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Applications are now open for PhD studentships starting in October 2018. 

Please read the recruitment introduction for more information about eligibility, how to apply, and possibilities for further funding.

The deadline for applications is 8 January 2018.

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BUTLER_UBIO18EE - Improving and extending biodiversity indices (CASE studentship with the RSPB)

Project description

Selected other project supervisors:
Dr Lynn Dicks (UEA)
Professor Richard Gregory (RSPB)

Scientific background
Multi-species indicators are embedded in environmental management, sustainable development and biodiversity conservation policy and practice, acting as metrics against which progress towards national, regional and global targets are measured. The choice of species included in an indicator has a defining influence on how well it reflects ecosystem condition, the speed and extent to which it responds to environmental change and the confidence intervals around its metric value. Whilst multiple methods of species’ selection have been adopted, these predominantly rely on expert opinion or simply data availability; generally applicable and objective methods for species’ selection are frequently lacking.

There is now growing demand from policy makers and stakeholders for greater consistency and standardisation in species selection to facilitate the cross-national benchmarking of indicators and for the development of better indicators of the stocks and flows of ecosystem services.

Research plan and methods
In partnership with the RSPB, this project will deliver a widely applicable, objective process for indicator species’ selection that ensures quality, functionality and transparency, and which can be used to critically review existing indicators and to develop new indicator sets.

The successful applicant will use both simulated communities and analyses of long-term monitoring data, drawing on existing and new trait datasets, to:

  1. Quantify the impact of alternative species-selection protocols on indicator representativeness, reactivity and precision,
  2. Compare and contrast the temporal and spatial dynamics of indicators reflecting alternative community characteristics,
  3. Develop national, regional and pan-European indicators for non-avian farmland biodiversity.

The student will receive training in the construction, handling and analyses of large, long-term monitoring and trait databases, GIS and advanced spatial analyses in R; and is expected to develop a high level of competency in statistical modelling. There may also be the opportunity to develop both computer programming and website design skills.

Person specification
Candidates must have a good Honours degree in a relevant subject area (Ecology, Biology or Environmental Sciences). Experience of handling large datasets and familiarity with computer packages such as R will be an advantage.

This project has been shortlisted for funding by the EnvEast NERC Doctoral Training Partnership, comprising the Universities of East Anglia, Essex and Kent, with over twenty other research partners. Undertaking a PhD with the EnvEast DTP will involve attendance at mandatory training events throughout the course of the PhD.

Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed by EnvEast on 12/13 February 2018.

Selected candidates who meet RCUK’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship - in 2017/18, the stipend is £14,553. Ordinarily, EnvEast studentships are for 3.5 years, although longer awards may be made to applicants from quantitative disciplines who have limited experience in the environmental sciences, to allow them to take appropriate advanced-level courses in the subject area.

In most cases, UK and EU nationals who have been resident in the UK for 3 years are eligible for a stipend. For non-UK EU-resident applicants NERC funding can be used to cover tuition fees, RTSG and training costs, but not any part of the stipend. Individual institutes may, however, elect to provide a stipend from their own resources.

This PhD studentship is expected to begin in September/October 2018. Both full-time and part-time study are possible (those planning to study part-time may wish to discuss this with the supervisor before applying).


  1. Butler, S.J. et al. (2012) An objective, niche-based approach to indicator species selection. Methods in Ecology and Evolution, 3, 317-326.
  2. Tittensor, D.P. et al. (2014) A mid-term analysis of progress towards international biodiversity targets. Science, 346, 241-244.
  3. Wade, A.S.I. et al. (2014) A niche-based framework to assess current monitoring of European forest birds and guide indicator species' selection. PLoS One, 9, e97217.
  4. Buckland, S.T. & Johnston, A. (2017) Monitoring the biodiversity of regions: Key principles and possible pitfalls. Biological Conservation, 214, 23-34.
  5. Dicks, L.V. et al. (2016) Ten policies for pollinators. Science, 354, 975-976.