PhD Studentship: The Role of Biodiversity in Ecosytem Resilience to Climate Change

University of Exeter - Mathematics Department

The University of Exeter and the University of Queensland are seeking exceptional students to join a world-leading, cross-continental research team tackling major challenges facing the world’s population in global sustainability and wellbeing as part of the recently launched QUEX Institute.

The student will have the chance to study in the UK and Australia, and will graduate with a double degree from the University of Exeter and the University of Queensland.

Find out more about the PhD Studentship via

Academic Supervisors

Prof Peter Cox (University of Exeter)

Prof Peter Mumby (University of Queensland)

Project description

Ecosystems are under increasing pressure from climate change, climate variability, and direct human disturbance. This is especially the case in high-diversity tropical ecosystems, such as coral reefs and tropical forests. It has been widely-accepted that biodiversity confers additional resilience by including a wide-range of functional and genetic characteristics, each of which can ‘step-up’ and become more prevalent should conditions change. In this way, greater biodiversity is expected to imply a greater ability of ecosystems to adapt to emvironmental change. However, the mechanism for this adaptive capacity is essentially a change in the species composition of the ecosystem, and that process depends on the characteristic lifetime of the species involved. We might therefore expect the importance of diversity for the resilience of ecosystems  to depend on the lifetime of the key species.

This PhD project will model the role of biodiversity in ecosystem resilience to climate change, constrasting tropical forests for which the primary producers are very long-lived trees, and coral reefs for which the primary producers are short-lived phytoplankton and algae. The motivating question for the PhD project will be : ‘What is the role of biodiversity in ecosystem resilience to climate change, in both tropical forests and ecosystems?’. It will combine the respective expertise of the primary supervisors in modelling tropical forest responses to climate change (Cox), and in understanding the response of coral reefs to environmental stressors (Mumby). In addition, this PhD would build-upon a very successful previous PhD studentship co-supervised by Cox & Mumby (Lester Kwiatkowski) which yielded a number of high-profile papers, including two in Nature journals:

Kwiatkowski L, Cox PM, Economou T, Halloran PR, Mumby PJ, Booth BBB, Carilli JE, Guzman HM (2013) Caribbean coral growth influenced by anthropogenic aerosol emissions. Nature Geoscience, 6, 362-366.

Kwiatkowski L, Cox P, Halloran PR, Mumby PJ, Wiltshire AJ (2015) Coral bleaching under unconventional scenarios of climate warming and ocean acidification. Nature Climate Change, 5, 777-781.

Full tuition fees, stipend of £15,000 p.a, travel funds of up to £15,000, and RTSG of £3,000 are available over the 3 year programme

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