruitment (PI Early expert)

4.     Ask which environmental and biotic drivers underpin green crab range and abundance in Australia and UK, and forecast under climate change.

Methods: Survey abundance across Australia and UK and construct joint Species Distribution14 models (PI Early expert).

5.     Ask whether variation in impacts is due to differing biotic interaction networks.

Methods: Analyse gut contents of green crabs across Australia and UK to construct prey interaction networks (PI Kark expert)15. Compare networks, carapace, claw size, and sex ratio (which correspond to impact2,16-18) amongst populations.

6.     Contrast management solutions in consultation with aquaculture, fisheries, and conservation agencies.

Spatial population modelling of solutions, likely including tightened biosecurity, local control via selective harvest, chemical/biological/genetic control, outbreak early warning system, and altered aquaculture management19 (both PIs expert).

7.     Develop existing links with environmental governance organisations and industries, so as to roll out a longer term project improving environmental governance of invaders in the UK, Australia, and beyond.

Consult with Australia’s Invasive Species Council, SA and NSW DPI’s Aquatic Biosecurity arm, Victorian Fisheries authority, Natural England all of whom are concerned about green crab, and conduct outreach via Feral Herald.

Find out more about the PhD studentships

Successful applicants will have a strong academic background and track record to undertake research projects based in one of the three themes of: Healthy Living, Global Environmental Futures and Digital Worlds and Disruptive Technologies.

The closing date for applications is midnight on 24 May 2021 (BST), with interviews taking place week commencing 12 July 2021. The start date is expected to be 10 January 2022.

Please note that of the eight Exeter led projects advertised, we expect that up to four studentships will be awarded to Exeter based students.

Funding Notes

The QUEX Institute studentships are available for January 2022 entry. This prestigious programme provides full tuition fees, stipend of £15,609 p.a, travel funds of up to £15,000, and RTSG of £10,715 over the life of the studentship. The studentship funding is provided for up to 42 months (3.5 years)

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