Model-Informed Conservation Planning (Distance Learning Project)

University of Aberdeen

School of Biological Sciences

Project Description

We are looking for bright, motivated, and ambitious students enthusiastic about conservation and interested in acquiring modelling skills that can be used to inform the management of species. By working as part of our Aberdeen team you will be joining a World-leading group in developing and applying spatial population models to address a broad range of conservation challenges. These include the spatial design of landscapes for connectivity and population viability, improving the ability of species to respond to climate change and managing invasive species. We are enthusiastic to work on different organisms and in terrestrial, freshwater and marine environments.

Projects can be deigned to match a student’s particular interests. For example, we could envisage projects:
(1) assessing the resilience of a region’s protected area network under climate change
(2) assessing the population viability of a key organism of conservation concern and testing alternative possible management options.
(3) Forecasting the future distributions of a group of species under climate and/or land-use change.
(4) Predicting the spread of invasive species into regions and identifying optimal management solutions.

These projects will initially be conducted as Distance Learning, meaning the student will undertake at least the first 3-9 months of the project away from the University of Aberdeen. Students will be in regular contact with their supervisory team by Virtual Conference throughout this time and encouraged to come to Aberdeen and be based on campus when/if feasible. Conducting the entire PhD project as distance learning is also welcomed.

Project Background
At Aberdeen, our team has acquired World-leading expertise in the development and application of computer simulation models for informing major conservation problems. In 2014 we published a software called RangeShifter (Bocedi et al. 2014) that provides unique capabilities for modelling spatial population dynamics and dispersal in realistic landscapes, and for testing alternative management options. This software has proved successful and has already been used in Europe, Asia, Africa and South America to address a broad range of questions. A selection of papers providing examples of its use is listed below. This year (2020) we will be releasing RangeShifter 2.0. This incorporates new functionality for modelling landscapes and for including population genetics. RangeShifter has typically been used as a Windows software but also this year will see the release of RangeShiftR, enabling the many users of the R programming language to make easier use of it. Every year, we run multiple courses introducing people to the use of the RangeShifter software.

Do not hesitate to contact us for an informal discussion if you are interested in exploring options for conducting a PhD within our team.

Funding Information

This PhD project is only open to sponsored students and those who have their own funding. Supervisors will not be able to respond to requests to source funding.

Eligibility Requirements

We are looking for a student that will bring their own ideas and questions and take the project in their own direction. Ideally, a student may already have gained experience working with a species or system that is threatened in some way and for which it would be interesting to explore potential conservation options. Perhaps a student has already gathered some data on the reproduction, survival or movement behaviour of an organism, or been involved in some conservation activities. We are very much open to jointly developing ideas for PhD projects with students so that the projects best match their interests and match well with the conservation priorities of the region that they are interested in.

Previous experience with ecological models is not necessary. We will provide the student with training in the modelling approaches that we use. We will also provide training in Geographic Information Systems as that is a key part of the modelling process. We would anticipate the PhD project leading to publications in international journals and would support the student in preparing their work for publication. Additionally, we will help the student develop skills in science communication through traditional means but also through the increasingly important medium of social media.

Application Process

To submit an application please visit our Website
-Apply for ‘PhD in Biological Science’
-State the name of the lead supervisor on your application
-State the name of the project

Please note that we will not proceed with applications that have not stated their intended funding source. Applicants will be expected to have suitable computing materials to enable them to work from home at a distance to undertake this project.

Supplementary Information

With this year’s release of the new versions of the software, this is an ideal time for us to recruit new PhD students into the team to work with us on developing and applying models for conservation problems that they are interested in. Currently we are a dynamic team of 18 people, comprising 3 postdoctoral researchers, 5 PhD students, 1 research assistant and 5 MSc students. Because our work is centred on modelling, distance working is relatively straightforward. It is something we are very used to doing. We already have weekly group meetings by video conference.


The publication describing the software we developed in the team:
Bocedi G, et al. 2014. RangeShifter: a platform for modelling spatial eco-evolutionary dynamics and species’ responses to environmental changes. Methods in Ecology and Evolution, 5: 388-396.

A publication that describes our modelling approach and aspirations:
Urban MC et al. 2016. Improving the forecast for biodiversity under climate change. Science 353: aad8466.

An example of the software being used for birds of fragmented forest in Kenya, Africa:
Aben J, et al. 2016. The importance of realistic dispersal models in conservation planning: application of a novel modelling platform to evaluate management scenarios in an Afrotropical biodiversity hotspot. Journal of Applied Ecology, 53: 1055-1065.

An example of the software being used for endangered grassland butterflies in Finland, Europe.
Heikkinen RK, et al. 2015. Modelling potential success of conservation translocations of a specialist grassland butterfly. Biological Conservation 192: 200-206.

An example of the software being used for an invasive fish species in the Baltic Sea, Europe:
Samson E et al. 2017. Early engagement of stakeholders with individual-based modelling can inform research for invasive species management: the round goby as a case study. Frontiers in Ecology & Evolution 5: 149.

An example of the software being used to assess the potential for reintroduction of Lynx to Scotland, Europe:
Ovenden TS et al. 2019. Improving reintroduction success in large carnivores through individual-based modelling: How to reintroduce Eurasian Lynx (Lynx lynx) to Scotland. Biological Conservation 234: 140-153.

To apply for this PhD, please use the following application link: