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QUADRAT DTP: The individual within the invaders - how individual variability influences invasion interactions and outcomes


About the Project

Invasive alien species (IAS) are a central component of anthropogenic change, and represent major threats to ecosystems and socio-economic development worldwide. The rate of IAS introductions is increasing, and a changing climate will facilitate further range shifts in many of these species. There is an urgent need not only to better understand the mechanisms by which IAS succeed in colonising novel locations, but to successfully predict how interactions with native species will proceed under changing abiotic conditions. This will allow management to effectively maintain biodiversity in these often time-critical and under-resourced contexts.

While substantial resources have been channelled into the control of IAS, typically such actions occur at a population-level and focus on ’average’ regional responses that may not be truly informative of any specific organism. Although heritable differences between individuals are central to our understanding of evolutionary and ecological processes, individual variation is rarely explicitly considered within an invasion biology framework[1]. Yet an individual-level understanding enables us to determine underlying mechanisms explaining population-level patterns and, ultimately, to predict novel species interactions. For example, differences in individual motivation levels, aggression, dispersal and feeding rates, together with variation in population densities and abiotic conditions, can combine to affect interaction outcomes at temporal scales ranging from short-term behavioural responses to life-time reproductive success. Similarly, individual-level variation in responses are critical in determining the effectiveness of management techniques[1].

Aquatic environments are considered at particular risk from IAS due to their exposure to multiple invasion pathways[2]. Disruption of these ecosystems by IAS has potentially severe implications for key ecosystem services including nutrient and water cycling. For example, communities can be transformed following invasion, resulting in ’new normal’, as seen with invasive predatory amphipods that radically alter food web structure and function[3].

This project will utilise both field- and laboratory-based approaches to tease apart these complex interactions, with the two complimentary strands informing each other as the work progresses. Examination of individual variation in native and invasive individuals’ responses at locations across invasion gradients will provide a natural experiment with full ecological relevance. This will be complemented by controlled experiments in micro- and meso-cosms allowing manipulation of specific variables, utilising the outstanding research facilities at the Aquarium (UoA) and Portaferry Marine Laboratory (QUB).

This multidisciplinary approach unites newly developed metrics in behavioural and community ecology, conservation and invasion biology. Combining these complimentary methodologies will allow us to investigate the effects of fundamental ecological processes including competition and predation, integrating individual and community processes in the study of IAS. We will be able to test a suite of individual-level interactions and management approaches, determining their generality and appropriateness across ecological contexts.

The candidate will gain a range of transferable skills that will make them competitive for a career in research, applied conservation or more broadly, including: effective experimental design and fieldwork skills; expertise in analysis of large datasets; remote monitoring technologies; expertise in scientific writing; translation of research into policy and results dissemination to a wide range of audiences.

More project details are available here:

How to apply:

Funding Notes

QUADRAT studentships are open to UK and international candidates (EU and non-EU). Funding will cover UK tuition fees/stipend/research & training support grant only.

Before applying please check full funding and eligibility information: View Website


[1] Garvey P, Banks P, Suraci, JP, Bodey TW, Glen AS, Jones CJ, McArthur C, Norbury GL, Price CJ, Russell JC, Sih A (2020) Leveraging motivations, personality, and sensory cues for vertebrate pest management Trends in Ecology & Evolution

[2] Gallardo B, Clavero M, Sanchez MI, Vila M (2015) Blobal ecological impacts of invasive species in aquatic ecosystems Global Change Biology
doi: 10.1111/gcb.13004

[3] Laverty C, Dick JTA, Alexander ME, Lucy FE (2014) Differential ecological impacts of invader and native predatory freshwater amphipods under environmental change are revealed by comparative functional responses Biological Invasions

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