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Integrating multi-taxa biodiversity conservation into upland ecosystem service land-use models. (DOLMAN_UENV23ARIES)

   School of Environmental Sciences

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  Prof Paul Dolman, Dr J Gilroy  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Supervisory Team - Robert Hawkes, RSPB 

Scientific background 

Conservation is still failing to reverse biodiversity declines, but land-use strategies must now be balanced with multiple other ecosystem services (ES) including food, carbon sequestration, and flood mitigation. To resolve this crisis, decision makers need robust evidence of what management to undertake, and where. However, existing spatial models and ES decision-support tools lack comprehensive understanding of biodiversity, instead relying on inappropriate proxies.  

The student will develop novel analytical approaches, to incorporate large bodies of information on biodiversity distribution and requirements, into future land-use models recently developed by RSPB scientists. Results will directly address how upland habitats in the UK can be best managed to protect biodiversity and mitigate climate change. 


Existing ES decision-support tools rely on inappropriate proxies without efficacy for biodiversity enhancement. This studentship will incorporate evidence for biodiversity outcomes across the fullest suite of priority (threatened, rare) taxa, into spatially-explicit land-use models, to optimise strategic ES management.  

The student will analyse plant and invertebrate species distribution, niche and trait databases, building on biodiversity auditing methodologies developed at UEA, to develop stacked environmental species distribution models (SDMs) in R. These multi-SDMs will be integrated with RSPB models for other ES, to evaluate plausible future land-use scenarios, examining trade-offs and additionalities across forestry, agriculture, moorland management and rewilding. 


The student will receive one-to-one training from the highly experienced supervisory team based in UEA and RSPB, covering Big Data, spatial modelling, study design and hypothesis testing, scientific writing, data visualisation and science communication. Working with RSPB nature delivery teams, and running workshops with private and public land managers in upland regions, will give in-depth understanding of land management policy and skills in communicating research with end-users. You will be encouraged to develop your own research ideas alongside the core project aims.  

Person specification 

The successful applicant will have a degree in ecology, geography, biology or related discipline, demonstrable experience of R and GIS, and an enthusiasm for nature conservation. 

For more information on the supervisor for this project, please visit the UEA website

The start date is October 2023.

Funding Notes

This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP. Successful candidates will be awarded a NERC studentship, which covers fees, stipend (£17,668 for 2022/23) and funding to support the doctoral research. Excellent applicants from quantitative disciplines may be considered for an additional three months’ studentship funding.

Unfortunately, no additional funding is available to assist with relocation or visa costs.

ARIES encourages applications from all, regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, age, or sexual orientation. Academic qualifications are considered alongside relevant non-academic experience.

For further information, please visit


1 Crowther, L.P., Gilroy, J.J., Salliss, D., Hawkes, R.W., Dolman, P.M. (2022) Biodiversity Audit of the Norfolk Coast – Phase 1. School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich. ISBN 978-0- 9567812-8-4.
2 Hawkes, R.W., Smart, J., Brown, A., Jones, H., Lane, S.A., Lucas, C., McGill, J., Owens, N., Ratier-Backes, A., Webb, J.R., Wells, D., Dolman, P.M. (2021a) Experimental evidence that novel land management interventions inspired by history enhance biodiversity. Journal of Applied Ecology, 58, 905-918.
3 Fuller, R.J., Williamson, T., Barnes, G., Dolman, P.M. (2017) Human activities and biodiversity opportunities in pre-industrial cultural landscapes: relevance to conservation. Journal of Applied Ecology, 54, 459-469.
4 Pedley, S.M., Dolman, P.M. (2014) Multi-taxa trait and functional responses to physical disturbance. Journal of Animal Ecology 83, 1542-1552. doi: 10.1111/1365-2656.12249
5 Dolman, P.M., Panter, C.J., Mossman, H.L. (2012) The biodiversity audit approach challenges regional priorities and identifies a mismatch in conservation. Journal of Applied Ecology 49, 986–997. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2664.2012.02174.x
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