Postdoctoral and PhD opportunities

The department has a strong research environment and its high calibre research staff are well qualified to mentor postdoctoral researchers and PhD students. 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

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