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How far are we from biodiversity collapse?


   School of Biological and Behavioural Sciences

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  Dr Axel Rossberg, Dr Tom Fayle  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

  • Supervisors: Dr Axel Rossberg and Dr Tom Fayle 
  • Funding: QMUL Principal's Studentship
  • Deadline: 31st January 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 180 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.

QMUL's Theoretical Ecology Lab, led by Dr Axel G. Rossberg, studies high-level ecological patterns in biodiversity, communities, and metacommunities for species-rich systems. Like few others, the group has succeeded in mathematically explaining such patterns.

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. Current lab members work at QMUL, in the Biology Centre of the Czech Academy of Sciences, and at Universiti Malaysia Sabah, offering excellent opportunities for international collaboration.

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.

At the Theoretical Ecology Lab you will have opportunities to learn in-depth of theoretical ecology as well as coding, advanced statistics and data analysis, and the craft of scientific working. 

Project description

A hot current topic in community ecology is the fact that the composition of ecological communities tends to change over time while the number of co-existing species remains approximately constant. What drives this turnover and what can we learn observing it (e.g. Blowes et al. in Science, 2019, https://doi.org/10.1126/science.aaw1620)? Our work with spatially structured community models suggests answers: turnover is driven by biodiversity reserves at regional level; there is a sharp transition point in regional diversity below which local turnover stops. From this point onward, local species richness and so ecosystem services start to decline. The distance from this transition point is related to the observed turnover rate (O’Sullivan et al., Ecol Lett, 2021, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-021-23769-7). Hence turnover rate can be a measure of the vulnerability of communities to further biodiversity loss.

In this project, you will put these theoretical results into practice. Using publicly available databases of community time series, you will develop robust statistics (ecological indicators) to quantify community turnover and from this estimate the remaining biodiversity reserves. You will then probe how this statistic relates to environmental factors, external stressors, and known biodiversity status. 

For example, it has been shown that reduced insect diversity affects pollination and so harvests of fruit crops in some parts of the USA. We hypothesise that in these cases your new indicator signals that the regional biodiversity pool is exhausted. At places where this is not yet the case, your indicator might instead predict how close we are to this transition.

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, e.g. biology, physics, mathematics, computer science. A masters degree is desirable, but not essential.

Preference is given to applicants with demonstrated experience in data analysis in R, theoretical ecology and/or mathematical reasoning.

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 Axel Rossberg at [Email Address Removed]. Formal applications must be submitted through our online form by 31st January 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: https://www.qmul.ac.uk/postgraduate/research/funding_phd/tuition-fees/

References

Blowes, S.A., Supp, S.R., Antão, L.H., Bates, A., Bruelheide, H., Chase, J.M., Moyes, F., Magurran, A., McGill, B., Myers-Smith, I.H., Winter, M., Bjorkman, A.D., Bowler, D.E., Byrnes, J.E.K., Gonzalez, A., Hines, J., Isbell, F., Jones, H.P., Navarro, L.M., Thompson, P.L., Vellend, M., Waldock, C., Dornelas, M., 2019. The geography of biodiversity change in marine and terrestrial assemblages. Science 366, 339–345. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.aaw1620
O’Sullivan, J.D., Terry, J.C.D., Rossberg, A.G., 2021. Intrinsic ecological dynamics drive biodiversity turnover in model metacommunities. Nat Commun 12, 3627. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-021-23769-7
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