Ecological and evolutionary responses to global warming; Biosciences – MPhil/PhD (Funded) Ref: 2655

About the award

The University of Exeter’s College of Life and Environmental Sciences, is inviting applications for a fully-funded PhD studentship from the ERC grant TEMPDEP to commence in September 2017 or as soon as possible thereafter.  For eligible students the studentship will cover UK/EU tuition fees plus an annual tax-free stipend of at least £14,553 for 3.5 years full-time, or pro rata for part-time study.  The student would be based in the Environment and Sustainability Institute in the College of Life and Environmental Sciences at the Penryn Campus in Cornwall.


Penryn Campus

Academic Supervisors:

Professor, Gabriel Yvon-Durocher, University of Exeter

Professor, Angus Buckling, University of Exeter

Project Description:

Rapid evolution is predicted to be an important driver of microbial responses to climate change; but its role in shaping the emergent structure and functioning of novel communities is unknown.  This project will integrate experiments with theory to generate a predictive framework to understand how warming affects the structure, functioning and assembly of aquatic communities through feedback between ecological and evolutionary processes. The project will capitalise on an existing long-term experiment, comprising 20 artificial freshwater ponds, half of which have been experimentally warmed (+ 4°C above ambient temperature) for 10 years. This experiment provides a unique opportunity to investigate eco-evolutionary responses to warming in a system that is free from the confounding factors that limit mechanistic inference in latitudinal surveys, whilst being of sufficient complexity (e.g. whole ecosystems) and duration to characterise adaptive responses in a realistic ecological context.

We have recently demonstrated that rapid evolutionary change in the traits which characterise how metabolic rates respond to temperature underpin adaptive responses to warming in a wide range of microbes – including isolates from the long-term warming experiment (Padfield et al., 2015; Schaum et al., in-press). This project will therefore focus on metabolic traits, which we know to be crucial to ecological dynamics and can be readily measured and scaled up from populations to ecosystems. For example, key ecosystem processes, which play a central role in global elemental cycles, such as gross primary production, and ecosystem respiration are fundamentally metabolic.  Metabolic traits are consequently central to developing theory that accounts for both ecological and evolutionary dynamics, to predict how communities and the functions they mediate will respond to global warming and will be at the core of this project.

The student will begin by assessing how rapid evolution has shaped metabolic trait variation within and among species across the metacommunity in the existing experiment. They will then isolate taxa with strains adapted to both the warmed and ambient treatments and use these isolates to seed a new mesocosm warming experiment. This will enable the student to assess how evolved differences between warm- and ambient-adapted isolates influence the trajectory of community assembly and ecosystem succession in aquatic systems. This experimental approach will be complemented by the development and verification of new theory that integrates ecological, evolutionary and metabolic theories to deliver a predictive framework to help forecast how novel communities and the functions they mediate will emerge as the climate warms.

This is an ambitious and innovative project that spans disciplines (mathematics, ecology, evolution), scales (time and space), and levels of biological organisation (phenotypes to ecosystems). It therefore has great potential to break new ground in understanding the mechanisms through which ecological and evolutionary dynamics shape ecosystem responses to environmental change.


Padfield, D., Yvon-Durocher, G., Buckling, A., Jennings, S. and Yvon-Durocher, G. (2015), Rapid evolution of metabolic traits explains thermal adaptation in phytoplankton. Ecology Letters 19, 133-142.

Schaum, E., Buckling, A., and Yvon-Durocher, G. (In-press), Evolutionary responses to warming in phytoplankton are underpinned by increased photosynthesis. Nature Ecology & Evolution.  

This award provides annual funding to cover UK/EU tuition fees and a tax-free stipend.  For students who pay UK/EU tuition fees the award will cover the tuition fees in full, plus at least £14,553 per year tax-free stipend. 

The studentship will be awarded on the basis of merit for 3.5 years of full-time study to commence in September 2017 and is subject to confirmation of funding.    

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. 

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 (see


Application deadline:29th June 2017
Duration of award:per year
Contact: CLES PGR Admin phone 01392 725150/

How to apply

Click here to apply

In the application process you will be asked to upload several documents.  Please note our preferred format is PDF, each file named with your surname and the name of the document, eg. “Smith – CV.pdf”, “Smith – Cover Letter.pdf”, “Smith – Transcript.pdf”. 

  • CV
  • Letter of application (outlining your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to undertake the project).
  • Research proposal
  • Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained (this should be an interim transcript if you are still studying)

The closing date for applications is midnight on 29th June 2017.  Interviews will be held on the University of Penryn Campus the week commencing [3rd July].

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