Postdoctoral, PhD and Master's opportunities

The Centre for Research in Ecology, Evolution and Behaviour has a strong research environment and its high calibre research staff are well qualified to mentor early-career researchers at master's, PhD and postdoctoral level. They have a wide range of expertise and are engaged in collaborative work with researchers, both within the University and at other institutions and organisations, in the UK and abroad. Excellent research facilities, with well-equipped specialist labs and diverse fieldwork opportunities, make this a stimulating environment to work and study in.

Postdoctoral, PhD and Masters by Research (MbyRes) opportunites are detailed below.

Postdoctoral

Staff in the Centre for Research in Ecology, Evolution and Behaviour are interested in supporting the development of postdoctoral fellowship applications. Potential candidates should identify staff with relevant research interests and contact them directly (including a short CV) to discuss potential ideas well before any application deadline. Potential funding schemes include:

 

PhDs

PhD students are an integral part of the department - attending regular research seminars and research centre meetings, engaging in teaching activities and giving conference presentations in both the UK and abroad. The current PhD opportunities in the Centre for Research in Ecology, Evolution and Behaviour are listed below. Click on the links for more details of each project. See the Graduate School for details of how to apply. Many of these projects are also suitable for postdoctoral applications. 


Individual mechanisms underlying community-level dynamics in microscopic ecological communities

Groundwater food webs

Habitat complexity and feeding interactions

Biodiversity of microscopic organisms drives multiple ecosystem processes

Allometric scaling relationships: are they the same for unicellular and multicellular eukaryotes?

Hunting on the wing: investigating the manoeuvrability of preying raptors

Life-history strategies in a wild cooperatively breeding mammal

Where PhD projects do not have specific funding attached, UK and EU nationals are likely to be eligible to apply for a doctoral loan to fund these PhDs. Click here for further details. There are often other funding sources - please get in touch with the named contact if you are interested in a project.

 

 

 

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Individual mechanisms underlying community-level dynamics in microscopic ecological communities

UK and EU nationals are likely to be eligible to apply for a doctoral loan to fund this PhD. Click here for further details. There are often other funding sources - get in touch with the named contact if you are interested in this project.

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Paramecium caudatum swimming and feeding on unicellular algae


Ecological interactions, such as herbivory and predation play an important role in determining the relative abundance of species within an ecosystem and ultimately the productivity and stability of the ecosystem itself. Typically, these interactions are described in terms of functional responses. Functional responses provide a synthetic description of the flux of energy across trophic levels and for this reason they constitute an essential building
block of realistic food web models. However, functional responses integrate implicitly a number of components, such as prey aggregation and predator chasing behaviour, that typically scale nonlinearly with environmental  One recent line of research in our laboratory is directed at modelling the
emergence of ecological-level patterns directly from microscopic-level interactions among organisms. We study this by combining experiments in artificial microcosms with computer based data analysis and modelling. This project is currently funded by a research grant from the Royal Society to Dr Andrea Perna. The PhD student will be based in the University of Roehampton – London and perform data analysis (e.g. video-tracking, analysis of morphology and trajectories) and modelling (e.g. ecological networks, spatio-temporal pattern formation) on ongoing experiments and then progressively develop their own research direction. Another PhD student in the department (also starting in January 2019) will also work on related projects,focusing more on the experimental part.

References:
Fussmann et al. (2014) Ecological stability in response to warming Nature Climate Change 4, 206
Woodward et al. (2010) Climate change and freshwater ecosystems: impacts across multiple levels of organization. Phyl. Trans. Roy. Soc. B 365 2093-2106

Contact: Andrea Perna

 

 

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Groundwater food webs

Contact: Anne Robertson

UK and EU nationals are likely to be eligible to apply for a doctoral loan to fund this PhD. Click here for further details. There are often other funding sources - get in touch with the named contact if you are interested in this project.

groundwater food

Groundwaters are important sources of potable water and additionally contain a unique assemblage of organisms some of whom are only found in this environment (Robertson et al. 2009). Groundwater animals are likely to play a role in altering groundwater microbial biofilms by grazing and bioturbation. These biofilms are known to be critical in the processing of organic carbon and in the moderation of nitrogen chemistry. Thus, groundwater assemblages may influence contaminant degradation and amelioration in aquifers and thereby provide an important ecosystem service. The ecology of groundwaters is still poorly understood, for example, we know relatively little about food webs in these habitats. Photosynthesis does not occur in these permanently dark environments; the base of the food web is dissolved organic carbon which is usually found in very low concentrations and is assumed to derive from the surface. This project will examine groundwater assemblages and food webs (from microbial biofilms to macro-Crustacea) in a variety of aquifers across a continuum of dissolved organic carbon concentrations. The project will also incorporate laboratory experiments designed to assess the impact of groundwater meio- and macrofauna on microbial biofilms.

Applicants will have a solid background in biology and fieldwork, and, ideally, some experience in microbiology.

Background literature:

Robertson AL, Smith JWN, Johns T & Proudlove GS (2009) The distribution and diversity of stygobites in Great Britain: an analysis to inform groundwater management. Quarterly Journal of Engineering Geology and Hydrogeology. 42: 359-368.

Johns T., Jones I., Maurice L., Wood P. & Robertson A.L. (2015)  Regional scale drivers of groundwater faunal distributions. Freshwater Science 34: 316-328 DOI: 10.1086/678460

Maurice, L., Robertson, A., White, D., Knight, L., Johns, T., Edwards, F., Arietti, M., Sorensen, J., Weitowitz, D. & Marchant, B. (2016) The invertebrate ecology of the chalk aquifer in england (UK). Hydrogeology Journal. 24: 459-474.

 

 

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Habitat complexity and feeding interactions

Contact: Julia Reiss,  and Anne Robertson

UK and EU nationals are likely to be eligible to apply for a doctoral loan to fund this PhD. Click here for further details. There are often other funding sources - get in touch with the named contact if you are interested in this project.

Feeding interactions depend on the densities of predator and prey. Moreover, the size of the food might be an important aspect of whether a food item is chosen or not, as larger prey might represent an energetically more rewarding food source. However, other abiotic/biotic factors will also be critical in whether a feeding link is expressed or not. Studies on freshwater pelagic systems have shown that the eutrophic status of the ecosystem can determine how strongly feeding links are expressed (Burns & Schallenberg, 2001). In the benthos, the structure of the environment might be another important factor influencing feeding interactions. The complexity of the habitat is believed to influence population densities, body size distributions and species richness of invertebrates (Gee & Warwick, 1994: Jeffries, 1993; Morse et al., 1985; Taniguchi & Tokeshi, 2004). Moreover, habitat complexity might directly influence the structure of the benthic food web by giving refuge against predation (Crowder & Cooper, 1982).

In this project we will test how habitat complexity influences feeding interactions between predators and prey (i.e. functional response curves). We will test a range of herbivores and predators (meiofaunal and macrofaunal size) on their preferred diet in feeding microcosms that vary in terms of habitat complexity. These experiments will be laboratory set-ups in a temperature and light controlled environment. We will mainly use organisms that we have previously identified as important components of "the small sized" food web such as meiofauna (Dineen & Robertson 2010; Reiss & Schmid-Araya 2011) and their predators.

Background literature: Papers by the group of Ulrich Brose
Dineen G., & A.L. Robertson 2010. Subtle top-down control of a freshwater meiofaunal assemblage by juvenile fish predation. Freshwater Biology 55: 1818–183
Reiss, J. and J. M. Schmid-Araya. 2011. Feeding response of a benthic copepod to ciliate prey type, prey concentration and habitat complexity. Freshwater Biology 56:1519-1530.

 

 

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Biodiversity of microscopic organisms drives multiple ecosystem processes

Contact: Julia Reiss

UK and EU nationals are likely to be eligible to apply for a doctoral loan to fund this PhD. Click here for further details. There are often other funding sources - get in touch with the named contact if you are interested in this project.

My study organisms are mainly free-living, aquatic protists (single celled organisms) and very small multicellular animals, such as meiofauna. They are extremely abundant in aquatic habitats and they play a key role in numerous ecosystem processes. Assessing their ecological roles is needed to understand natural systems in their own right, but their study can also be used to inform and test general ecological theories, such as the relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning (B-EF).

The high rates at which species are being lost from ecosystems on a global scale have stimulated interest in determining how biodiversity loss alters ecological processes that are vital to the functioning of ecosystems. Several hypotheses have been put forward to explain B-EF relationships and many of them propose that high biodiversity sustains ecosystem functioning better than low biodiversity. For example, high biodiversity has been shown to improve rates of decomposition of organic matter in aquatic systems.However, laboratory experiments addressing this point often remain inconclusive, possibly because a wider range of organisms has to be used in these experiments than has been the case to date.

Further, multiple ecosystem processes have to be measured (most studies measure one or two). Addressing both points would simulate natural diversity and hence show the "real" impact that diversity has on ecosystem functioning (Reiss et al. 2009).

My current research is now directed towards addressing realistic B-EF relationships using microscopic organisms (e.g. Reiss et al. 2010). I am interested in experiments that manipulate species richness of very different aquatic organisms (protists, small metazoans and larger fauna [such as insect larvae, small freshwater crustaceans]) in the laboratory and measure multiple processes as response variables.

These experiments would possibly demonstrate that species richness effects become more obvious when multiple ecosystem processes are taken into account. My aim is to further show that microscopic organisms drive multiple ecosystem processes in aquatic habitats.

For these experiments, I am looking for a person who has a solid background in ecology, is familiar with B-EF theories and ideally has taxonomic skills.

References: Reiss, J., Bridle, J. R., Montoya, J. M. & Woodward, G. (2009) Emerging horizons in biodiversity and ecosystem functioning research. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 24, 505-514.

Reiss, J., Bailey, R. A., Cassio, F., Woodward, G. & Pascoal, C. (2010) Assessing the contribution of micro-organisms and macrofauna to biodiversity-ecosystem functioning relationships in freshwater microcosms. Advances in Ecological Research, 43, 151-177.

 

 

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Allometric scaling relationships: are they the same for unicellular and multicellular eukaryotes?

Contact: Julia Reiss

UK and EU nationals are likely to be eligible to apply for a doctoral loan to fund this PhD. Click here for further details. There are often other funding sources - get in touch with the named contact if you are interested in this project.

In the last two decades, Ecology has received much attention among the sciences because of global change (e.g. climate change, species loss etc.). There is now a need for Ecology to be a theoretical and predictive science that shows the fundamental laws that underlie the interactions of organisms and their response to the environment.

I am interested in addressing ecological theory as put forward by the Metabolic Theory of Ecology (MTE) which aims to link body size and metabolic rates of individuals with higher level ecological patterns. In brief, this theory proposes that there are ecological laws just like the laws of physics. The key "variable" in this theory is body size. The MTE proposes that body size and metabolism of all organisms underlie the same simple power law with the same scaling exponent. It also proposes that body mass and population characteristics are connected to body mass. For example, body mass and population abundance scale with a power law, with the same exponent.

In a recent publication (Reiss et al. 2010) my co-authors and I showed that there might be difference in how body mass of unicellular and multicellular species scales with their abundances. I am interested in building on these findings with a more rigorous analysis of existing (unpublished and published) data. For this project, I am looking for a researcher who has a background in both ecology and mathematics/modelling.

Reference: Reiss, J., Forster, J., Hirst, A., Pascoal, C. & Stewart, R. (2010) When microscopic organisms inform general ecological theory. Advances in Ecological Research, 43, 45-85

 

 

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Hunting on the wing: investigating the manoeuvrability of preying raptors

Contact: Lewis Halsey

UK and EU nationals are likely to be eligible to apply for a doctoral loan to fund this PhD. Click here for further details. There are often other funding sources - get in touch with the named contact if you are interested in this project.

This PhD project will study raptor manoeuvrability during predation, using high speed cameras and accelerometers. Little detail is known about how birds of prey chase and intercept their quarry (Kane et al. 2015). By instrumenting trained raptors with accelerometers (Halsey et al. 2009) and simultaneously recording their flights with high-speed cameras, it should be possible to collect highly novel and insightful data about their movements, accelerations and g-forces, turning angles and general manoeuvring while hunting for simulated prey.

For many if not most raptors, predatory attempts often end in failure because the evasion capabilities of the prey almost equal the raptor’s predatory capabilities (Page & Whitacre 1975). Quite possibly then, only small decreases in flight manoeuvrability will render a bird of prey incapable of foraging successfully. In turn, the attachment of data loggers, harnesses and transmitters to birds in the field, in the pursuit of elucidating their biology, may be highly detrimental to their survival. And research underpinned by such data loggers is constantly gaining popularity. There is thus an urgency to evaluate the effects of added mass to birds of prey, to evaluate the well-being of raptors studied in the wild.

Reference:

Halsey LG et al. (2009) Recording raptor behavior on the wing via accelerometry. Journal of Field Ornithology, 80, 171-177.

Kane SA et al. (2015) When hawks attack: animal-borne video studies of goshawk pursuit and prey-evasion strategies. The Journal of Experimental Biology, 218, 212-222.

Page G and Whitacre D (1975) Raptor Predation on Wintering Shorebirds. The Condor, 77, 73-83.

 

 

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Life-history strategies in a wild cooperatively breeding mammal

UK and EU nationals are likely to be eligible to apply for a doctoral loan to fund this PhD. Click here for further details. There are often other funding sources - get in touch with the named contact if you are interested in this project.

Contact: Harry Marshall

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An individual’s life can be divided into development, reproduction, ageing and death. Despite this seemingly simple sequence of events we observe a myriad of different life history strategies in the natural world. This variation occurs even within a species, with some individuals developing faster, reproducing later, ageing more quickly or dying earlier than others. These differences in life-history traits have important consequences for an individual’s overall fitness and, ultimately, can influence population dynamics. What causes this life-history variation has been the subject of considerable ecological and evolutionary research. Factors such as differences in climate and resource availability have an important effect, but the role of the social environment is less well understood.

This project will investigate the drivers of life-history variation in wild banded mongooses (Mungos mungo). Banded mongooses live in highly social groups and exhibit cooperative care – where some individuals help to raise of the offspring of other group members. Individual mongooses display considerable variation in how much help they provide, when they start reproducing and how long they live. This project will use 23 years of data on individual behaviour, reproduction and survival available from the Banded Mongoose Research Project to explore the developmental, ecological and social causes of life history variation.

Applicants are invited from a biological or statistics/mathematical background.

References

Marshall H.H., Vitikainen E.I.K., Mwanguhya F., Businge R., Kyabulima S., Hares M.C., Inzani E., Kalema-Zikusoka G., Mwesige K., Nichols H.J., Sanderson J.L., Thompson F.J. and Cant M.A. (2017) Lifetime fitness consequences of early-life ecological hardship in a wild mammal population. Ecology and Evolution. 7, 1712-1724

Thompson F.J., Marshall H.H., Vitikainen E.I.K., Young A.J. and Cant M.A. (2017) Individual and demographic consequences of mass eviction in cooperative banded mongooses. Animal Behaviour 134, 103-112.

Marshall H.H., Sanderson J.L., Mwanguhya F., Businge R., Kyabulima S., Hares M.C., Inzani E., Kalema-Zikusoka G., Mwesige K., Thompson F.J., Vitikainen E.I.K. and Cant M.A. (2016). Variable ecological conditions promote male helping by changing banded mongoose group composition. Behavioral Ecology 27, 978-987

 

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Masters by Research (MbyRes) supervisors and projects

The Masters by Research (MbyRes) in Ecology, Evolution and Behaviour involves spending the duration of the course (one year full-time, two years part-time) conducting an independent research project with the support of a dedicated supervisor. This provides excellent preparation for careers in further research (e.g. PhDs), and non-academic and commercial sectors.

Details of the course can be found here and by emailing Harry Marshall. Prospective students should contact a potential project supervisor to discuss a project topic before applying. Potential supervisors are any member of academic staff in the Department of Life Sciences, e.g. staff in the Centre for Research in Ecology, Evolution and Behaviour and in the Centre for Research in Evolutionary, Social and Interdisciplinary Anthropology. Listed below are details of some potential supervisors and outline project titles, but this is not an exhaustive list. Please do get in touch with any member of academic staff whose research interests you to discuss potential project ideas. 

Dr Lia Betti

Email | Research Pages | Research Group Site | Twitter

I work on human evolution and the evolution of modern human diversity. I also study human remains from archaeological excavations, looking at lifestyle, demography and adaptations of human beings in the past. Some of my recent work focuses on the evolution of the human birth canal and related difficulties in childbirth, answering questions such as: are human unique among primates in having a difficult and dangerous childbirth? I am also leading the study of a large late Anglo-Saxon cemetery, with opportunities to study lifestyle, health and disease, warfare and migration in Medieval England or other populations across the globe.

Masters by Research Projects

  • The differential evolution of hands and feet in humans and other primates with specialised forms of locomotion
  • Division of labour and sexual differences in bone robusticity in hunter-gatherers and farmers
  • Effects of historical changes in diet on the morphology of the human face
  • What pelvic bones can tell us about childbirth and inferences on Neanderthals’ obstetric difficulties.
  • See also MRes in Primate Biology, Behaviour and Conservation

Dr Antonia Ford

Email | Research Pages | ResearchGate | Twitter

I am interested in patterns of biodiversity and evolutionary processes generating and maintaining diversity. My current research focuses on the genomics of hybridisation in wild populations of fish species (tilapia) important to aquaculture. My doctoral research investigated diversification of the endemic cichlid fish of Lakes Natron and Magadi in East Africa, using morphology, ecology and genomics.

Masters by Research Projects

  • What is the role of natural selection in shaping patterns of biological diversification in urban stickleback populations? (Co-supervised with Isabel Magalhaes)
  • Ichthyological collections data collection and analysis – at the Natural History Museum
  • Biodiversity surveys in collaboration with the London Wildlife Trust

Prof Lewis Halsey

Email | Research Pages | Twitter

My present research quantifies the energetic costs of animals, their adaptations to minimise these energy costs, and how energy expenditure varies depending upon the characteristics of the ambient environment. I also take a classic comparative approach to my studies, investigating differences between species and how these differences relate to their varying life histories and habitats. Presently, I have opportunities for students to undertake research into the metabolism and behaviour of air-breathing diving animals based at Europe’s largest aquarium in Spain.

Masters by Research Projects

Dr Julia Lehmann

Email | Research Pages

We are deeply social organisms – but why? Why are friends so utterly important for us and to what extent is this special to human and primates? I am particularly interested in the evolution of sociality and the effect of social integration on health and wellbeing. How universal is social buffering, how do species differ in their level of sociality and what is driving the choice of social partners? What are the costs and consequences of social relationships and how do they change during development or after disruption? To address these broad questions I am using a variety of approaches, from social network analysis, to modelling techniques, field observations and thermal imaging across a range of species.

Masters by Research Projects

  • Social integration: causes, consequences and ontogeny
  • Social buffering in despotic versus egalitarian systems (i.e. how does rank or lack of rank affect sociality and its consequences)
  • Animal friendships (within and between species)

Isabel Santos Magalhaes

Email | Research Pages | Research Group Site

My research focuses on trying to understand the evolutionary processes that promote and constrain organismal diversification, especially in the context of changing and dynamic environments. My main study systems are fish (three-spined stickleback and cichlid fish). My research integrates data from multiple sources combining conventional genetics and next-generation sequencing (NGS) techniques with ecological datasets collected directly from the field.

Masters by Research Projects

  • What is the role of natural selection in shaping patterns of morphological diversification in recently adapted fish?
  • Morphological and genetic diversity of fish populations in urban environments. This project requires field work (within London), so will ideally start in the summer months.
  • Resource use diversity in natural populations of three-spine stickleback fish.

Dr Harry Marshall

Email | Research Pages | Research Group Site | Twitter

I am a behavioural and evolutionary ecologist interested in understanding the ecology and evolution of social animals, and using this knowledge to inform their conservation and management. Specifically my interests include exploring how:

  • the costs and benefits of sociality vary between group members
  • individuals difference in behaviour, health and fitness and develop and are maintained
  • these individual differences affect group- and population level patterns
  • this information can inform the conservation and management of social species

Masters by Research Projects

Dr Alan McElligott

Email | Research Pages | Research Group Site | Twitter 

My research focuses on understanding how evolution, ecology and domestication have shaped animal social behaviour, cognition and vocal communication. The current main model species for our research are goats, cattle, kangaroos and chickens. We are also currently studying how public attitudes to animal welfare and sentience are formed. We produce knowledge that is relevant to animal behaviour, behavioural ecology, as well as animal husbandry and welfare.

Masters by Research Projects

  • Multimodal individual recognition of humans by goats
  • Discriminating and differentially attending to human voices based on reliability in predicting food in goats
  • Social evaluation of humans by goats

Dr Daniel Perkins

Email | Research Pages | Twitter

My research focuses on understanding the structure and functioning of ecosystems. An ecosystem is more than the sum of its parts and by studying trophic interactions between species (e.g. food webs) and their environment (e.g. temperature) we can gain key information about the pathways of energy flow that bring about real change in natural systems. I use a range of approaches from small-scale laboratory experiments, field surveys and large ecological datasets and my work searches for common mechanisms operating across aquatic and terrestrial realms.

Masters by Research Projects

Dr Andrea Perna

Email | Research Pages | Research Group Site | Twitter

My research focuses on how multiple organisms and individuals interact together to solve problems that would not be accessible to individual animals or individual species. This is a question that I believe is central to ecology, but also to biology in general. More specific examples of research questions involve, how do schooling fish move together in synchrony and continuously negotiate a common direction of motion without a leader? How do social insects build collectively nests with a coherent structure that are thousands of times bigger than the insects themselves? How different organisms interact together to form ecological communities that can remain stable for an indefinite time but then sometimes suddenly collapse and re-organise into a different community with different properties and function?

Masters by Research Projects

  • Social organisation and collective nest building in ants.
  • Linking chase-escape behaviour to ecology in unicellular predator-prey systems.
  • Exploring the “rules of interaction” of shoaling fish

Dr Julia Reiss

Email | Research Pages | ResearchGate

I am a freshwater biologist with a particular interest in the taxonomy and ecology of aquatic fauna (e.g. microscopic animals such as ciliates and meiofauna). My past research has always focussed on testing theoretical ecology on assemblages of aquatic invertebrates. I have combined field observations and laboratory experiments in the past to assess assemblage patterns of freshwater invertebrates, but have also used them as model systems for testing general theoretical ecology.

Masters by Research Projects

  • Linking food quantity and environmental temperature to population sizes of microbes

Prof Anne Robertson

Email | Research Pages

I am a community ecologist with a particular interest in aquatic subsurface habitats such as aquifers and hyporheic zones (the area beneath the bed of rivers and streams). I explore how the simple, unique food webs that occur in aquifers respond to disturbances such as flooding and pollution. I am also interested in drivers of hyporheic zone community composition, and how these communities respond to emerging organic compounds (e.g. personal care products and pharmaceuticals). I use both field surveys and laboratory experiments in my work.

Masters by Research Projects

  • Does grazing by groundwater macroinvertebrates alter activity and functioning of groundwater biofilms?
  • How do hyporheic zone food webs respond to emerging organic contaminants?
  • What are the impacts of short term temperature change on groundwater organisms?

Prof Stuart Semple

Email | Research Pages | Twitter

My main research interests are in the areas of primate social behaviour and welfare. I have a long-standing interest in primate communication, and in particular in testing the common statistical patterns of human language (known as ‘linguistic laws’) in primate vocal and visual signals. I am also interested in how observing others’ social interactions can affect bystanders, and in how affiliative behaviours spread through social groups. Finally, I am also interested in developing and applying new methods to assess primate emotions and welfare, for example by monitoring behaviour or by remotely measuring physiological parameters such as heart and breathing rate.

Masters by Research Projects