This project is in competition for funding from the NERC Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP) for entry in September 2024. The GW4+ DTP consists of the Universities of Bath, Bristol and Exeter and Cardiff University plus five prestigious Research Organisation partners.
Lead supervisor: Dr Emma Stone (UoB, Dept of Life Sciences)
Co-Supervisor: Dr Orly Razgour (University of Exeter, Dept of Life Sciences)
Over half of global population growth by 2050 is expected to occur in Africa . Anthropogenic expansion creates significant challenges for wildlife conservation; is a significant factor in current and future predicted species extinctions and is regarded as a major threat to biodiversity . Landscape connectivity affects movement and consequently genetic structure; hence, through studying spatial patterns of genetic variation we can understand how the habitat fragmentation and modification affect species movement patterns . Insectivorous bats are major contributors to mammalian biodiversity that provide important ecosystems services through the suppression of insect pest populations and transportation of nutrients . Understanding what renders a species “extinction prone” is a fundamental question for conservation biologists. A bat species’ tolerance to disturbance is influenced by ecological and functional traits including diet, morphology, foraging style, and roosting ecology . Currently lack of research on African bat populations both hinders our understanding of the consequences of environmental change, as well as our ability to inform land-use regimes and development, and advise stakeholders at times of increased population pressure. Malawi has been highlighted by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as of key importance to bat conservation in Africa, having high endemism and species diversity. Concurrently, Malawi has amongst the highest rates of environmental pressures from agriculture and deforestation in southern Africa and is therefore a model environment to understand and predict the impacts of future global environmental change on bats. This project will assess the impacts of landscape level anthropogenic disturbance on bat assemblages, genetic composition, movement and ecology. Results will be used to inform landscape level conservation management.
Project Aims and Methods
This project combines molecular and neo-ecological approaches to study populations of specialist and generalist bat species across gradients of anthropogenic disturbance: i) high (urban areas), moderate (periurban low-density agricultural areas) and low (protected areas) of Malawi.
1. Determine the effect of anthropogenic land-use change on patterns of genetic variation and long-term threat to bat species with different ecological requirements (e.g. forest specialist versus generalists)
2. Use a landscape genomics approach to relate the effect of landscape heterogeneity to patterns of bat movement and genetic connectivity across gradients of anthropogenic disturbance
3. Identify landscape elements that facilitate movement in populations of specialist versus generalist species across landscapes in the anthropogenic matrix
4. Develop a machine learning acoustic framework to classify central African echolocating bats
5. Assess the responses of bat assemblages to anthropogenic disturbance (habitat modification) using automatic acoustic classification approaches
6. Translate findings into conservation recommendations to identify measures to increase landscape connectivity, assemblage diversity and genetic variability
The student will have a large degree of flexibility to influence the research direction.
Applicants must have, or be about to obtain, a UK Honours degree 1st or 2.1, or international equivalent.
Non-UK applicants must meet the programme’s English language requirement by 01/02/2024 (unless you will be awarded a UK degree or degree conducted in English between February and September 2024).
Experience of: working overseas in remote areas, preferably in in tropical / developing countries; surveying, trapping and handling bats is preferable but not essential.
The student will benefit from access to world class facilities in Exeter Biosciences and UoB Milner Centre for evolution under the supervision of ES and OR. Molecular aspects of this work will be carried out in collaboration with the genomic facility in Exeter Biosciences, Exeter Sequencing Service, under the supervision of OR, and bioinformatics work with University of Exeter High Performance Computing cluster. The student will be working in the UoB African Bat Conservation Research centre in Malawi supported by the ABC in country team working across the variety of field sites in Malawi. The student will collaborate with in-country stakeholders (Department of National Parks and Wildlife, and Lilongwe University).
This multidisciplinary project offers training in cutting-edge methods in Ecology and Molecular Biology, ecological fieldwork techniques (bat surveys), advanced statistics, ecological network and spatial data analysis, GIS, molecular lab techniques, and population genomics. The student will receive field training at the UoB project African Bat Conservation research stations in Malawi (Nyika and Kasungu National Parks, Lilongwe City, Mulanje Mountain, Lake Malawi, Kuti Wildlife Reserve). Training in bat trapping and sampling will be given by UoB.
Enquiries and Applications:
Informal enquiries to Dr Emma Stone, email@example.com or Dr Orly Razgour, O.Razgour@exeter.ac.uk
Formal applications via application form for PhD in Biological Sciences
In the ‘Funding Your Studies’ section, please select ‘NERC GW4+ DTP’ from the first drop-down menu. In the ‘Your PhD project’ section, quote the project title and supervisor name in the appropriate fields.
You must complete the personal statement template found on our website, and attach this to your application.
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For enquiries about the application process contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
The application deadline is Tuesday 9 January 2024 at 2359 GMT. For more information about the NERC GW4+ Doctoral Training Partnership please visit https://www.nercgw4plus.ac.uk