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Using isotope-derived metrics of food web architecture to test the success of habitat restorations

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  • Full or part time
    Prof J Grey
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Project Description

The practice of ‘habitat restoration’ began in earnest in the early 1900s and has gained momentum owing to the perceived benefits provided to both wildlife and society. However, there are surprisingly few robust assessments as to its efficacy and success. To communicate the worth of such work (in supporting the Ecosystem Service approach & Natural Capital principles) to the wider public and to potential future funders, and thus maintain, increase and maximise the potential impact, there is urgent need for some simple and accessible assessments using key parameters.

We will develop the use of new academic research techniques for restoration practitioners, to improve scientific-based outcomes in the delivery sector. We propose to use the concept of the food web in this context because: a) the knock-on effects of habitat degradation translate into food web alterations very quickly; and b), the food web is recognised by a broad swathe of society and from a very early age. Hence, it can be used as an engagement & educational tool that will increase the understanding and value of restoration projects, as well as a tangible and effective measure for funding applications. Food web architecture (which encompasses ecological measures such as food chain length; niche space; resource diversity, trophic redundancy) can be qualified and quantified using stable isotopes and derived metrics. These parameters encompass suites of species and ecological information (irrespective of ecosystem type) which expands the public audience engaged in the outcomes of restoration and reflects the focus of restorations to deliver ‘multiple benefit’ outcomes. Using river habitat restoration schemes (e.g. weir removals; by-pass channels; reach rehabilitations) of varying scales as planned by the RRT, the student will use stable isotope-derived metrics to determine food web structure and address various questions and hypotheses. These might include whether: a) habitat degradation of a certain type (e.g. a weir) impacts upon the food web in a specific way; b) restorations effectively recreate the ‘natural’ food web architecture; and c) some components of the food web respond quicker than others, and can trajectories of restoration be ‘mapped’.

Further Information:

Academic Requirements: First-class or 2.1 (Hons) degree, or Masters degree (or equivalent) in an appropriate subject.

Deadline for applications: 14 February 2016

Provisional Interview Date: [tbc] Week Beginning 29 February 2016

Start Date: October 2016

Application process: Please upload a completed application form (download from outlining your background and suitability for this project and a CV at LEC Postgraduate Research Applications,

You also require two references, please send the reference form (download from to your two referees and ask them to email it to Andy Harrod ([Email Address Removed]), Postgraduate Research (PGR) Co-ordinator, Lancaster Environment Centre by the deadline.

Due to the limited time between the closing date and the interview date, it is essential that you ensure references are submitted by the closing date or as soon as possible.

Funding Notes

Full studentships (UK/EU tuition fees and stipend (£14,057 2015/16 [tax free])) for UK/EU students for 3.5 years or full studentships (International tuition fees and stipend (£14,057 2015/16 [tax free])) for International students for 3 years.


1. Jackson MC, Jackson A, Britton JR, Donohue I, Harper DM & Grey J 2012 Population-level metrics of trophic structure derived from stable isotopes and their application to invasion ecology. PLoS One 7(2): e31757
2. Jackson MC, Jones T, Milligan M, Sheath D, Taylor J, Ellis A, England J & Grey J 2014 Niche differentiation among invasive crayfish and their impacts on ecosystem structure and functioning. Freshwat Biol 59: 1123-1135
3. Kiljunen M, Grey J, Sinisalo T, Harrod C, Immonen H & Jones RI 2006 A revised model for carbon stable isotopes of aquatic organisms, and implications for the use of isotope mixing models to evaluate diets of consumers. J Appl Ecol 43: 1213-1222.
4. Harrod C, Grey J, McCarthy TK & Morrissey M 2005 Stable isotope analyses provide new insights into ecological plasticity in a mixohaline population of European eel Oecologia 144: 673–683.

How good is research at Lancaster University in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 44.90

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