Project 1: Advancing quantitative analyses for IUCN Red List assessments of species’ risk of extinction

This project will combine data on species’ distributions, habitat requirements, population trends and demographic data to develop and test solutions for improving Red List Assessments of birds and mammals by including more quantitative analyses. Based at Sapienza Università di Roma (Rome, Italy), with a secondment to BirdLife International (Cambridge, UK; 10.8-months). 

This is Project 1 out of 15 PhD positions currently available as part of the Inspire4Nature training programme. Deadline for applications: 23 April 2018 at 12:00 (mid-day) Brussels time. We are no longer accepting applications to this project.

PhD topic

In the IUCN Red List, the relative extinction risk of a species is assessed against five criteria that take into account population size and decline (criteria A, C), geographic range size and decline (criterion B), very restricted range or population (criterion D), and/or quantitative analyses (criterion E). Several key parameters for the application of criteria can be estimated using common assumptions, baseline data and models across taxa, rather than assessed independently on individual species. Examples include estimates and projections of population decline based on recent trends or future scenarios, to apply to criteria A2 (past declines) A3 (past and future declines) and A4 (future declines), and robust estimations of other key parameters (e.g. generation length). Quantitative analyses are defined as "any form of analysis which estimates the extinction probability of a taxon based on known life history, habitat requirements, threats and specified management options" (IUCN 2012). These are a crucial concept in applying Criterion E, which is based on quantitative models of extinction risk.

This project will explore the degree to which Red List Assessments can be improved and made more rigorous and consistent by including more quantitative data, either directly through criterion E, or as parameters fed to criteria A-D, using mammals and birds to test different approaches. As an example of parameters to apply to criteria A-D that could be estimated, the project will aim to improve the methods used to develop maps of the Extent of Suitable Habitat (ESH) in order to reduce rates of commission (ie predicting the species to be present when it is actually absent) without increasing rates of omission (ie predicting a species to be absent when it is actually present). This will make use of the increasing volumes of citizen science data to independently assess rates of omission and commission, as a way of quantifying the extent to which different ways of reducing Extent Of Occurrence (EOO) maps to ESH maps improve accuracy. ESH maps in turn can be used to infer estimates of the upper bound of Area of Occupancy. The results of this project should demonstrate major scope of improvement of Red List assessments even for species for which little information is available, by making the best use of the other data to contextualise such information. Outputs of this project will be Extent of Suitable Habitat maps and estimates of generation lengths for thousands of vertebrate species that will be applicable to future iterations of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and which will be of critical utility for the identification of Key Biodiversity Areas.

Related references

  • IUCN. (2012). IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria: Version 3.1. Second edition. Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK: IUCN. iv + 32pp.
  • Mace, GM, et al. (2008). Quantification of extinction risk: IUCN's system for classifying threatened species. Conservation Biology22(6), 1424-1442.
  • Pacifici, M, et al. (2013) Generation length for mammals. Nature Conservation 5: 87-94.
  • Rondinini, C, et al. (2011). Global habitat suitability models of terrestrial mammals. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences 366.1578: 2633-2641.
  • Tracewski, Ł., Butchart, S.H., Di Marco, M., Ficetola, G.F., Rondinini, C., Symes, A., Wheatley, H., Beresford, A.E. and Buchanan, G.M., 2016. Toward quantification of the impact of 21st‐century deforestation on the extinction risk of terrestrial vertebrates. Conservation Biology30(5), pp.1070-1079.

Institutional context and supervision

The PhD student will be hired by the Global Mammal Assessment (GMA) programme at Sapienza Università di Roma, the largest University in Europe, and enrolled as a PhD candidate at the Doctoral Program in Environmental and Evolutionary Biology. The student will be physically based at the GMA lab in the Zoology building (Sapienza), in Rome, Italy. The GMA is the leading conservation group operating in the Department of Biology and Biotechnologies. The academic supervisor of the project will be Carlo Rondinini, coordinator of the GMA and Research Scientist.

This project is in close collaboration with BirdLife International, the world’s largest nature conservation partnership, whose work focuses on the conservation of birds, their habitats and global biodiversity. The student will interact in strongly with the Science, Policy and Information Management Department, which carries out research to underpin the conservation programmes of the BirdLife Partnership, identifying priorities for policy and action. There, s/he will be supervised by Paul F. Donald (Global Science Coordinator), in collaboration with Stuart Butchart (Chief Scientist). The student will spend 10.8 months at the BirdLife's headquarters in Cambridge, UK, in the David Attenborough Building. This building houses nine conservation organisations and several departments of the University of Cambridge, who together form the Cambridge Conservation Initiative.

Ideal candidate

Candidates must meet all the general eligibility conditions applicable to all Inspire4Nature PhD positions, as described under “check if you are eligible” in this page. In particular: candidates cannot have resided or carried out their main activity (work, studies, etc.) in Italy for more than 12 months within the previous 3 years, and must be early-stage researchers (no PhD yet, within the first 4 years of their research careers). In addition:

Required for this position:

  • An enthusiasm for Science in general and for Ecology in particular.
  • A commitment to biodiversity conservation.
  • A strong academic record in Ecology or a related field.
  • A Master’s Degree or equivalent.
  • Having previously completed at least one individual research project lasting ≥ 3 months (e.g. a Master’s thesis).
  • Good proficiency in English: at least B2 level in understanding, speaking and writing as defined by the European Language Levels Self-Assessment Grid.
  • Proficiency in the R language, GIS software (GRASS GIS, ArcGIS/QGIS), Bash programming languages, IUCN categories and criteria.
  • Strong skills in Computing Science.
  • Good knowledge of statistical analyses.
  • Good collaborative skills.

Desirable for this position:

  • Conversational skills in Italian and/or Spanish.
  • Experience in Geographic Information Systems.
  • Experience in scientific communication and outreach.

Shortlisted candidates will be invited for an interview planned for the 6th-8th June - please keep these dates open. 

Useful links


For any questions regarding application procedures, check this page first. If you cannot find your answer there, contact us. For any questions regarding the scientific content and institutional context of the PhD, contact Dr. Carlo Rondinini

Ready to apply?

For the instructions on how to prepare and submit your application, go to this page. Pay close attention to the specificities of the application procedure for positions with Sapienza University of Rome: besides the documents required to apply to all Inspire4Nature positions, you will need to fill additional forms specific to the University of Rome. You should then submit your application file directly by email to the University of Rome.

Only applications that are complete, in English, that respect the instructions in this page and that have been submitted before the deadline (23 April 2018 at 12h00 mid-day) will be considered eligible.

We are no longer accepting applications to this project.


 Academic Host

    Sapienza Università di Roma
Rome, Italy
        Carlo Rondinini


    BirdLife International
Cambridge, UK
        Paul F. Donald
        Stu Butchart