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Improving the transferability of ecological research

   Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

   Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Project Overview:

Ecologists aspire both to understand nature and to provide society with interventions to restore, conserve and manage nature in the face of climate and ecological breakdown. This is challenging because nature is complex and multi-causal, leading ecologists frequently to describe ecological relationships as being ‘context dependent’, limiting the transfer of interventions and models developed for one location or time period to others.

To address context-dependence, ecologists often seek to identify, explain, and predict interactions among important ecological drivers. Ecologists might ask, for example, how does landscape structure modify the impact of organic farming on biodiversity? How do biodiversity effects on ecosystem functioning get modified by climate? The way that we research interactions has major consequences for the transferability of study findings. Methodological decisions concerning hypothesis generation, data collection or collation, model fitting and results visualisation can influence the degree to which inferences gained in one context can be applied to another.

This project aims to improve the transferability of ecological research. To do this, the student will conduct systematic reviews on an important research topic (e.g. restoration, forest management) to map the current practice in studying interactions. Research will investigate how methodological decisions influence the transferability of study findings, and produce guidelines to improve transferability. The student will have opportunities to develop knowledge and experience with methods such as simulations, analyses of existing large datasets, and engagement with policymakers to identify how transferability is perceived.


School of Biological Sciences, University of Reading:

The University of Reading, located west of London, England, provides world-class research education programs. The University’s main Whiteknights Campus is set in 130 hectares of beautiful parkland, a 30-minute train ride to central London and 40 minutes from London Heathrow airport. 

Our School of Biological Sciences conducts high-impact research, tackling current global challenges faced by society and the planet. Our research ranges from understanding and improving human health and combating disease, through to understanding evolutionary processes and uncovering new ways to protect the natural world. In 2020, we moved into a stunning new ~£60 million Health & Life Sciences building. This state-of-the-art facility is purpose-built for science research and teaching. It houses the Cole Museum of Zoology, a café and social spaces.

In the School of Biological Sciences, you will be joining a vibrant community of ~180 PhD students representing ~40 nationalities. Our students publish in high-impact journals, present at international conferences, and organise a range of exciting outreach and public engagement activities.

During your PhD at the University of Reading, you will expand your research knowledge and skills, receiving supervision in one-to-one and small group sessions. You will have access to cutting-edge technology and learn the latest research techniques. We also provide dedicated training in important transferable skills that will support your career aspirations. If English is not your first language, the University's excellent International Study and Language Institute will help you develop your academic English skills.

The University of Reading is a welcoming community for people of all faiths and cultures. We are committed to a healthy work-life balance and will work to ensure that you are supported personally and academically.


Applicants should have a good degree (minimum of a UK Upper Second (2:1) undergraduate degree or equivalent) in Ecology, Biology, Environmental Science, Statistics or a strongly-related discipline. Applicants will also need to meet the University’s English Language requirements. We offer a Pre-sessional English programme - International Study and Language Institute at the University of Reading that can help with meeting these requirements.

How to apply:

Please apply for a PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology:


Further information:



Dr. Becks Spake, email:

Funding Notes

We welcome applications from self-funded students worldwide for this project.
If you are applying to an international funding scheme, we encourage you to get in contact as we may be able to support you in your application.


Spake, R., Soga, M., Catford, J.A., Eigenbrod, F. (2021) Applying the stress gradient hypothesis to curb the spread of invasive bamboo. Journal of Applied Ecology, early view. Video summary here.
Spake, R., Mori, A.S, Beckmann, M., Martin, P.A., Christie, A.P., Duguid, M., Doncaster, C.P. (2021) Implications of scale dependence for cross-study syntheses of biodiversity differences. Ecology Letters, 24, 2, 374-390. DOI: 10.1111/ele.13641
Spake, R., Bellamy, C., Graham, L.J., Watts, K., Wood, C., Norton, L., Bullock, J.M., Eigenbrod, F. (2019). An analytical framework for spatially targeted management of natural capital. Nature Sustainability, 2, 90-97. DOI: 10.1038/s41893-019-0223-4.

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