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The stability, diversity and complexity of food web networks under climate change

Project Description

The structure and complexity of food web networks underpin our understanding of biodiversity and the stability, persistence and functioning of ecological communities. Furthermore, communities are facing multiple, simultaneous threats from climate change. There is a pressing need to develop predictive tools that help mitigate the impacts of climate change on large terrestrial, marine and freshwater communities.

Theory of what gives rise to the structure, dynamics and diversity of real communities focuses on foraging behaviour and body size. The PhD will work with this advanced theory to address several questions including (but not limited to):

(1) can we develop models to better predict food web stability, diversity and complexity when there are species that eat thing bigger, rather than smaller than them (like parasites)?;
(2) can we conduct computer-based experiments to predict how multiple, simultaneous aspects of climate change influence the stability, diversity and complexity of communities?;
(3) what are the determinants of robustness to extinction?;
(4) can we reconcile food web models that focus on species with other types of models that focus on size?

The post would suit a motivated student interested in food web ecology, networks, species interactions and climate change with experience with and/or enthusiasm for mathematical modelling and computer based work, using R and Julia. Extensive training will be provided.

Science Graduate School
As a PhD student in one of the science departments at the University of Sheffield, you’ll be part of the Science Graduate School. You’ll get access to training opportunities designed to support your career development by helping you gain professional skills that are essential in all areas of science. You’ll be able to learn how to recognise good research and research behaviour, improve your communication abilities and experience the breadth of technologies that are used in academia, industry and many related careers. Visit to learn more.

Funding Notes

Fully funded studentships cover: (i) a stipend at the UKRI rate (£15,009 per annum for 2019-2020), (ii) research costs, and (iii) tuition fees. Studentship(s) are available to UK and EU students who meet the UK residency requirements.
This PhD project is part of the NERC funded Doctoral Training Partnership “ACCE” (Adapting to the Challenges of a Changing Environment View Website. ACCE is a partnership between the Universities of Sheffield, Liverpool, York, CEH, and NHM.
Shortlisted applicants will be invited for an interview to take place in the w/c 10th February 2020.


This project connects with highly cited theory on the role of foraging biology in the complexity and structure of communities:

Beckerman, A. P., et al. (2006). ""Foraging biology predicts food web complexity."" Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 103: 13745-13749.
Petchey, O. L., et al. (2008). ""Size, foraging, and food web structure."" Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 105: 4191-4196.

Related Subjects

How good is research at University of Sheffield in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 44.90

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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