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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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GRIFFITHS_KDICE18EE - Population drivers, demographics and disease in wild snake populations (CASE studentship with the British Trust for Ornithology)

Project description

Selected other supervisors:
Dr David Leech (British Trust for Ornithology)
Dr Becki Lawson (Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London)

The problem
We are in the midst of a biodiversity crisis, but monitoring is currently biased towards large, charismatic, easy-to-survey species. Snakes are key predators with potential to regulate the diversity and abundance of prey, but are difficult to observe, so little is known about population status or trends even for widespread species in developed countries. This is particularly worrying as an infectious disease known to be a major problem in North America (Snake Fungal Disease - SFD), has recently been detected in Britain and a need for urgent research on this disease identified. This project will address three fundamental questions:

  1. What determines annual survival and detectability of snakes?
  2. What are the demographic drivers and environmental factors limiting population size of snakes?
  3. Specifically, what is the potential impact of SFD on snake populations?

The partnership
The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) has a long history of modelling drivers of population change in birds, and is extending this expertise to other taxa, piloting snake demographic work at a site in Norfolk where SFD was identified in 2016 by the Institute of Zoology (IoZ). This project provides a unique opportunity to combine cutting-edge statistical modelling with disease screening to quantify the link between disease and survival and thus predict the impacts on subsequent population size. Best practice guidance for future monitoring will also be produced. BTO and IoZ are joining forces with DICE, who have also been monitoring several snake populations in Kent for over 12 years, and ARC Trust and ARG UK, who can provide access to national databases of reptile records and other sites where monitoring is ongoing.

Research and training
The student will be trained in the latest statistical modelling tools for analyzing capture-mark-recapture data to determine survival, detectability, population size and their associated covariates. Snakes will be individually identified using photographs and image analysis software, and IoZ will provide training in molecular techniques for disease screening and health assessment.

Student specification
MSc or equivalent, with professional, commercial or voluntary experience in herpetological surveying 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 for this project will be interviewed by the supervisory teams at the University of Kent on Friday 19 January 2018. Successful applicants will then be nominated for the formal EnvEast interviews (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 should discuss this with the supervisor before applying).


  1. Franklinos, L.H.V….and Lawson, B. 2017. Emerging fungal pathogen Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola in wild European snakes. Scientific Reports 7: 3844  | DOI:10.1038/s41598-017-0335
  2. Griffiths, R.A., Foster, J., Wilkinson, J., and Sewell, D. 2015.  Science, statistics and surveys: a herpetological perspective. Journal of Applied Ecology, vol. 52: 1413-1417.  
  3. Sewell, D., Guillera-Arroita, G., Griffiths, R.A.,and Beebee, T.J.C. 2012. When Is a species declining? Optimizing survey effort to detect population changes in reptiles, PLoS ONE, vol. 7.
  4. McLean, N., Lawson, C.R., Leech, D.I. & van de Pol, M. 2016. Predicting when climate-driven phenotypic change affects population dynamics. Ecology Letters 19: 595-608.
  5. Sewell, D., Baker, J.M.R, and Griffiths, R.A. 2015. Population dynamics of grass snakes (Natrix natrix) at a site restored for amphibian reintroduction. Herpetological Journal 25: 155-161.