NERC GW4+ DTP Studentship: What life cycle stages are most vulnerable to climate change?

University of Exeter - College of Life and Environmental Science

Main supervisor: Dr Regan Early (CLES, University of Exeter)

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP). The partnership aims to provide a broad training in earth and environmental sciences, designed to train tomorrow’s leaders in earth and environmental science. For further details about the programme please see

Species have adapted their life strategies to fine-tune the trade-off between individual survival and reproduction to ensure population persistence. The particular trade-off strategies used by individuals determines the resilience to climate change worldwide. However, knowledge of the processes which control these strategies is lacking.

Little is known about how external perturbations affect and shape the resilience of a species’ population dynamics (i.e. birth, death, immigration, emigration) and how it relates to varying life history strategies, such number and size of offspring or deciding at what stage/age to reproduce. This lack of knowledge is particularly urgent in the face of global climate change. Climate change is one of the major causes of global species extinction, leading to a projected species loss of up to 42% by 2050. However, less well known are the aspects of climate change responsible for this reduction. Climate change will affect species differently, according to which time of year and thus life-history stages experience the greatest perturbations in climate and the vulnerability of life-history stages to change. Thus, management of species in response to climate change cannot yet be targeted at the right life-history stage. Linking forecasts of climate change around the world to the generalisations about which life-history stages are vulnerable to climate change would provide valuable insight in to population management. Life history traits, such as number and size of offspring or reproductive age, might indicate the time of year when species are most vulnerable, and whether it coincides with the time of year that when the greatest changes in temperature or precipitation are projected to occur.

To determine the answers to these questions this project will use the COMPADRE Plant Matrix Database and COMADRE Animal Matrix Database. Once complete, this project will improve our knowledge of susceptible life stages to climate change in order to inform targeted management. The generalisations formed from this will be scaled-up to predict how several taxonomic groups globally may respond to climate change. We will provide a management toolbox for targeted species, based on species life history strategies and the likely climate change pressures experience by an area or habitat.


  •  Develop perturbation models to determine critical climatic changes likely to cause greatest disruption to species life history strategies.
  • Use perturbation models to determine key life stages to target management practices for more efficient conservation efforts.
  • Compare geographic distribution of species with life history strategies vulnerable to climate change with areas most affected by these changes globally.
  • Identify geographic areas where life history based models will provide the most accurate species change forecasts in relation to climate change to inform management globally.

Please see for more information regarding applications.

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