NERC iCASE studentship

Climate opportunists: a threat to UK biodiversity and ecosystems?

As reported in February, the University of Exeter, in partnership with the National Biodiversity Network (NBN) Trust and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), is inviting applications for a NERC Industrial CASE-funded PhD studentship to commence in September 2016 (or as soon as possible thereafter).  For eligible students the studentship will cover UK/EU tuition fees plus an annual tax-free stipend of £14,296 for 3.5 years.  The student will be based in Biosciences in the College of Life and Environmental Sciences at the Penryn Campus in Cornwall.

Project description

This fully funded studentship is a unique opportunity to address an emerging scientific challenge, and improve biodiversity monitoring and conservation. There are some 1800 species living in the UK that originate from elsewhere and have been introduced by humans. Some of these non-native species are classed as “invasive”, meaning they cause ruinous damage to ecosystems and/or threaten native species. However, another kind of non-native species has emerged: species that are colonising the UK without human assistance (“natural colonists”), often because climate change is creating suitable habitat for these species in the UK. Incidences of “natural” colonisation are on the rise as climate change progresses. It is increasingly suspected that some natural colonists might pose a serious threat to UK biodiversity and ecosystems. Other natural colonists may be innocuous additions to the UK’s biota or may even be threatened elsewhere and merit conservation in the UK.

Study and outcome

The studentship will perform a comparative study of the impact of natural colonists and human-introduced non-natives, based on techniques that detect early-warning signals of invasive impacts. The studentship will also evaluate whether existing natural colonists should receive conservation attention. The practical outcome of the project will be to improve the monitoring of non-native species regardless of their origin. The broader scientific outcome will be to develop a decision-making framework for how to respond when species colonise areas outside their historical range.

The student will work closely with the NBN Trust, which manages a UK-wide partnership to coordinate the collation and dissemination of biodiversity data and analyses, sharing >125 million biological records via the NBN Gateway. The studentship is also in collaboration with NERC’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), the UK’s centre for excellence in terrestrial and freshwater science, which conducts high quality research projects on nationally-important datasets. The student will therefore be trained in highly novel science, and will pursue a project that will directly inform monitoring and conservation strategies.

The project includes analysis of biodiversity data and placements with the NBN Secretariat in Nottingham and with CEH in Wallingford, so aptitude in statistical modelling or other quantitative skills are essential. The project could also involve field work around the UK, and gathering qualitative evidence of stakeholder opinions and perspectives via interviews and questionnaires.

Academic Supervisors for the Award

Main supervisor:

Dr Regan Early (University of Exeter)


Ass. Prof. Jon Blount (University of Exeter)

Dr Jo Judge (NBN Trust)

Rachel Stroud (NBN Trust)

Dr Nick Isaac (CEH)

Award funding

This award provides annual funding to cover UK/EU tuition fees in full and a tax-free stipend of at least £14,296 per annum.   Part-time students will receive the funding on a pro rata basis for a maximum period of study of 7 years.

This studentship will be funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), and is only available to UK and EU nationals.  You must have resided in the UK for three years prior to starting the studentship to receive funding for tuition fees and a stipend.  Candidates from outside the EU are not eligible for this studentship.

For detailed guidance about eligibility please refer to the Research Councils UK (RCUK) Terms and Conditions for Training Grants: TGC 6 Student eligibility.

Entry requirements

Applicants for this studentship must have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in an appropriate area of science or technology.

Suitable applicants will have the following essential characteristics:

  • an interest in ecology/conservation, and
  • an aptitude for statistical analysis.

Candidates with the following desirable characteristics are especially encouraged to apply:

  • experience of ecological fieldwork and data collection,
  • experience of GIS, statistical analysis or modelling;
  • experience of research in terrestrial natural history or conservation.

Some experience in consulting with land managers and conservation stakeholders, and demonstrable field skills would be advantageous.

If English is not your first language you will need to have achieved at least 6.5 in IELTS (and no less than 6.0 in any section) by the start of the project (alternative tests may be acceptable)

How to apply

Click here to apply

Please be aware you will be asked to upload the following documents:

  • CV including the names of two referees.
  • Letter of application (outlining your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to undertake the project).
  • Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained (this should be an interim transcript if you are still studying)
  • If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need to submit evidence of your proficiency in English

Application deadline – 8th May 2016


If you have any general enquiries about the application process please get in touch by email or phone +44 (0)1392 725150/723706. Project-specific queries should be directed to the main supervisor as stated above.

Interviews will be held on the University of Exeter Penryn Campus in June 2016.


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