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  Leveraging species’ geography to predict and mitigate biodiversity loss with global change

   Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences

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  Dr Joshua Lynn, Prof Susanne Shulltz  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

This studentship will investigate how species’ geography can be used to predict and mitigate the negative effects of ongoing global changes, including climate and land use change.

Climate, land-use, and other global changes have and continue to drastically alter biological communities, biodiversity, and the ecosystem services they provide. For instance, climate change has “reshuffled” communities by causing expansions and contractions of species’ geographic ranges resulting in novel communities, while habitat destruction has pushed species to the edges of their preferred habitats. However, our ability to predict species responses generally and reliably to these global changes has lagged behind the vast number of species becoming threatened. This PhD project will fill these prediction gaps by combing species’ niche estimation and modelling with physiology to gain novel ecological insights into global change driven biodiversity loss with key benefits for conservation policy and practice.

The PhD student will take a multidisciplinary approach to pressing ecological and conservation questions around plant community “reshuffling”, blending macroecology, community ecology, and physiological methods. The project will harness large datasets combined with new observations to gain insights into the following questions, which test how geography is related species performance:

1)     Can the “reshuffling” of plant communities with climate change be predicted from species’ climate niches? This question would combine long-term data on plant species’ responses to experimental warming across large spatial scales with information on species’ geography and climatic distributions (Lynn et al., 2021, 2023). This study aims to integrate community responses to climate warming based on species’ climate niches with ecosystem functions (e.g., soil carbon stocks) to achieve a predictive synthesis that can inform management to meet net-zero targets.

2)     Are conservation and restoration efforts concentrated in the ecological margins of focal species (Britnell et al., 2023)? This project would involve conducting broad physiological surveys of natural and planted/restored tree populations across the UK to assess if conservation efforts are focused in the margins of the tree species’ climatic and soil physicochemical niche, and are therefore likely of the least conservation value. This study aims to test fundamental ecological theory on how species perform from the core to the periphery of their niche with key conservation recommendations as an additional product.

The student will gain skills around macroecological methods (e.g., niche modelling, range mapping), data science, Bayesian statistics, plant community analysis, physiology, and soil chemistry. The student will receive world-class mentorship from the team of supervisors and join a collaborative training network with the opportunity to expand their research network internationally. 

The proposed start date of the project is 23rd September 2024 and the duration of the PhD project is three and half years.

Supervisor profiles

Joshua Lynn:

Susanne Shultz:


The minimum academic entry requirement for a PhD in the Faculty of Science and Engineering is an upper second-class honours degree (or international equivalent) in a discipline directly relevant to the PhD OR any upper-second class honours degree (or international equivalent) and a Master’s degree merit (or international equivalent) in a discipline directly relevant to the PhD.

Before you apply

You must contact the project supervisors: Joshua Lynn () and Susanne Shultz ()

How to apply

To be considered for this project you’ll need to complete a formal application through our online application portal.

When applying, you’ll need to specify the full name of this project, the name of your supervisor, how you’re planning on funding your research, details of your previous study, and names and contact details of two referees.

Your application will not be processed without all of the required documents submitted at the time of application, and we cannot accept responsibility for late or missed deadlines. Incomplete applications will not be considered.

If you have any questions about making an application, please contact our admissions team by emailing .


For more information, visit our funding page or search our funding database for specific scholarships, studentships and awards you may be eligible for.

Equality, diversity and inclusion

Equality, diversity and inclusion is fundamental to the success of The University of Manchester, and is at the heart of all of our activities. We know that diversity strengthens our research community, leading to enhanced research creativity, productivity and quality, and societal and economic impact.

We actively encourage applicants from diverse career paths and backgrounds and from all sections of the community, regardless of age, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender expression, sexual orientation and transgender status.

We also support applications from those returning from a career break or other roles. We consider offering flexible study arrangements (including part-time: 50%, 60% or 80%, depending on the project/funder).

Biological Sciences (4) Mathematics (25)

Funding Notes

This project is self-funded with the potential for University scholarship support.


Britnell, J. A., Zhu, Y., Kerley, G. I. H., & Shultz, S. (2023). Ecological marginalization is widespread and increases extinction risk in mammals. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 120(3), e2205315120.
Lynn, J. S., Gya, R., Klanderud, K., Telford, R. J., Goldberg, D. E., & Vandvik, V. (2023). Traits help explain species’ performance away from their climate niche centre. Diversity and Distributions, 29(8), 962–978.
Lynn, J. S., Klanderud, K., Telford, R. J., Goldberg, D. E., & Vandvik, V. (2021). Macroecological context predicts species’ responses to climate warming. Global Change Biology, 27(10), 2088–2101.

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