NERC GW4+ DTP PhD studentship: Localised vs. centralised management of invasive populations

University of Exeter - College of Life and Environmental Science

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP). At least 4 fully-funded studentships that encompass the breadth of earth and environmental sciences are being offered to start in September 2017 at Exeter. The studentships will provide funding for a stipend which is currently £14,296 per annum for 2016-2017, research costs and UK/EU tuition fees at Research Council UK rates for 42 months (3.5 years) for full-time students, pro rata for part-time students.

‘We are all in this together’ - or are we? In a world overrun with humans, almost all ‘native’ populations - whether considered a pest or conservation target - are subject to some form of control/management of their abundance. But populations are spatially heterogeneous so that any given population may be subject to different management actions depending on their spatial location. For example, if there is an outbreak of a single pest in a given farm then the ensuing dynamics will depend on many factors but especially on how each farmer responds to the perceived threat. In this case, should all farmers respond by adopting the same pest management action, should they all act individually, or should the action be localised to the source of the outbreak? How can we assess the efficacy of these different approaches?

In this project, we will use Integral Projection Models (IPMs) [1] - sometimes called integro-difference equations (IDEs)[2] - as models for the spatio-temporal abundance of generic populations. Such IPMs exist for numerous species. As models for invasive species, these spatially distributed models admit travelling wave-like solutions. As a result, any given invasion dynamic is characterised in terms of: the current total population abundance (or distribution of population size); spatial extent of the population (the support of the distribution of population size); and rate of spread of the invasion (speed of the leading edge of the wave front).

So what is the impact of management on abundance, extent and rate of spread? What form of management action can we use? Should the action be localised (e.g. to individual farms) or distributed (across the whole spatial domain)? What is the effect of localised actions that are spatially synchronised (so that all farmers adopt the same management action) or spatially independent (each farmer does his/her own thing)? How can we choose any of these management actions to be effective in the face of model uncertainty and unmodelled disturbances?

Drawing on modelling and analysis techniques for IPMs [1], combined with ideas from nonlinear feedback and adaptive control [2], [3], [4] we will explore various approaches to the management of natural, invasive populations.

The PhD student will have the opportunity to work closely with mathematicians and ecologists at the Universities of Exeter and Bath and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, and training will be provided in mathematical modelling, ecological dynamics, and optimal and robust control theory.

The closing date for applications is midnight on 6 January 2017.

Please see for full details on how to apply.

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