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How the information structure of ecological communities quantitatively affects their ecological function

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Thursday, February 28, 2019
  • Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Project Description

Biodiversity-ecosystem function relations ((BEFRs) are central to ecology, economic value and conservation. They have only been quantified for foodwebs and plant communities to-date: excluding parasitism and mutualism and with no explicit account of network structure. Presently we have no quantitative measure of ecological structure - the network of interactions - and its effect on BEFRs. Great anticipation was generated this summer by three recent papers developing a method using information metrics, including very recent developments from brain research (Integrated Information (IIT)- by Giulio Tononi et al.) and chemistry (entropic capacity - by Tom Shneider). The race is on to apply this approach to real ecological communities.

In this project, dynamic models of known communities will be built using mathematical software (such as Matlab or Mathematica). These account for biomass, using differential equations. For any set of interacting species, there are potentially several configurations of interaction and a wide range of quantitative interaction rates. Dynamic equilibrium states will be found for each of the communities built. Community structures will be quantified in terms of entropy metrics and IIT. Results will be related to production rate and niche packing efficiency to form BEFRs of community structure. This quantifies ‘hidden’ diversity and the the extent to which a community is a coherent whole; answering a centuries-old puzzle of practical importance and urgency. To see the broader context of Keith’s ideas, please visit Obviously this project needs a student with a high level of competence in mathematics.

Specific skills/experience required by applicants:

Strong mathematical & programming skills as well as creative system thinking. This is a theoretical project, so no lab or field work needed.

Funding Notes

UK and EU students are eligible to apply. Information on eligibility criteria is available from DfE: View Website

International applicants are welcome to apply, as additional funding may become available to cover fees at the higher rate.

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