PhD Studentship: Population Drivers, Demographics and Disease In Wild Snake Populations

University of Kent

We seek a highly motivated individual excited by the prospect of conducting research with real-world application. The successful candidate will have an MSc or equivalent, with professional, commercial or voluntary experience in herpetological surveying an advantage.

We wish to submit this exciting project to the NERC Environment East Doctoral Training Partnership (EnvEast DTP) Scholarship competition. Reference: (GRIFFITHS_KDICE18EE) - CASE studentship with the British Trust for Ornithology

Project description

The problem

We are in the midst of a biodiversity crisis, but monitoring is currently biased towards large, charismatic, easy-to-survey species. Snakes are key predators with potential to regulate the diversity and abundance of prey, but are difficult to observe, so little is known about population status or trends even for widespread species in developed countries. This is particularly worrying as an infectious disease known to be a major problem in North America (Snake Fungal Disease - SFD) has recently been detected in Britain and a need for urgent research on this disease identified. This project will address three fundamental questions:

  • What determines annual survival and detectability of snakes?
  • What are the demographic drivers and environmental factors limiting population size of snakes?
  • Specifically, what is the potential impact of SFD on snake populations?

The partnership

The British Trust for Ornithology [14] (BTO) has a long history of modelling drivers of population change in birds and is extending this expertise to other taxa, piloting snake demographic work at a site in Norfolk where SFD was identified in 2016 by the Institute of Zoology [15] (IoZ). This project provides a unique opportunity to combine cutting-edge statistical modelling with disease screening to quantify the link between disease and survival and thus predict the impacts on subsequent population size. Best practice guidance for future monitoring will also be produced. BTO and IoZ are joining forces with DICE [16], who have also been monitoring several snake populations in Kent for over 12 years, and ARC Trust [17] and ARG UK [18], who can provide access to national databases of reptile records and other sites where monitoring is ongoing.

Research and training

The student will be trained in the latest statistical modelling tools for analysing capture-mark-recapture data to determine survival, detectability, population size and their associated covariates. Snakes will be individually identified using photographs and image analysis software, and IoZ will provide training in molecular techniques for disease screening and health assessment.


Main supervisor: Professor Richard Griffiths (Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology. DICE)

Dr David Leech (British Trust for Ornithology)
Dr Becki Lawson (Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London)

Further details

  • Start date: 15th September 2018
  • Programme: PhD
  • Mode of study: Full-time
  • Studentship length: 3.5 years
  • £14,533 (2017/18 rate) maintenance grant plus tuition fees at the Home/EU rate

Apply Now

Key dates

Application deadline 23:59 on 8 January 2018
Kent interviews on 19th January 2018
NERV interviews on 12/13th February 2018

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