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SUPER DTP: Populations at the edge: range dynamics and conservation of the Great Crested Newt under global change.


   School of Biological Sciences


About the Project

Under anthropogenic exploitation and rapid environmental changes, many species are challenged with novel conditions, some are shifting their ranges moving to new suitable areas, and many are now threatened or extinct.

Populations at the edges of species’ range are often the most vulnerable(1): they are small, fragmented and less connected; harbour low genetic diversity and occupy suboptimal habitat; often face multiple anthropogenic stressors. However, edge populations might be key for successful species’ range shifting: they already occupy locations where suitability will improve and thus could potentially readily expand, and might possess unique and locally favourable genetic variants. Understanding how these populations will respond to environmental change, both ecologically and evolutionarily, whether they will be able to persist under multiple natural and anthropogenic stressors, and how better we can assist them in this process, is crucial for effective species’ conservation under global change.

Predictive process-based models, that integrate the fundamental processes shaping species’ ecology and adaptive responses, such as genetic variation, demography and dispersal, together with assessing impacts of multiple environmental stressors, are a powerful tool to both better understanding species’ range dynamics and making better predictions of likely species’ responses to future environmental change(2). These models are being developed, and they are now ripe for testing and for applications of conservation relevance(3, 4).

Amphibians are declining globally and are a high priority for biodiversity conservation. They are particularly vulnerable to multiple stressors as they rely on wetlands, an ecosystem particularly challenged by climate change and habitat loss, and are threatened by invasive species, diseases and pollution. The great crested newt Triturus cristatus is a declining species in Europe. In Britain it is an important wetland flagship species and has shown the highest rate of decline in recent years amongst native amphibians. In Scotland, T. cristatus is uncommon, with a restricted and fragmented range and, importantly, Scotland represents the north-west range of the species’ world range(5). Much suitable unoccupied habitat has been identified and more is predicted to become suitable with climate change, creating potential for these edge populations to expand their range(6). However, multiple threats such has increasing habitat fragmentation, due to urbanization, agricultural changes and industrial developments, increasing drought, reduced genetic diversity, and increasing risk of predation from non-native species, make it extremely uncertain whether this expansion and persistence will be at all possible.

The overall aim of this project is to understand and predict the persistence of T. cristatus in Scotland under ongoing climate change and multiple stressors, and its potential expansion from marginal populations, to inform conservation management, moving towards a pro-active, rather than reactive, management of declining amphibians under global change.

Specific objectives are:

  1. Characterise patterns of adaptive genetic variation across T. cristatus British climatic gradients, and to assess inbreeding risk and amount of genetic variation for the Highland populations.
  2. Forecast responses of T. cristatus Scottish populations to multiple natural and anthropogenic stressors with integrated process-based modelling.
  3. Test the effectiveness of alternative management interventions designed to improve persistence of T. cristatus under environmental change.

Candidate Background:

The ideal candidate would have strong passion for ecology, genetics, and evolutionary biology; be enthusiastic about learning new skills and have some experience in quantitative analyses. They would hold a minimum of a 2:1 Honours degree (or equivalent) in biology, ecology, zoology or related disciplines and have strong quantitative skills. A master’s degree in a relevant discipline would be desirable, as some experience in computer modelling and/or molecular methods.

We encourage applications from all backgrounds and communities, and are committed to having a diverse, inclusive team. Informal enquiries are welcome, please contact Dr Greta Bocedi () for further information.

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 APPLICATION PROCEDURE:

  • This studentship is offered to candidates worldwide.
  • Please visit this page for full instructions on how to submit your application
  • Applications not following the correct application procedure will not be considered.
  • Please DO NOT apply through the University application portal
  • Application enquiries should be made to . Please ensure you enter SUPER DTP in the subject box.

Funding Notes

This 42 month, fully funded project is part of the SUPER DTP. Applications are open to UK and overseas candidates.
Funding includes:
• A monthly stipend for accommodation and living costs, based on UKRI rates (currently £17,668 pa for 2022/23, updated annually)
• Tuition Fees (home rate tuition fees, international candidates for the School of Biological Sciences will have to fund the fee difference of ~£18k per annum themselves)
• Research and training costs
•International students must consider visa costs , immigration health surcharge and any other additional costs associated with relocation to the UK.
The expected start date is October 2023.

References

1. C. P. Nadeau, M. C. Urban, Eco-evolution on the edge during climate change. Ecography 42, 1280–1297 (2019).
2. M. C. Urban, et al., Coding for Life: Designing a Platform for Projecting and Protecting Global Biodiversity. Bioscience (2021) https:/doi.org/10.1093/biosci/biab099.
3. G. Bocedi, et al., RangeShifter 2.0: an extended and enhanced platform for modelling spatial eco-evolutionary dynamics and species’ responses to environmental changes. Ecography 44, 1453–1462 (2021).
4. D. J. I. Seaman, et al., Orangutan movement and population dynamics across human-modified landscapes: implications of policy and management. Landsc Ecol 36, 2957–2975 (2021).
5. D. O’Brien, J. E. Hall, A hypothesis to explain the distribution of the great crested newt Triturus cristatus in the Highlands of Scotland. Herpetological Bulletin 119, 9–14 (2012).
6. D. O’Brien, et al., Reversing a downward trend in threatened peripheral amphibian (Triturus cristatus) populations through interventions combining species, habitat and genetic information. J Nat Conserv 64 (2021).

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