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Validating environmental DNA as a powerful and cost-effective monitoring tool for declining, elusive and invasive mammals

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Friday, November 08, 2019
  • Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Project Description

Academic Supervisor: Dr Allan McDevitt (University of Salford)

Academic Co-Supervisors: Dr Erinma Ochu (University of Salford), Prof. Xavier Lambin (University of Aberdeen), Dr Chris Sutherland (University of Massachusetts-Amherst) and Dr Naiara Guimarães Sales (University of Lisbon)

Industrial Supervisor: Robert Raynor (Scottish Natural Heritage)
The studentship is fully funded and includes:

• A fee waiver
• A stipend of £14,777 p.a. for three and a half years
• All bench fees and consumable costs
• Funds specifically allocated for conference travel

Final date for applications: 08/11/2019

Interviews will be held on: 20/11/2019

The candidate must be in a position to register by 27/01/2020

Description: To better understand and mitigate impacts on biodiversity, accurately measuring biodiversity is essential. However, due to the costs and effort required, current monitoring programmes are often species-specific. Yet, very few species are likely to be detected at all times when they are present and this imperfect detection (which increases for elusive and rare species) can lead to biased estimates of occurrence and hinder species conservation. Environmental DNA (eDNA) allows the identification of taxa/species from the DNA extracted from an environmental sample (e.g. water, soil) and has revolutionised biomonitoring programmes in both marine and freshwater ecosystems. Successful applications have been demonstrated in tracking biological invasions, detecting rare and endangered species, to describing entire communities. Mammals are thus far relatively neglected in eDNA studies.

This PhD project proposes to investigate if eDNA can provide a real-world application for detecting and monitoring mammalian species of concern (in terms of both conservation and invasive) that could be applied widely and in a cost-effective manner in comparison to more conventional survey methods. Students will develop field and laboratory skills in eDNA metabarcoding and ddPCR, along with bioinformatics and analytical skills such as occupancy modelling. The project will also involve a significant citizen science component around sample collection and design.

Candidates should have a BSc or higher in the fields of Biology, Ecology, Genetics or Environmental Sciences. They must be willing to learn and invest in:

1. Conceptual and practical issues in conservation and species management
2. Laboratory molecular work to the highest standard of rigor
3. Field work in scenic but at times remote sites
4. Analytical, statistical methods that will give meaning to the data
5. Work and communicate with non-scientific audiences

For full details of student requirements and specification please visit:


Informal enquiries may be made to Dr McDevitt by email:

Curriculum vitae and supporting statement explaining their interest should be sent to

Funding Notes

Students must be able to demonstrate a relevant UK connection whether this be a UK/EU National or an ordinary resident for a period of 3 years immediately prior to the date of application for an award.

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