Note: This project is co-supervised by David Burslem, University of Aberdeen, and Alessandro Gimona, James Hutton Institute, Aberdeen.
Ecologists have mapped entire populations of trees over large areas of forest in order to understand their spatial distribution, dynamics and species interactions. These data exist in the form of marked point patterns in which points are identified by qualitative and quantitative marks such as species, tree size (diameter), and phenological status. In some cases, environmental covariates also exist in the form of data on elevation, soil nutrient concentrations and other habitat variables that can be interpolated at the location of each tree. Most plant populations manifest significant spatial structure in the form of aggregation, and the causes of clustering are of interest to theories of species coexistence. One cause of aggregation is dispersal limitation, which is widespread in plant populations and can give rise to clustering at small spatial scales. At larger scales, many species display habitat associations. Niche theories of plant species coexistence predict that species-habitat associations are pervasive in species-rich plant communities, but many previous attempts to characterise habitat associations have failed to account for the inherent spatial auto- correlation in species distributions that arises from dispersal limitation. An absence of species-habitat associations has been interpreted as evidence that neutral processes, rather than niche differentiation, explain plant species coexistence.
We have access to data-sets of fully-mapped tree communities on large tropical forest plots in Asia and Latin America. In some cases these data are derived from communities in which all stems ≥ 1 cm diameter at 1.3 m height (dbh) have been identified, measured and mapped on blocks of forest up to 50 ha in size (c. 300,000 stems of up to 1200 species). In addition we will work with a data-set of larger trees (stems ≥ 30 cm dbh) on a 160 ha plot in Malaysia for which multi-year records of phenological status (presence or absence of flowering) and habitat variables have been obtained. This project will develop and use flexible spatial statistical methods to assess the fine-scale association of tropical tree point distributions and phenological status with environmental correlates whilst accounting for spatial structure induced by dispersal limitation.
Potential applicants are encouraged to contact the Postgraduate Officer responsible for PhDs in Statistics, in advance of making a formal application. He is: Len Thomas, email [email protected]
To make a formal application, complete the appropriate online form at http://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/admissions/pg/apply/research/ (click on “Apply Now” on that page). You also need to provide the following supporting documentation: CV, evidence of qualifications and evidence of English language (if applicable). You are welcome to include a covering letter. You don’t need to provide a research proposal or a sample of academic written work. You will need to ask two referees to provide academic references for you – once you fill in their name on the form, they will be sent emails asking them to upload their references. Please note that we give serious consideration to both the stature of your referees and the remarks that they make about you. More details about the application procedure are given at http://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/admissions/pg/apply/research/
Multiple sources of scholarship funding are potentially available, including university, research council (EPSRC) and research group (CREEM). Some are open to international students, some to EU and some UK only.
Applicants should have a good first degree in mathematics, statistics or another scientific discipline with a substantial numerical component. Applicants with degrees in other subjects, such as biology, are invited to discuss their qualifications with the Postgraduate Officer. A masters-level degree is an advantage.
Many details of the general requirements and admissions procedure are given at the university web site http://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/admissions/pg/apply/research/