Mine sites as hotspots for insect biodiversity, Biosciences – PhD (Funded) Ref: 3413

About the award


Professor Richard ffrench-Constant, University of Exeter
Dr Jon Bennie, University of Exeter
Dr Ilya Maclean, University of Exeter
Dr Adrian Spalding, Spalding Associates

The University of Exeter’s College of Life and Environmental Sciences is inviting applications for the Cornwall Butterfly and Moth Society PhD studentship. This PhD studentship is funded by the College in partnership with Spalding Associates and the Cornwall Butterfly and Moth Group to commence on 1st April 2019 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 £14,777 for 4 years full-time, or pro rata for part-time study.  The student would be based in Biosciences in the College of Life and Environmental Sciences at the Penryn Campus in Cornwall.

Cornwall has a rich heritage of mining and old mine sites remain not only a World Heritage site but also a critical place for insect conservation surrounded by a sea of intensifying agriculture. We plan an interdisciplinary study that will combine state-of-the-art techniques such as LIDAR surveys of vegetation, thermal mapping and biological surveys. We want to establish what insects are present now, what their specific habitat requirements are and most importantly how important the mine sites are to their presence in the South West.  We will focus on sites under management by Natural England and survey all arthropods but with a specific focus on butterflies and bees (particularly mining bees and wasps).

Key questions addressed are: 1) How important are these sites relative to the wider landscape? For example which species of bee or butterfly are restricted to either these sites alone or both these sites and the short turf of coastal grasslands. 2) What thermal requirements do specific species have within the mine sites? Do these requirements differ for hosts (e.g. Silver studded blue butterfly) and their associated partners (ants).  3) How can we integrate 1 and 2 to provide management strategies for these sites? In other words given that they are no longer disturbed by mining activity what simple management regimes can we impose to maintain key species (e.g. burning, cutting or top soil removal).  4) We will also ask questions specific to key species. For example, what soil particle-sizes are required by which mining bees and how can we maintain or supplement access to them? 5) Finally, we will also ask how sentinel these sites are as indicators or climate change. Are mine sites the first (warmest) sites to be colonised by newly arriving insects? What aspects of their microclimate make such colonisation possible and what other species might we predict arriving in the future?

This project will not only define what insects are on which sites but will also allow us to track the factors that are making key species (e.g. Wall and Grayling butterflies) vanish from them.  The project also combines a unique team spanning physical geography (Bennie), landscape analysis of thermal requirements (Maclean), entomology (ffrench-Constant) and Environmental Consultancy (Spalding). This will allow us not only to publish academic studies but also to translate these studies into real management solutions for interested parties such as Natural England and associated mining operations (e.g. Imerys).

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 http://www.exeter.ac.uk/postgraduate/apply/english/).

How to apply

In the application process you will be asked to upload several documents. 
• CV
• 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)
• Two references from referees familiar with your academic work. If your referees prefer, they can email the reference direct to stemm-pgr-admissions@exeter.ac.uk quoting the studentship reference number.
• If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need to submit evidence of your proficiency in English.

The closing date for applications is midnight on 18 January 2019.  Interviews will be held on the University of Exeter Penryn Campus the week commencing 4 February 2019.

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email stemm-pgr-admissions@exeter.ac.uk or phone +44 (0)1392 722730 or +44 (0)1392 725150.  Project-specific queries should be directed to the main supervisor.


Application deadline:18th January 2019
Value:£14,777 per year for 4 years
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Admissions Office +44 (0)1392 722730 / 5150 stemm-pgr-admissions@exeter.ac.uk