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QUADRAT DTP CASE: How effective are Protected Areas in conserving biodiversity?

Project Description

Protected Areas (PAs) are of critical importance to biodiversity conservation at a time of unprecedented rates of biodiversity loss due to multiple and interacting anthropogenic drivers of change. Aichi Target 11 of the Convention of Biological Diversity aims to increase the cover of PAs to 17% worldwide. However, the continuing decline in biodiversity both within and outside protected areas, coupled with changes in species distributions, deems that the effectiveness of PAs must be assessed rigorously. Are current PAs effective at mitigating species decline? Should PAs be "mobile" to track geographic shifts of endangered species? Can we predict where future PAs will deliver more effective outcomes? Evidence to address these questions remains lacking, while the urgency to develop evidence-based approaches to PAs continues to increase. For the first time, this unique project will address this knowledge gap for PAs in Scotland, by assessing how the biodiversity within them has changed relative to the wider countryside over recent decades, and by using past change to lay the foundations for the future planning and management of PAs. By incorporating evolutionary drivers of extinctions, such as reproductive pace and the effects of shared ancestry, this project also aims to develop mechanistic answers and predictions to inform conservation agendas focused on the implementation of PAs. Findings on past changes, and interpretation of what has driven them, will enable us to (1) evaluate whether static PAs are an effective approach to nature conservation and (2) provide advice on future conservation planning and management of PAs within the wider landscape.

The project will utilise extensive datasets covering changes in plant communities (University of Aberdeen, James Hutton Institute) and bird populations (Scottish Natural Heritage, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) at hundreds of sites to compare rates of biodiversity change across a range of habitats inside and outside of PAs in Scotland. It will identify drivers and rates of change, and whether these differ between PAs with and without specific management objectives and the wider countryside. The theoretical understanding behind these results will be deepened by linking the identified patterns of change with evolutionary mechanisms. The results will aid spatial conservation planning so that PAs are more likely to remain resilient to environmental and climate change in future.

This studentship provides a prime opportunity to develop advanced quantitative skills in addressing a cutting-edge issue in biodiversity conservation in partnership with a range of statutory and non-statutory organisations at a highly competitive level to progress in a career in conservation science. An internship at Scottish Natural Heritage, working on policy issues relating to PAs, will be undertaken by the student. Advanced statistical analysis and modelling will be used to create planning tools that can be used to ultimately future-proof PA planning and management in Scotland, with wider relevance to PAs globally.

This project is supported by Scottish Natural Heritage as a CASE partner.


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 providing they have a Distinction at Master’s level.


• Apply for Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Biological Sciences
• State name of the lead supervisor as ‘Name of Proposed Supervisor’ on application
• State ‘QUADRAT DTP’ as Intended Source of Funding
• Select the ‘Visit Website’ to apply now

Funding Notes

This project is funded by the NERC QUADRAT-DTP and is available to UK/EU nationals who meet the UKRI eligibility criteria. Please visit View Website for more information.

The studentship provides funding for tuition fees, stipend and a research training and support grant subject to eligibility.

Related Subjects

How good is research at Aberdeen University in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 89.42

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

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