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Unravelling the effects of environmental changes on genetic variation of beneficial arthropods in agroecosystem

   School of Biological Sciences

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  Dr Greta Bocedi, Dr Roslyn Henry  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

We are currently witnessing massive global declines in arthropod species richness and numbers. This has major implications for the productivity of agroecosystems, for example through loss of pollination services, and natural enemies that control pests. Remarkably, a completely neglected key aspect of biodiversity loss, although highlighted in the IUCN Biodiversity Convention, is the loss of genetic diversity. Despite many studies documenting worldwide declines in arthropods, there is virtually no data on the consequences for genetic diversity – the key material for adaptation and long-term persistence of species. This presents a significant scientific knowledge gap and poses a severe risk of underestimating the consequences of population declines. Decline in population size is expected to lead to increased genetic drift and inbreeding, and consequently reduce genetic diversity, and in turn affect key components of fitness and performance. This urgently calls for the integration of genetic diversity dynamics into management practices aimed to preserve biodiversity and ecosystem services.

The Novo Nordisk Foundation (Challenge Programme 2020) funded a 6-years international project to understand the role of genetic diversity in relation to current insect decline. This project involves extensive data collection across natural and agricultural environments, as well as from museum specimens, for population genomic analyses of arthropods. The project will investigate how interactions between abundance, species-specific traits and land-use parameters can influence population genetic diversity, as well the contribution of historical changes in genetic diversity to the current insect decline. The relationship between genetic diversity and organismal performance will be tested experimentally. Finally, a predictive modelling framework will be developed to integrate genetic, ecological, and environmental effects, which ultimately will be used for informed management strategies for preserving arthropods and their ecosystem services.

Within this broader project, the PhD project at Aberdeen will focus on developing and using the eco-genetic modelling framework, both in theoretical and applied ways, to answer questions related to the effect of land-use and climate change on arthropod populations’ genetic diversity, functional performance, and persistence. Possible area of research include:

• Theoretically investigating the impact of habitat fragmentation and disturbance on genetic diversity and life-history evolution.

• Generating predictions on how the interactions between land-use and species traits affect the maintenance of genetic variation, organismal performance and population persistence.

• Scenario testing for the effectiveness of alternative management strategies for maintaining arthropods populations and genetic diversity.

• Integrating the eco-genetic model with land use models.

This PhD position offers a unique opportunity to be part of a large and dynamic project which will employ several postdocs, PhD students and research assistants within the new Centre for Ecological Genetics, an international collaboration between PIs from universities in Aarhus (DK), Helsinki (FI) and Aberdeen (UK), with Aberdeen leading the modelling component. The student will work closely with the Aberdeen PI and postdoc, receive excellent training in eco-evolutionary genetically-explicit.

Informal enquiries would be welcomed for a discussion. Please contact the lead supervisor, Dr Greta Bocedi ([Email Address Removed]) for more information.

Essential background of student:

The candidate should have (or expected to achieve) a minimum of 2:1 Honours degree (or equivalent), ideally (but not required) an MSc in ecology, evolution or related, strong quantitative skills and passion and enthusiasm for learning about population genetics and developing eco-evolutionary theory and applied models. Previous modelling and/or programming experience would be desirable but not necessary.



PLEASE NOTE: International applicants are eligible to apply for this studentship but will have to find additional funding to cover the difference between overseas and home fees (approximately £17,000 per annum)

  • Formal applications can be completed online:
  • You should apply for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Biological Sciences to ensure your application is passed to the correct team.
  • Please clearly note the name of the supervisor and exact project title on the application form. If you do not mention the project title and the supervisor on your application it will not be considered for the studentship.
  • Candidates should have (or expect to achieve) a minimum of a 2:1 Honours degree at undergraduate level
  • General application enquiries can be made to [Email Address Removed]

Funding Notes

Funding for this project is provided by Novo Nordisk.
Funding includes Home rate tuition fees, research costs, and a stipend at the UKRI rate.
International applicants are eligible to apply for this studentship but will have to find additional funding to cover the difference between overseas and home fees (approximately £17,000 per annum)


• Bocedi et al. (2021) RangeShifter 2.0: an extended and enhanced platform for modelling spatial eco-evolutionary dynamics and species' responses to environmental changes. Ecography, 44: 1453-1462.
• Urban et al. (2022) Coding for Life: Designing a Platform for Projecting and Protecting Global Biodiversity,
• BioScience, 72: 91–104,
• Seibold et al. (2019) Arthropod decline in grasslands and forests is associated with landscape-level drivers. Nature 574, 671–674.
• Ellegren & Galtier (2016) Determinants of genetic diversity. Nat Rev Genet 17, 422–433.
• Frankham (2005). Genetics and extinction. Biological Conservation, 126(2), 131–140.
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