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When species can’t keep up: evaluating landscape conservation actions needed under climate change (Fully funded project with partner Butterfly Conservation)

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  • Full or part time
    Dr J Hodgson
    Dr M Botham
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

Project Description

Biodiversity is threatened by land-use change and climate change, and species need sufficient habitat if they are to track climate change with range shifts. One potential solution is to restore habitat networks to be bigger, better and more connected, but it is still not clear whether achievable amounts of restoration could facilitate climate tracking for the species that are now stuck. The grizzled skipper butterfly, Pyrgus malvae, like many species, occurs on several different broad habitat types; some may be of higher quality, but others may be easier to restore. Climate envelope models predict that the grizzled skipper should be expanding northwards with recent climate change in Britain, yet nationwide monitoring shows no northward shift and widespread decline in population numbers.

This project will test competing explanations for why the grizzled skipper has not expanded its range in Britain, and assess how habitat restoration at its northern range margin might help. A combination of fieldwork, spatial statistics and population modelling will be used to achieve the following objectives:
• Define the habitat quality of selected brownfield sites, grasslands and woodland clearings for grizzled skipper in terms of host plant abundance and the microclimate.
• Explore, using dynamic distribution models, the importance of habitat availability in predicting grizzled skipper distributions.
• Test by simulation the impact of future land-use scenarios on the ability of the grizzled skipper to track climate change. Specifically, to test impact of (a) small numbers of high quality habitat patches versus larger numbers of lower quality patches and (b) opportunistic arrangements versus strict spatial targeting to create connected chains.

This project is led by Jenny Hodgson at the University of Liverpool, and will be in collaboration with Marc Botham and Nick Isaac at the NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH). The CEH Biological Records Centre holds world-leading biodiversity and land-use databases which will greatly benefit this project. The charity Butterfly Conservation is offering practical and financial support as a CASE partner. Tom Brereton, head of monitoring, will be most closely involved and is an expert on P. malvae; Butterfly Conservation co-ordinate nationwide monitoring and conservation efforts for P. malvae and other species of concern, and are interested in applying the results of this project to further their conservation goals. The supervisory team has extensive experience in quantifying species’ responses to global change, and will provide training in cutting-edge methods.

Please note that this studentship is only open to UK residents (at least last 3 years) who hold UK or other EU nationality. It is very important to specify your residency and nationality when applying. Applicants should hold a minimum of a 2:1 at UK Honours Degree level or equivalent, in a biological or environmental science subject. A relevant masters qualification is desirable. It will be advantageous if applicants have experience in: population or community ecology fieldwork, especially mark-release-recapture; GIS; species distribution models and/or GLMs; independent project planning and management.

Application process:
The email form below can be used for full applications - the form will be received by the Institute of Integrative Biology and forwarded to Dr Hodgson. Please attach to the form your CV, a covering letter outlining your background and suitability for this project, and the details of two potential referees who must be available to respond in late June/early July 2017 (Either combine this in one file or in a zip folder). When preparing your application, please note the eligibility conditions and desirable attributes above.

Funding Notes

This studentship will start in October 2017 (and is not subject to competition with other projects). Tuition fees, research costs and a stipend (tax-free, £14,553 /year in 2017-18) will be funded by NERC for four years under the Doctoral Training Partnership “Adapting to the Challenges of a Changing Environment” (ACCE, http://acce.group.shef.ac.uk/ ). ACCE – a collaboration between the Universities of Sheffield, Liverpool, and York – is the only dedicated ecology/evolution/conservation Doctoral Training Partnership in the UK. The CASE partner will supplement the research costs by £1000/year.


Scriven, S.A., Hodgson, J.A., McClean, C.J. & Hill, J.K. (2015) Protected areas in Borneo may fail to conserve tropical forest biodiversity under climate change. Biological Conservation 184: 414-23

Hodgson, J.A., Bennie, J.J., Dale, G., Longley, N., Wilson, R.J. & Thomas, C.D. (2015) Predicting microscale shifts in the distribution of the butterfly Plebejus argus at the northern edge of its range. Ecography: 10.1111/ecog.00825

Stewart, A.J.A., Bantock, T., Beckmann, B.C., Botham, M.S., Hubble, D.S. & Roy, D.B. (2015) The role of ecological interactions in determining species ranges and range changes. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 115, 647–663.

Curtis, R.J., Brereton, T.M., Dennis, R.L.H., Carbone, C. & Isaac, N.J.B. (2015) Butterfly abundance is determined by food availability and is mediated by species traits. Journal of Applied Ecology, Online early. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/1365-2664.

Bennie, J.J., Hodgson, J.A., Lawson, C.R., Holloway, C.T.R., Roy, D.B., Brereton, T.M., Thomas, C.D. & Wilson, R.J. (2013) Range expansion through fragmented landscapes under a variable climate. Ecology Letters 16: 921-9

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