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Modelling the effects of demographic, dispersal and environmental variability on species spread

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  • Full or part time
    Prof M Bonsall
    Dr Steven White
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Applications are invited for a multidisciplinary postgraduate doctoral studentship to work on modelling the effects of demographic, dispersal and environmental variability on invasive species spread under the supervision of Prof Michael Bonsall (Department of Zoology, University of Oxford), Assoc. Prof. Eamonn Gaffney (Wolfson Centre for Mathematical Biology, WCMB, University of Oxford), Dr Steven White (NERC Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH); WCMB) and Prof James Bullock (CEH). The studentship will start 10th October 2016 and will be based in Zoology with affiliations to the WCMB and CEH, and will also be attached to a suitable college (see DTP website for further information).

Invasions by introduced species are a leading threat to the diversity and function of ecological communities worldwide. However, only a small fraction of introduced species successfully invade native habitats. In stark contrast, anthropogenic changes to climate have led to many species expanding their natural ranges to new habitat. These facts have led many ecologists to investigate the traits that contribute to the success and failure of invasions or species spread. To this end, mathematical and simulation models are often used to predict the rate spread (or indeed failure to spread), parameterised by estimates of demographic and dispersal rates. However, there a great deal of variability in these estimates, which, in turn affect our predictions. In particular, stochastic population and individual variation make act differentially throughout the spread process and have unforeseen effects on the predicted spread rate.

In this project, the student will derive and analyse models for predicting the spread of species that incorporate population and individual stochasticity. Specific topics that might be addressed include: (1) developing and analysing stochastic integro-difference equation (IDE) models; (2) developing hybrid IDE-IBM models; (3) asymptotic model analysis; (4) fitting models to spread data.

This studentship falls inside the NERC Oxford Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) in Environmental Research process and is ideally suited to a candidate with, or finishing, a degree in mathematics, statistics, theoretical ecology or a related quantitative subject. Applications should be made online at

and should include a CV, personal statement, a piece of written work, a list of three referees and a transcript of your undergraduate degree (if available). Students are strongly encouraged to contact the supervisors prior to application.

Prof Michael Bonsall - [email protected]
Assoc. Prof. Eamonn Gaffney – [email protected]
Dr Steven White – [email protected]
Prof James Bullock – [email protected]

The deadline for the application has been extended to March 11.

Funding Notes

Funding is competitive via the Environmental Research NERC DTP; competitive scholarships, especially for international students may also be available from The University of Oxford. Full details of The DTP can be found at


Scholarship information is available at


Gilbert, M. A., Gaffney, E. A., Bullock, J. M., & White, S. M. (2014). Spreading speeds for plant populations in landscapes with low environmental variation. Journal of theoretical biology, 363, 436-452.

Gilbert, M. A., White, S. M., Bullock, J. M., & Gaffney, E. A. (2014). Spreading speeds for stage structured plant populations in fragmented landscapes. Journal of theoretical biology, 349, 135-149.

Bullock, J. M., White, S. M., Prudhomme, C., Tansey, C., Perea, R., & Hooftman, D. A. (2012). Modelling spread of British wind‐dispersed plants under future wind speeds in a changing climate. Journal of Ecology, 100(1), 104-115.

Caswell, H., Neubert, M. G., & Hunter, C. M. (2011). Demography and dispersal: invasion speeds and sensitivity analysis in periodic and stochastic environments. Theoretical ecology, 4(4), 407-421.

Van Kirk, R. W., & Lewis, M. A. (1997). Integrodifference models for persistence in fragmented habitats. Bulletin of Mathematical Biology, 59(1), 107-137.

How good is research at University of Oxford in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 223.80

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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