9 May 2023

New Joint PhD Scholarships open for application

PhD scholarships

How do species survive climate change, land use, and other human pressures? Five international scholarships are now open for application within the topic of global change ecology. The candidates will be enrolled in a joint award PhD program established between  the University of Adelaide and the University of Copenhagen. Application deadline 3 July 2023.

Mountain rainforest in Ecuador
Five international scholarships within the field of global change ecology are now open for application. Photo: Colourbox.

Climate change and land use pose some of the severe human pressure challenges facing species and ecosystems in the 21st century. To help establish species survival, five international PhD scholarships are now open for application within the topic of global change ecology, macroecology and biodiversity conservation. Application deadline 3 July 2023.

The joint award PhD program is established between the Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate (CMEC), University of Copenhagen, and the Environment Institute at the University of Adelaide.

The candidates will work closely with a diverse and highly skilled group of international researchers, having access to state-of-the art computational facilities, distributional and movement data, high-resolution climate and land-use data, and genomics data with research outcomes providing important new knowledge for protecting endangered species and ecosystems.

Supervision and mentoring

Supervision and mentoring will be provided by Associate Professor Damien Fordham at the University of Adelaide’s Environment Institute and Professor Carsten Rahbek at the University of Copenhagen’s Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate (CMEC) at the Globe Institute.

Both supervisors and their labs are international leaders in the fields of macroecology, global change ecology, conservation biology, biogeography, movement ecology, population biology, genomics, evolutionary biology, and ecological modelling.

The PhD students will spend at least one year in Copenhagen and two years in Adelaide, working closely with a diverse and highly skilled group of international researchers at CMEC and the Environment Institute

Five positions open for application

Position 1 - Unravelling past mammal declines to improve conservation actions

Australia’s terrestrial mammal fauna is among the most distinct in the world. However, among continents it has suffered an extraordinary rate of loss of species since European settlement.

This PhD project will improve capacity to halt declines and extinctions of Australian native land mammals by generating rigorously validated spatiotemporal reconstructions of the ecological processes and threats that caused distribution and population collapses of mammals during the 19th and 20th centuries. Specifically, the successful PhD candidate will integrate ecological models with insights of demographic change from Holocene fossils and sighting records from explorers, naturalists and early settlers to reconstruct spatiotemporally the range and extinction dynamics of an ecological and evolutionarily diverse group of terrestrial Australian mammals. We expect that the project will establish how ecological and intrinsic traits interacted dynamically with environmental change to cause population declines and later extinctions.

Key outcome: a stronger understanding of how the dynamics of extinction threats interact with ecological processes in space and time to cause common species to become rare.

Position 2 - Establishing ecological processes of persistence in Andean birds

The high altitudinal Polylepis forest of the Andes are today characterized by tiny, isolated fragments. However, evidence from pollen records indicates that these forests were much more widespread and continuous in the past.

This PhD project will establish the ecological processes and community dynamics that have allowed birds to persist at extremely low densities for centuries in very small forest fragments, typically smaller than 1 km2. According to conventional knowledge, persistence at these low population sizes should not be possible due to stochastic factors. Specifically, the successful PhD candidate will use high performance computing to integrate process-based ecological models with field and satellite data to detect and disentangle the mechanisms responsible for bird abundance and diversity in Andean Polylepis forest fragments.   We expect that the project will establish how regional metapopulation and metacommunity dynamics promote persistence at small population sizes.

Key outcome: a stronger understanding of how the spatial dynamics of small populations and communities effects persistence in a changing world.

Position 3 - Recovering large-bodied herbivores and their ecosystem services

Large-bodied herbivores are crucial to ecosystems, but tend to be sensitive to human pressures, including exploitation and persecution, habitat loss and environmental change. Meaning that they continue to face severe population declines, range contractions and extinctions. 

This project will use empirical data and new statistical-simulation approaches to determine optimal localities and densities for restoring and recovery large-bodied herbivores. Specifically, the successful PhD student will integrate molecular and fossil-based inferences of past range dynamics of large-bodied herbivores into process-based ecological models to reconstruct their distributions, habitats, abundances and causes of decline at high spatiotemporal resolutions. Information on past population and habitat dynamics will be used to support evidence-based recovery targets for large-bodied herbivores, identify optimum sites for reintroductions, and to increasing knowledge of how ecosystem services have changed through space and across time.

Key outcome: vital new information for enhancing conservation efforts to reverse population declines of large-bodied herbivores.

Position 4 - Revealing determinants of persistence for small populations

The final extinction event of a species is usually caused by stochastic factors, which organisms at small population sizes are particularly sensitive to. However, there are many species that can persist at naturally small population abundances, despite potentially severe demographic and genetic consequences. 

This project will meld theory with data to identify species traits and environmental conditions that benefit the long-term persistence of small populations of mammals and birds.  Specifically, the successful PhD student will use global data sets and advanced statistical methods to identify relationships between beneficial traits, environmental conditions and small population size. Established patterns will be tested using theory-driven ecological models. Information on species traits that benefit persistence at small population sizes will be used to inform conservation metrics of extinction risk. 

Key outcome: stronger understanding of extinction risk for small sized populations of mammals and birds.

Position 5 - Identifying traits that make species vulnerable to climate change

The ecological and intrinsic traits that increase species’ risk of extinction from climate change are currently poorly resolved. This is partly because ecological responses to climate change are complex and hard to disentangle. A powerful solution is to analyse biological data from historical systems using process-explicit macroecological models that run at fine temporal and spatial scales and across large geographical extents.

This project will use these simulation-based approaches to unpack complex interactions between species traits and climate change and other threats responsible for population and range shifts observed for mammals and birds over the last century. By providing a more complete understanding of the ecological mechanisms that regulate species’ responses to climate change, we expect that this PhD project will result in more certain predictions of species that are most vulnerable to climate change.

Key outcome: better ability to better predict the vulnerability of mammals and birds to future climate change based on their ecological and intrinsic traits.

Further information

Information regarding the application process, requirements, and salary can be found on the University of Adelaide website.


If you have any queries regarding the positions, please contact  Associate Professor Damien Fordham