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QUADRAT DTP: Global profiles of species declines and success in the era of climate change

Project Description

The alarming extinctions of species worldwide pose unprecedented challenges for wildlife and human wellbeing [1]. But, what factors drive species to extinctions? Why do some species face extinction risks while others seem to be thriving? Do some species benefit from the extinctions of other species? Just like medicine and the insurance industry do, can we identify the ‘profile’ of features that define threatened species, and the profile of species that are thriving with climate change? These are all critical questions that we are only starting to elucidate. Traditionally, conservation agendas around the world have estimated extinction risks based on the ‘conservation status’ that is assigned to each individual species – these are static ‘labels’ used to class species within either threatened or non-threatened categories [2]. However, while this classic approach has shaped our understanding of the modern extinction crisis, it largely neglects whether species are currently undergoing population decreases, increases or stability. Estimating extinction risks based on these ‘population trends’ is a critical pending challenge, given that ongoing population declines lead to extinctions (even in species currently classed as non-threatened), while ongoing population increases can indicate progressive recovery (even in species currently classed as threatened).

Only a handful of studies have attempted to advance our understanding of biodiversity declines based on population trends at global scale [3]. This project addresses this gap with the aim of influencing conservation agendas, by implementing a global-scale research program investigating the drivers of population declines and increases in the world’s amphibians – one of nature’s most endangered animal lineages. The project is part of the Global Amphibian Biodiversity Project (GABiP), a scientific initiative investigating the diversification, distribution, and extinctions of amphibians worldwide. Using a global dataset spanning population trends, reproduction, morphology, ecology, and distribution for >4,000 species, and a range of state-of-the-art phylogenetic and spatial computational techniques, this project will (1) elucidate the ‘profile’ of traits shared by species in decline and of those with increasing/stable populations, (2) combine multiple environmental variables to establish the geographic areas hosting high concentrations of declining and succeeding species, to ultimately (3) develop quantitative predictions about geographic areas of threat and of success around the globe, to inform conservation action and policy.

The PhD candidate will gain a range of critical skills, including (i) an advanced conceptual understanding of climate change biology and conservation sciences for competitive progression in a career spanning these fields; (ii) advanced expertise in management and analysis of large-scale datasets using the software R; (iii) expertise in ecological and spatial modelling using techniques such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS); (iv) expertise in phylogenetic methods for comparative analyses of data; and (v) advanced expertise in scientific writing gained through leadership/participation in the preparation of publications for leading journals.

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.


[1]. Pecl et al. (2017). Biodiversity redistribution under climate change: impacts on ecosystems and human well-being. Science, 355: eaai9214.

[2]. Roll et al. (2017). The global distribution of tetrapods reveals a need for targeted reptile conservation. Nature Ecology & Evolution, 1, 1677-1682.

[3]. Ceballos et al. (2017). Biological annihilation via the ongoing sixth mass extinction signaled by vertebrate population losses and declines. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, 114: E6089-E6096.

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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