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QUADRAT DTP: Greening cities: how do street trees contribute to urban biodiversity and ecosystem functions?

Project Description

This PhD project will investigate the role of an iconic but poorly studied system (street trees) for enhancing urban biodiversity and support ecosystem functions (e.g. pollination), involving relevant stakeholders to enhance policy and planning guidelines.


Across the world, cities are ever increasing in size, and there is growing interest in urban ecosystems, both in terms of fundamental research and applied practice. While there is substantial information on the ecology of urban “green” habitats (gardens, parks), little is known about ecosystems dominated by tarmac or concrete. It can be expected that in such environments, communities and ecosystem functions would be impoverished, but how much will depend on local conditions (e.g. area of exposed soil, type of cover, pollution), configuration of the cityscape, and the type of species. For instance, while ground insect diversity might reflect distance from sources (parks & gardens), flying pollinators might depend mostly on the availability of floral resources in the landscape, and their capacity to navigate that environment. To test these effects, street trees are an ideal system. They constitute highly replicated “green islands” in a matrix of sealed surfaces (high consistency of planting patterns on individual street segments), but have been so far poorly studied. While they have been shown to have huge benefits for energy use and the wellbeing of urban users, their management is a controversial topic in the UK (see e.g. example link), and rarely includes wider ecological considerations.

Study system:

Ground dwelling invertebrates and flying pollinators, in urban areas of Belfast, Aberdeen, and Malmo (Sweden). This may be expanded to other taxa and locations.

Example of questions to address:

Can we detect Species-Area relationships at the base of street trees? What is the functional profile of species colonising street trees? How does the diversity of species colonising street trees vary with the composition and configuration of the cityscape? Where do the colonisers of street trees come from, urban gardens or the surrounding countryside? How to increase the amount and diversity of floral resources available to urban pollinators? Can all pollinators fly through a city? Can we identify tree planting strategies that maximise biodiversity?


This PhD position will offer great opportunities to refine skills in survey design, ecological modelling, outreach techniques, spatial planning, and possibly genetic and genomic approaches. The student will benefit from the support of Belfast and Aberdeen City Councils and the Department for Infrastructure in Northern Ireland, providing experience in urban management and public engagement. The project will be part of an exciting international collaboration on urban pollinators with Lund and Stockholm universities, in Sweden, and research visits abroad are to be expected.

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.


Aguilera et al 2019 Intensive management reduces butterfly diversity over time in urban green spaces Urban Ecosystems 22, 2

Caplat et al. 2016 Looking beyond the mountain: dispersal barriers in a changing world. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 14(5): 261-268

Stelzer et al. 2010 Winter Active Bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) Achieve High Foraging Rates in Urban Britain. PLOS ONE 5(3)

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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