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Population connectivity of native and invasive species in the Fens: what are appropriate habitats for conservation?

School of Biological Sciences

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Dr L Lancaster , Prof J Travis No more applications being accepted Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

This fully-funded project provides the opportunity for a motivated student to learn cutting-edge skills in conservation science and to make an important contribution to the conservation and restoration of the UK’s largest wetland.

The student will: 1) gain skills in population genetics and individually-based modelling, 2) deliver internationally relevant science related to resolving trade-offs between improving habitat connectivity for native species while minimising the spread of invasive species, and 3) work closely with ecologists and practitioners in the conservation organisation Natural England, to deliver effective strategies for restoration of the Fens in eastern England.

The Fens is an ecologically important area, covering 3900 km2 and providing critical habitat for >13,000 species (1500 of which are of conservation concern and 50 of which are Fens endemics). However, due to intensive land use, less than 1% of this habitat remains intact. Efforts are currently underway to restore connectivity among remaining habitat fragments, to conserve the biodiversity of this valuable ecosystem. However, the Fens are also home to a number of invasive species, and improving connectivity among habitat patches may have the unwanted consequence of hastening the spread of these species. This project will have a direct applied relevance to conservation decisions for the Fens, and will also address broader, global issues relating to the challenge of improving native species connectivity in the context of invaded ecosystems.

For this project, the student will conduct fieldwork and genetic analyses to assess connectivity for a range of native and invasive species that specialise on wetland habitats, and which have a local stronghold in the Fens. The student will also use a suite of new modelling approaches to predict the consequences of various conservation strategies, with an opportunity to contribute to the ongoing development of the increasingly popular software tool RangeShifter for understanding eco-evolutionary dynamics and the consequences of land management and conservation strategies.

The student will be based at the dynamic Institute of Biological and Environmental Sciences at the University of Aberdeen, joining the research groups of Lesley Lancaster ( and Justin Travis (, who will provide all relevant training in population genetics and individual-based modelling. The student will also work closely with project cosupervisors at Natural England, Dr.’s Nicholas Macgregor, Humphrey Crick, and Ruth Hall; these scientists are at the cutting edge of development of effective conservation strategies for wetlands and other ecosystems. The project is also cosupervised by conservation practitioner Catherine Weightman, who will ensure uptake and implementation of the project results for Fens conservation priorities and give the student direct links with stakeholders in the Fens.

Application Process:
Please apply for admission to the ’Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Biological Science’ to ensure that your application is passed to the correct college for processing.
Please provide a copy of the degree certificate and transcript for each previous degree undertaken, a copy of your English language proficiency certificate (if relevant), and contact details of two referees who can comment on your previous academic performance (at least one should be from your current degree programme). References will be requested if you are selected for interview. Incomplete applications will not be considered.

Funding Notes

These studentships are available to UK and other EU nationals (due to funding criteria, EU nationals MUST have resided in the UK for three years prior to commencing the studentship) and provides funding for tuition fees and stipend, subject to eligibility.

Candidates should have (or expect to achieve) a minimum of a 2.1 Honours degree in a relevant subject. Applicants with a minimum of a 2.2 Honours degree may be considered provided they have a Distinction at Masters level.


Rudnick, D. et al. (2012) The Role of Landscape Connectivity in Planning and Implementing Conservation and Restoration Priorities. Issues in Ecology. Report No. 16. Ecological Society of America. Washington, DC.

Mossman, Panter, and Dolman (2012). Fens Biodiversity audit.

Bocedi, G., Palmer, S. C.F., Pe'er, G., Heikkinen, R. K., Matsinos, Y. G., Watts, K. and Travis, J. M.J. (2014), RangeShifter: a platform for modelling spatial eco-evolutionary dynamics and species' responses to environmental changes. Methods Ecol Evol, 5: 388–396. doi:10.1111/2041-210X.12162.

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