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What’s driving extinctions in a global biodiversity hotspot? Quantifying impacts of climate change and land-use change on endemic species in the Nilgris, India

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  • Full or part time
    Prof Simon Potts
    Dr D Senapathi
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

Project Description

"Climate and land use changes are key drivers of biodiversity decline worldwide. While the individual pathways by which each of these threats shapes biodiversity loss have been intensively researched, their combined effects are yet to be fully explored and quantified. Interactive associations between these factors are however increasingly suspected to occur, and could have serious implications for populations and communities of conservation concern, as well as for ecosystem function and services. In particular, these interactions could have particularly damaging effects in remnant biodiversity hotspots as climate change intensifies and global demand for natural resources continues to rise.

A key conservation priority is thus to assess the shape and strength of these interactions, but lack of long-term data often impedes such efforts. Recent changes in the accessibility of satellite remote sensing information have however enabled scientists to cost-effectively detect and quantify spatial and temporal changes in various environmental and biological parameters across large areas. This has opened new avenues of research for ecologists interested in predicting the short and long-term impacts of various threats, and their possible interactions, on biological diversity.

This project aims to capitalise on the recent increase in global satellite data accessibility to answer key questions pertaining to how climate and land use changes interact to precipitate biodiversity loss. It will do so while testing a series of predictions focused on the Nilgris region in the Western Ghats of India, a key global biodiversity hotspot. Given the evidence and knowledge available so far, we expect (i) the intensity of the two local monsoon systems and the frequency of extreme events to show significant increases over the past three decades; (ii) the climatic trends observed to significantly impact the quality, quantity and configuration of specific land use types in this region; (iii) the interactions between climate and land use changes to significantly impact biodiversity including loss of species richness, change in ecosystem distribution and habitat suitability for endemics.

The project will be carried out in partnership with ZSL’s South and Central Asia conservation programme bringing together a strong supervisory team; it will utilise well established contacts in the NGO sector within India. In addition to publishing findings in scientific journals the student will be encouraged to work with the partnering NGO to provide lay person summaries and information factsheets to aid local conservation management. The outputs from this project will include habitat suitability maps for endemic species and identification of target areas and habitats for conservation. This will inform and support conservation efforts in an information deficient area, will provide the initial step required to set up enduring projects and improve understanding of the relative and interactive impacts of climate change and land use change on key local endemic populations. In addition, as this region falls under multiple management jurisdictions covering area within three different states, the project findings will also facilitate the development of strategies for co-ordinated management across state boundaries and provide opportunities for engagement of local stakeholders in biodiversity management. More broadly, this research will also advance the development of open-source methodologies for efficient monitoring of biodiversity at a large spatial scale under limited time and financial resources.

Funding Notes

Applicants will have, or be about to obtain, a Masters qualification (MSc, MRes or MSci/MMath) in a relevant discipline. Exceptional students at Bachelors level without a Masters will be considered. Relevant post-graduate experience will also be taken into account.

This is one of several competitive studentships funded through the QMEE CDT http://www.imperial.ac.uk/qmee-cdt Interested candidates can apply directly to the supervisors by sending their CV, a covering letter explaining why they are interested in the project and CDT, and the names and e-mail addresses of two academic referees. At least one should have supervised the applicant on a previous research project.


Selected References: Jetz et al.2007 PLoS Biol. 5:1211; Oliver et al.2014 Wiley Inter. Rev: Clim. Change 5:317; Sajinkumar et al.2011 J. Geol. Soc. Ind. 78:249; Bhagwat et al.2012 Biol. Cons. 153:108; Chitale et al.2014 Plos One. 9:e115264; Rocchini et al.2016 Rem. Sens. Ecol. Cons. 2:25; Wegmann et al.2016: Remote Sensing and GIS for Ecologists: Using Open Source Software. Pelagic Publishing; Pettorelli, N. 2013 The Normalized Difference Vegetation Index. OUP, NY.

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