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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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GILROY_UENV18EE - Understanding the factors limiting climate-driven range shifts in birds

Project description

Selected other project supervisors
Dr Aldina Franco (UEA)
Dr Nicole Michel (National Audubon Society, USA)

To persist in a changing climate, many species will need to colonise new areas outside their current ranges. Such range expansions are already occurring in a wide variety of organisms, though many other species are failing to keep pace with climate change. We understand little about the factors that limit the speed at which species move in response to climate. These factors could include species traits (e.g. dispersal ability), environmental characteristics (e.g. habitat fragmentation/degradation) and/or ecological contexts (e.g. competition, predation).  Understanding the prevalence of these limiting factors across species and regions is essential if we are to develop conservation strategies that maximise climate resilience.

This PhD will explore the determinants of range shift velocity in a suite of North American bird species, using data from citizen science initiatives spanning four decades (1975-2015).  Previous research in this field has typically relied on coarse metrics of change (e.g. range centroids) which often fail to capture key colonization and extinction processes occurring at range edges. Our team has developed a state-of-the art modelling approach to quantify these colonization/extinction dynamics, generating high-resolution maps of distributional change for 366 North American bird species. This PhD will build on this work, aiming to:

Uncover the environmental and ecological factors associated with success and failure in colonizing new areas of climatic suitability.
Identify species that are most vulnerable to climate-driven range loss, and pinpoint geographic areas where conservation measures are most needed (e.g. habitat creation, assisted dispersal).
Develop and refine methods to measure range-shifts and predict their future trajectory.

The student will join a dynamic NERC-funded research group at UEA examining biodiversity responses to global change, and will be co-supervised by leading ornithologists at the National Audubon Society (San Francisco, USA, see The student will receive training in a wide range of research skills, including species distribution modelling and spatial analysis.

The ideal candidate will have a good Honours degree in Ecology, Biology or other relevant Environmental Science, or Applied Mathematics / Computer Science; and have experience with statistics and code-writing (R language ideally). A keen interest in avian ecology and conservation is also desirable.

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. Burrows, M. T., Schoeman, D. S., Richardson, A. J., Molinos, J. G., Hoffmann, A., Buckley, L. B., ... & Halpern, B. S. (2014). Geographical limits to species-range shifts are suggested by climate velocity. Nature, 507, 492.
  2. Franco, A., Hill, J. K., Kitschke, C., Collingham, Y. C., Roy, D. B., Fox, R.., ... & Thomas, C. D. (2006). Impacts of climate warming and habitat loss on extinctions at species' low‐latitude range boundaries. Global Change Biology, 12, 1545-1553.
  3. Gilroy, J. J., Gill, J. A., Butchart, S. H., Jones, V. R., & Franco, A. (2016). Migratory diversity predicts population declines in birds. Ecology letters, 19, 308-317.
  4. Michel, N. L., Smith, A. C., Clark, R. G., Morrissey, C. A., & Hobson, K. A. (2016). Differences in spatial synchrony and interspecific concordance inform guild‐level population trends for aerial insectivorous birds. Ecography, 39, 774-786.
  5. Schloss, C. A., Nuñez, T. A., & Lawler, J. J. (2012). Dispersal will limit ability of mammals to track climate change in the Western Hemisphere. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109, 8606-8611.