University of Exeter funding: NERC GW4+ DTP PhD studentship

Valuing ecosystem services provided by UK bats under climate change. PhD in Biosciences (NERC GW4 + DTP) Ref: 3666

About the award


Lead Supervisor 

Dr Orly Razgour, Department of Biosciences, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter

Additional Supervisors 

Prof Ian Bateman,  Director of the Land, Environment, Economics and Policy Institute (LEEP), University of Exeter Business School

Dr Carol Williams, Bat Conservation Trust

Dr Marije Schaafsma, School of Geography and Environmental Science, University of Southampton 

Location: University of Exeter, Streatham Campus, Exeter EX4 4QJ

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC GW4+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP).  The GW4+ DTP consists of the GW4 Alliance of research-intensive universities: the University of Bath, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and the University of Exeter plus five unique and prestigious Research Organisation partners: British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory.  The partnership aims to provide a broad training in the Earth, Environmental and Life sciences, designed to train tomorrow’s leaders in scientific research, business, technology and policy-making. For further details about the programme please see

For eligible successful applicants, the studentships comprises:

  • An stipend for 3.5 years (currently £15,009 p.a. for 2019/20) in line with UK Research and Innovation rates
  • Payment of university tuition fees;
  • A research budget of £11,000 for an international conference, lab, field and research expenses;
  • A training budget of £3,250 for specialist training courses and expenses.
  • Travel and accomodation is covered for all compulsory DTP cohort events.
  • No course fees for courses run by the DTP

We are currently advertising projects for a total of 10 studentships at the University of Exeter


Students who are resident in EU countries are eligible for the full award on the same basis as UK residents.  Applicants resident outside of the EU (classed as International for tuition fee purposes) are not eligible for DTP funding. Residency rules are complex and if you have not been resident in the UK or EU for the 3 years prior to the start of the studentship, please apply and we will check eligibility upon shortlisting.

Project Background

Given the stark anthropogenically-driven global decline of biodiversity, there is an urgent need to understand nature’s contribution to people and how it will be affected by biodiversity decline. Bats are thought to provide important ecosystem services through the suppression of insect pest populations. Molecular approaches have revealed the consumption of a variety of insect pest species by bats [e.g. 1]. However, the actual economic contribution of these pest control services has only been evaluated for one bat species and one crop pest in the USA [2]. In the UK, lack of knowledge about the ecosystem services provided by bats and their economic value is hampering advocacy for bat conservation and engagement of the agricultural and forestry sectors in their conservation.  Climate change is a major threat to biodiversity and the ecosystem services they provide. Bats are predicted to experience range contractions and distributional changes under future climate change [3], but little is known about how these range changes will interact with insect pest distribution changes and affect future pest control services.

Project Aims and Methods 

This interdisciplinary project combines ecological, molecular, modelling and economic approaches to quantify the ecosystem services provided by UK bats and predict how they will be impacted by future climate change. Through working with our CASE partner, the Bat Conservation Trust, and our collaborative partner, Natural England, and linking to a cross-European COST Action Network on climate change and bats, this project will provide the evidence-base for bat conservation advocacy. 

The PhD student will develop the following objectives: 

1. Test the ecosystem role of bats through identifying the extent of consumption of major agricultural and forest pests by UK bats. Extensive field sampling across England will be coupled with molecular tools (DNA metabarcoding) to characterise the diet of UK bats and identify key bat species involved in the control of insect pest populations in arable land, pasture and forests.

2. Carry out economic valuation of the contribution of bats to the UK agricultural and forestry sectors through pest suppression. Valuation will be made based on data from objective 1 combined with the Natural Environment Valuation Online (NEVO) tool developed by the University of Exeter, which models the economic activity and value of the agricultural and forestry sectors in the UK. The PhD project will expand this tool with bat-related pest suppression services.

3. Model impacts of future climate change on UK bats and the pest control services they provide. Use ecological niche models to predict future changes in the distribution of key bat species and their insect pest prey and assess future distributional mismatches and their impact on the provision of pest control services.


Daubenton’s bat foraging on insects (photo credit: Daniel Hargreves)


Bat foraging habitat – the agricultural landscape matrix

Candidate Requirements 

We are looking for a highly-motivated candidate with strong relevant academic background, good quantitative skills and interest in multidisciplinary research and applied conservation biology. Fieldwork, molecular lab work, bioinformatics, GIS, R or modelling experience will be an advantage, though all relevant training will be provided as part of this project.

CASE or Collaborative Partner

The Bat Conservation Trust (BCT) is the only British charity solely devoted to the conservation of bats. The candidate will spend three months on a placement with BCT, during which they will gain understanding and experience of BCTs work in science and monitoring bats and working with key stakeholders who influence bat conservation. BCT will bring a valuable practical and applied perspective to the research, facilitating fieldwork through their wide volunteer network and disseminating project findings. This project will also benefit from collaboration with Natural England, who will provide a wider natural environment conservation perspective and links to policy makers and relevant stakeholders.


This multidisciplinary project offers training opportunities in cutting-edge methods in ecology, geography, molecular biology and environmental economics, including ecological fieldwork techniques, GIS and spatial data analysis, ecological modelling, molecular lab techniques, bioinformatics and economic valuation of ecosystem services. The candidate will also receive training in working at the science-conservation-policy interface and will have opportunities to join training schools across Europe organised under the COST Action Network, as well as national conferences and training opportunities organised by BCT.

References / Background reading list 

[1] Aizpurua O, et al. (2018) Agriculture shapes the trophic niche of a bat preying on multiple pest arthropods across Europe: Evidence from DNA metabarcoding. Molecular Ecology 27: 815–825

[2] Boyles JG, et al. (2011) Economic importance of bats in agriculture. Science 332: 41-42.

[3] Razgour O, et al. (2013) The shaping of genetic variation in edge-of-range populations under past and future climate change. Ecology Letters 16: 1258-1266.

Entry requirements

Applicants should have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK.   Applicants with a Lower Second Class degree will be considered if they also have Master’s degree.  Applicants with a minimum of Upper Second Class degree and significant relevant non-academic experience are encouraged to apply.

All applicants would need to meet our English language requirements by the start of the  project


How 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.
  • Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained.  This should be an interim transcript if you are still studying.
  • If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need to submit evidence of your current proficiency in English.

Reference information
You will be asked to name 2 referees as part of the application process, however we will not expect receipt of references until after the shortlisting stage. Your referees should not be from the prospective supervisory team.

If you are shortlisted for interview, please ensure that your two academic referees email their references to the, 7 days prior to the interview dates.  Please note that we will not be contacting referees to request references, you must arrange for them to be submitted to us by the deadline.

References should be submitted by your referees to us directly in the form of a letter. Referees must email their references to us from their institutional email accounts. We cannot accept references from personal/private email accounts, unless it is a scanned document on institutional headed paper and signed by the referee.

All application documents must be submitted in English. Certified translated copies of academic qualifications must also be provided.

The closing date for applications is 1600 hours GMT Monday 6 January 2020.  Interviews will be held between 10 and 21 February 2020.  For more information about the NERC GW4+ DPT please visit

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email  Project-specific queries should be directed to the lead supervisor.

Data Sharing
During the application process, the University may need to make certain disclosures of your personal data to third parties to be able to administer your application, carry out interviews and select candidates.  These are not limited to, but may include disclosures to:

  • the selection panel and/or management board or equivalent of the relevant programme, which is likely to include staff from one or more other HEIs;
  • administrative staff at one or more other HEIs participating in the relevant programme.

Such disclosures will always be kept to the minimum amount of personal data required for the specific purpose. Your sensitive personal data (relating to disability and race/ethnicity) will not be disclosed without your explicit consent.


Application deadline:6th January 2020
Value:£15,009 per annum for 2019-20
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Enquiries