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QUADRAT DTP CASE: Understanding and predicting the success of alien freshwater fish

Project Description


Alien species, those introduced outside their native range, are a major driver of environmental change that may lead to the extinction of local biodiversity, alter ecosystem services and cause huge economic damage. With increasing global trade, the number of new alien species is growing rapidly. Thus, identifying which species may establish and become invasive is an urgent global challenge. However, with no history of past invasion, it is hard to predict which new alien species will establish, and which ones will go naturally extinct. Freshwater fish are among the most frequently introduced vertebrates and many have major detrimental effects on the most vulnerable ecosystems on Earth – freshwater habitats. Surprisingly, we know remarkably little of why some fish species are more likely to establish and spread in novel regions, and which species are likely to be the future successful aliens.


To identify which species’ traits facilitate the introduction, establishment and spread of alien freshwater fish and predict the probability of success of potential future invaders, at global and local scale.


1) To build a global scale database on freshwater fish introductions, introduction pathways, and species traits;
2) To test which species characteristics determine the probability of introduction, establishment and spread of alien freshwater fish using the database, phylogenetic comparative methods and theoretical modelling;
3) To produce a Horizon scanning output that informs policy, by quantifying how different pathways to introduction (e.g. angling, fisheries, pet trade) influence the probability of release in novel regions, and deriving their probability invasion at global and local scale for species likely to be introduced globally and in the UK and Ireland in particular.
There is also the possibility to carry out case studies in the field in Ireland, Argentina or Indonesia.


The student will be trained in data collection and management of large datasets, state of the art phylogenetic comparative approaches in R and mathematical models of range expansion, and will use Queen’s University High Performance Computer KELVIN. The student will engage with stakeholders through a 3 months placement at AFBI.

While working on important ecological questions and a global challenge, the student will gain a rare set of interdisciplinary skills that increase employability, including cutting edge statistical and mathematical modelling, data management, numeracy, evaluating risk and uncertainty, as well as gaining in depth understanding of fundamental principles in ecology and freshwater science. Through the placement the student will gain better understanding and skills required to inform policy on environmental monitoring and management.

Start date:

1 October 2020


42 months


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.

Application procedure:

• Apply for Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Biological Sciences at Queen’s University Belfast
• State name of the lead supervisor as ‘Name of Proposed Supervisor’ on application
• State ‘QUADRAT DTP’ as Intended Source of Funding
• Select ‘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.


Capellini I, et al. 2015. The role of life history traits in mammalian invasion success. Ecology Letters 18: 1099-1107.

Fraser EJ, et al. 2015. Range expansion of an invasive species through a heterogeneous landscape - the case of American mink in Scotland. Divers. Distrib. 21, 888–900

Samson E, et al. 2017. Early engagement of stakeholders with individual-based modeling can inform research for improving invasive species management: the round goby as a case study. Front. Ecol. Evol. 5, 149

How good is research at Queen’s University Belfast in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 24.40

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

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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