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University of Reading Featured PhD Programmes

Global insect declines? Assessing the resilience of urban insects

School of Environmental Sciences

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Prof K Parr , Dr R Jeffreys , Dr K L Evans No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

Insects are biodiverse and critical for many ecosystem processes but are potentially in huge trouble. Recent studies suggest insect populations may be declining precipitously both in human-disturbed and natural environments. This PhD will explore how resilient urban insect taxa are to changing resource availability and rising temperatures, and how well urban mitigation measures are working.

The PhD will focus on three main questions:
1) How does insect diversity and function change with urbanization? This will involve documenting abundance and composition, but also change in diet and physiology along rural-urban gradients. Lab work will be used to quantify thermal tolerance and diet using stable isotopes.
2) How does urbanization affect insect-mediate processes? The project will focus on quantifying less-well documented processes such as scavenging and predation through manipulative experiments designed to tease apart the contribution insects make from other taxa (e.g. vertebrates).
3) How successful are mitigation activities such as urban greening in facilitating both insect diversity and the processes that insects contribute to? This will include examination of pollinator schemes, such as UrbanBuzz, and exploring the extent to which non-pollinator species have also benefited, and whether the outcomes more widely have been positive (e.g. greater seed-set in plants).

The PhD an exciting chance to explore our insect biodiversity and improve understanding of insect declines in urban areas. Additionally, there are great opportunities for field sampling and development of skills in insect identification, stable isotope analysis and physiology.

The outcomes of the project have important implications for insect conservation and will provide us with a better understanding of which insect groups are more resilient than others, how climate change may affect this resilience and how successful current mitigation actions have been.


Griffiths, H., Ashton, L., Walker, A.*, Hasan, F.*, Evans, T.A., Eggleton, P & Parr, C.L. (2018) Ants are the major agent of resource removal from tropical rainforests. J. Animal Ecol. 87: 293-300

Bishop, T.R.*, Robertson, M., van Rensburg, B.J. & Parr, C.L. (2017) Coping with the cold: minimum temperatures and thermal tolerances dominate the ecology of mountain ants. Ecol. Entomol. 42: 105-114.

De la Vega, C., Jeffreys, R.M., Tuerena, R., Ganeshram, R. and Mahaffey, C. (2019) Temporal and spatial trends in marine carbon isotopes in the Arctic Ocean and implications for food web studies. Global Change Biology DOI:10.1111/gcb.14832

Seress G, Hammer T, Bókony V, Vincze E, Preiszner B, Pipoly I, Sinkovics C, Evans KL & Liker A (2018) Impact of urbanization on abundance and phenology of caterpillars and consequences for breeding in an insectivorous bird. Ecological Applications, 28(5), 1143-1156

Aronson MFJ, Lepczyk CA, Evans KL, Goddard MA, Lerman SB, MacIvor JS, Nilon CH & Vargo T (2017) Biodiversity in the city: key challenges for urban green space management. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 15(4), 189-196
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