Project 2: How will halting biodiversity loss affect the achievement of other Sustainable Development Goals?

This project will explore the positive and negative interactions between Sustainable Development Goals/Targets to understand to what extent the achievement of some goals will affect the others. Based at Sapienza Università di Roma (Rome, Italy), with secondments to UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre (Cambridge, UK; 8.8 months), and University College London (London, UK; 2 months).

This is Project 2 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

Sustainable development has been defined as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs". On 25 September 2015, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution, “Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”. The 2030 Agenda is a “plan of action for people, planet and prosperity, peace and partnership” which all countries and stakeholders will implement collaboratively. The 2030 Agenda includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 specific targets that will guide decisions over the next 15 years. For sustainable development to be achieved, three key elements must be harmonized, i.e. economic growth, social inclusion and protection of the environment.

Currently, almost 29% of the species evaluated in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species are listed as threatened with extinction (IUCN 2016). For mammals, the percentage of threatened species as of 2016 is 26% (1208 out of 5536 species evaluated so far). Previous work demonstrated that these percentages are expected to steeply increase in the future in view of the forecasted levels of climate and land use changes (e.g. Jetz et al. 2007, Visconti et al. 2015), and applying scenarios is one of the most common methodologies used to produce future trends in biodiversity loss (e.g. by the CDB and IPBES).

The main objective of this project is to explore the positive and negative interactions between selected goals and targets to understand to what extent the achievement of some goals will affect the others, especially the ones directly or indirectly related to biodiversity conservation.  Although a comprehensive assessment of the interactions between all SDGs is not the aim of this PhD, it is important to understand the linkages between development and biodiversity conservation. For example, the PhD candidate will assess the implications of a scenario in which all currently globally threatened terrestrial mammal species would be considered of Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List – Goal 15 (Life on land) and the synergies and trade-offs this would create in relation to the achievement of other SDGs, in particular Goal 12 (Responsible consumption and production).

Related references

  • Griggs, D, et al. Policy: Sustainable development goals for people and planet. Nature 495.7441 (2013): 305-307.
  • Jetz, W, et al. Projected impacts of climate and land-use change on the global diversity of birds. PLoS biology 5.6 (2007): e157.
  • Rondinini, C, et al. Global habitat suitability models of terrestrial mammals. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences 366.1578: (2011) 2633-2641.
  • Rondinini, C, and Visconti, P. Scenarios of large mammal loss in Europe for the 21st century. Conservation Biology 29.4 (2015): 1028-1036.
  • Visconti, P, et al. Projecting global biodiversity indicators under future development scenarios. Conservation Letters 9.1 (2016): 5-13.

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 will be implemented in close collaboration with the UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC), a world leader in biodiversity knowledge and the executive agency of the United Nations Environmental Programme for biodiversity assessments, and University College of London, ranked 7th by the QS World University rankings, 2016. At UNEP-WCMC, the student will be supervised by Diego Juffe-Bignoli and by Neil Burgess (Chief Scientist). At UCL, s/he will be supervised by Piero Visconti (Research Fellow). The student will spend 8.8 months at UNEP-WCMC headquarters in Cambridge, UK, and will also have the opportunity to visit, or possibly stay at 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. She/he will spend an additional 2 months at UCL in London, UK.

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.
  • Experience in species distribution modelling, land-use and climate change scenario modelling.
  • Good knowledge of statistical analyses.
  • Good collaborative skills.

Desirable for this position:

  • Conversational skills in Italian and/or Spanish.
  • 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 12:00, 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


    UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre
Cambridge, UK
        Diego Juffe-Bignoli
        Neil Burgess
    University College London
London, UK
        Piero Visconti