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Valuing ecosystem services provided by UK bats under climate change. PhD in Biosciences (NERC GW4 + DTP)

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Monday, January 06, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Lead Supervisor
Dr Orly Razgour, Department of Biosciences, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter

Additional Supervisors
Prof Ian Bateman, The Business School, University of Exeter,
Dr Carol Williams, Bat Conservation Trust
Dr Marije Schaafsma, School of Geography and Environmental Science, University of Southampton

Location: University of Exeter, Streatham Campus, Exeter EX4 4QJ

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC GW4+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP). The GW4+ DTP consists of the GW4 Alliance of research-intensive universities: the University of Bath, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and the University of Exeter plus five unique and prestigious Research Organisation partners: British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory. The partnership aims to provide a broad training in the Earth, Environmental and Life sciences, designed to train tomorrow’s leaders in scientific research, business, technology and policy-making. For further details about the programme please see

For eligible successful applicants, the studentships comprises:

- An stipend for 3.5 years (currently £15,009 p.a. for 2019/20) in line with UK Research and Innovation rates
- Payment of university tuition fees;
- A research budget of £11,000 for an international conference, lab, field and research expenses;
- A training budget of £3,250 for specialist training courses and expenses.
- Travel and accommodation is covered for all compulsory DTP cohort events.
- No course fees for courses run by the DTP

We are currently advertising projects for a total of 10 studentships at the University of Exeter

Project Background

Given the stark anthropogenically-driven global decline of biodiversity, there is an urgent need to understand nature’s contribution to people and how it will be affected by biodiversity decline. Bats are thought to provide important ecosystem services through the suppression of insect pest populations. Molecular approaches have revealed the consumption of a variety of insect pest species by bats [e.g. 1]. However, the actual economic contribution of these pest control services has only been evaluated for one bat species and one crop pest in the USA [2]. In the UK, lack of knowledge about the ecosystem services provided by bats and their economic value is hampering advocacy for bat conservation and engagement of the agricultural and forestry sectors in their conservation. Climate change is a major threat to biodiversity and the ecosystem services they provide. Bats are predicted to experience range contractions and distributional changes under future climate change [3], but little is known about how these range changes will interact with insect pest distribution changes and affect future pest control services.

Project Aims and Methods

This interdisciplinary project combines ecological, molecular, modelling and economic approaches to quantify the ecosystem services provided by UK bats and predict how they will be impacted by future climate change. Through working with our CASE partner, the Bat Conservation Trust, and our collaborative partner, Natural England, and linking to a cross-European COST Action Network on climate change and bats, this project will provide the evidence-base for bat conservation advocacy.

The PhD student will develop the following objectives:

1. Test the ecosystem role of bats through identifying the extent of consumption of major agricultural and forest pests by UK bats. Extensive field sampling across England will be coupled with molecular tools (DNA metabarcoding) to characterise the diet of UK bats and identify key bat species involved in the control of insect pest populations in arable land, pasture and forests.

2. Carry out economic valuation of the contribution of bats to the UK agricultural and forestry sectors through pest suppression. Valuation will be made based on data from objective 1 combined with the Natural Environment Valuation Online (NEVO) tool developed by the University of Exeter, which models the economic activity and value of the agricultural and forestry sectors in the UK. The PhD project will expand this tool with bat-related pest suppression services.

3. Model impacts of future climate change on UK bats and the pest control services they provide. Use ecological niche models to predict future changes in the distribution of key bat species and their insect pest prey and assess future distributional mismatches and their impact on the provision of pest control services.

Funding Notes

NERC GW4+ funded studentship available for September 2020 entry. For eligible students, the studentship will provide funding of fees and a stipend which is currently £15,009 per annum for 2019-20.


References / Background reading list

[1] Aizpurua O, et al. (2018) Agriculture shapes the trophic niche of a bat preying on multiple pest arthropods across Europe: Evidence from DNA metabarcoding. Molecular Ecology 27: 815–825

[2] Boyles JG, et al. (2011) Economic importance of bats in agriculture. Science 332: 41-42.

[3] Razgour O, et al. (2013) The shaping of genetic variation in edge-of-range populations under past and future climate change. Ecology Letters 16: 1258-1266.

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