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The Impact of Species Extinctions on Biological Communities and Human Wellbeing

   Faculty of Biological Sciences

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  Prof Alison Dunn, Dr C Quinn, Dr G Holmes  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

Extinction is one of the great challenges of our times, with over a million plant and animal species under threat. As well as the startling global figures, many of us are witnessing extinctions and the local and national level driven by human factors including habitat loss, the spread of invasive species, and climate change. For example, the red squirrel has been driven extinct across much of England, as a result of competition and disease spread by the invasive grey squirrel, with the remaining populations restricted to Wales, Ireland, Scotland and NE England. The endangered (IUCN) white clawed crayfish has been driven extinct across much of the UK, with only a few isolated populations remaining. We are currently witnessing the spread of ash die back across Europe, with its spread predicted to lead to the loss of 80% of ash trees in the UK. 

The impact of these extinctions reaches beyond individual species, affecting biological communities, ecosystem services and human wellbeing. Of particular interest is the impact of extinctions on those working and volunteering in ecological conservation. Recent studies have shown a beneficial effect of conservation on mental health; participants reported that they found conservation activities to be purposeful and meaningful activities with benefits for the environment and also for participants’ health. Satisfaction with contributions to conservation was found to be associated with better mental health . However, little is known about the impact of conservation losses on the wellbeing of those individuals involved in conservation. Individuals involved in conservation may dedicate years to projects to conserve vulnerable habitats and flagship endangered species. How does extinction of these species impact the biological community, and how does it affect the health and wellbeing of conservation workers, volunteers and the public?  

The University of Leeds is recruiting PhD students to work on the meaning, impact and legacy of extinction from an interdisciplinary perspective. You will utilise literature from different disciplines as well as working with conservation professionals and volunteers involved in species conservation and local exinctions to explore these issues. Approaches will be developed as you chat to the supervisors and may include biological science, environmental social science, human geography, and ecology. Case studies include the white clawed crayfish and those involved with its conservation. Yorkshire is home to the last remaining strongholds of this globally endangered species. However, a recent outbreak of disease is now causing crayfish die off in local water courses. How will this extinction affect those involved with its conservation including government agencies, NGOs and volunteers?

You will work with supervisors from the School of Biology (Alison M. Dunn [Email Address Removed]), the Sustainability Research Institute (Claire Quinn [Email Address Removed]) and the School of Geography (George Holmes [Email Address Removed]) to develop an interdisciplinary project approach to this issue. The successful student will join the University of Leeds Leverhulme Doctoral Training Programme in Extinctions

Applicants MUST first discuss their ideas and develop their proposal with one of the supervisors and MUST then complete the application process outlined below by the application closing date to be considered.

How to Apply

Stage 1

  • Candidates are required to approach a potential supervisor or supervisors to discuss their project OR Select a project from the list on the Extinction Studies website prior to submitting an application.

Stage 2 

  • Apply for a research programme of study by completing the application form. In order to be considered for the scholarship you must submit all the required supporting documents for your application for study*. Any study applications that are not accompanied by the documents requested by the scholarship deadline will not be considered for the award.

Please note that an unsuccessful application for this scholarship does not exclude you from applying for other study opportunities or scholarships offered by the University of Leeds. 

*The supporting documents you need to provide with your study application are listed on the website for the School/Faculty in which you are applying to study. 

Stage 3

Click here for more information about eligibility and how to apply.

Funding Notes

This award is in association with the Leverhulme Trust Doctoral Scholarship in Extinction Studies, which provide fees at the University of Leeds home rate. The awards also provides a maintenance grant at the standard UKRI rate (£17,668 in Session 2022/23 for full-time study). The award will be made for one year in the first instance and renewable for a further period of up to two years (for full-time PGRs) or four years (for part-time PGRs), subject to satisfactory academic progress.


1.    UN report 2019
5.    Coventry et al. 2019 
6.    Pienkowski et al 2023 

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