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How does anthropogenic habitat change alter species interaction network structure?


   School of Biological and Behavioural Sciences

  Dr Tom Fayle  Tuesday, February 28, 2023  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

  • Supervisors: Dr Tom Fayle, Prof David Edwards (Sheffield) and Dr Pavel Kratina 
  • Funding: SBBS Start-up Studentship
  • Deadline: 28th February 2023

The following fully-funded PhD studentship is available in the School of Biological and Behavioural Sciences with an expected start date of Sept 2023.

Research environment

The School of Biological and Behavioural Sciences at Queen Mary is one of the UK’s elite research centres, according to the 2021 Research Excellence Framework (REF). We offer a multi-disciplinary research environment and have approximately 150 PhD students working on projects in the biological and psychological sciences. Our students have access to a variety of research facilities supported by experienced staff, as well as a range of student support services.

The Network and Community Ecology lab led by Dr Tom M. Fayle explores how network structure is affected environmental gradients, with a particular focus the impacts of anthropogenic global changes, and consequences for ecosystem processes.

Prof David Edwards' research group works on quantifying the impacts of tropical land-use change on biodiversity across scales, with a particular focus on identifying optimal management and conservation opportunities. 

The research group of Dr Pavel Kratina evaluates the roles of multiple environmental changes (including invasive species and climate warming), foraging behavior, and other organismal traits on the complexity, structure, and dynamics of communities and ecosystems.

Training and development

Our PhD students become part of Queen Mary’s Doctoral College which provides training and development opportunities, advice on funding, and financial support for research. Our students also have access to a Researcher Development Programme designed to help recognise and develop key skills and attributes needed to effectively manage research, and to prepare and plan for the next stages of their career.

The student will have opportunities to develop their skills in statistical programming, scientific writing, and database management, and for collaborative visits to work with Czech-based members of the LifeWebs team, and to the University of Sheffield to visit Prof Edwards' research group.

Project description

Anthropogenic habitat modification is currently the most severe threat to the world's ecosystems. Although the impacts of this process on ecological communities are now reasonably well known, responses of species interaction networks remain poorly understood. This is important, because such networks support multiple critical ecosystem services, such as pollination, pest control and seed dispersal.

The student will explore differences in network structure structure and resilience to extinctions between disturbed and undisturbed habitats by analysing existing collated data, an approach that is increasingly being used to leverage the accelerating deposition of open data in ecology (Xing and Fayle 2021). They will do this using the LifeWebs database (www.lifewebs.net), of which Tom Fayle is the PI, which comprises >1200 networks, documenting interactions between > 1 million organisms.

There will be the opportunity to explore approaches such as simulation of the impacts of species extinctions on networks, the role of traits and phylogeny in structuring ecological networks, and assessing the impact of sampling intensity. We predict that networks comprising interactions that are less specific in pristine habitats (e.g. Fayle et al 2015), will be more robust to habitat change.

The student will also test whether networks in pristine habitats are structured based on the shared traits of species involved or dictated by the potential that phylogenetically closely related species are more likely to interact. Any clustering of habitat change-induced extinctions based on traits or phylogeny is predicted to generate greater number of secondary extinctions, compared to random expectation. This work will advance our understanding of the impacts of humans on ecological networks at global scales.

Funding

The studentship is funded by Queen Mary and will cover home tuition fees, and provide an annual tax-free maintenance allowance for 3 years at the UKRI rate (£19,668 in 2022/23).

For international students interested in applying, please note that this studentship only covers home tuition fees and students will need to cover the difference in fees between the home and overseas basic rate. Tuition fee rates for 2023-24 are to be confirmed. Details on current (2022-23) tuition fee rates can be found at: https://www.qmul.ac.uk/postgraduate/research/funding_phd/tuition-fees/ 

Eligibility and applying

Applications are invited from outstanding candidates with or expecting to receive a first or upper-second class honours degree in an area relevant to the project, such as Biology, Mathematics or Physics. A masters degree in a similar topic is desirable, but not essential.

Good programming skills in the language R are desireable for applicants, along with a passion for ecology. Some experience of network ecology, particularly from a theoretical persespective, would be an advantage.

Applicants from outside of the UK are required to provide evidence of their English language ability. Please see our English language requirements page for details: https://www.qmul.ac.uk/international-students/englishlanguagerequirements/postgraduateresearch/ 

Informal enquiries about the project can be sent to Tom Fayle at  Formal applications must be submitted through our online form by 28th February 2023.

The School of Biological and Behavioural Sciences is committed to promoting diversity in science; we have been awarded an Athena Swan Silver Award. We positively welcome applications from underrepresented groups.

http://hr.qmul.ac.uk/equality/ 

https://www.qmul.ac.uk/sbcs/about-us/athenaswan/ 

Apply Online


Funding Notes

The studentship is funded by Queen Mary and will cover home tuition fees, and provide an annual tax-free maintenance allowance for 3 years at the UKRI rate (£19,668 in 2022/23).
For international students interested in applying, please note that this studentship only covers home tuition fees and students will need to cover the difference in fees between the home and overseas basic rate. Tuition fee rates for 2023-24 are to be confirmed. Details on current (2022-23) tuition fee rates can be found at: View Website

References

Xing S. & Fayle T.M. (2021) The rise of ecological network meta-analyses: problems and prospects. Global Ecology and Conservation 30: e01805.
Fayle T.M., Edwards D.P., Foster W.A., Yusah K.M. & Turner E.C. (2015) An ant-plant by-product mutualism is robust to selective logging of rain forest and conversion to oil palm plantation. Oecologia 178: 441–450
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