Project 3: Global scenarios of terrestrial vertebrate diversity

This project will investigate the changes in taxonomic, functional and phylogenetic diversity of terrestrial vertebrates under future scenarios of global change. Based at University College London (London, UK) with secondments to the Zoological Society of London (London, UK; 10.8 months).

This is Project 3 out of 15 PhD positions currently available as part of the Inspire4Nature training programme. Deadline for applications: 16 April 2018 (midnight, Brussels time) . We are no longer accepting applications to this project.

PhD topic

Habitat loss is the main driver of biodiversity loss globally, and climate change is predicted to become one of the main drivers of biodiversity loss and ecosystem function in the coming decades. The potential combined effect of these two threats to biodiversity has been explored so far only for a limited number of species. A hierarchical framework has been developed to assess the impacts of these drivers on species distribution and abundance and produce indicators of progress towards globally agreed conservation targets (Visconti et al. 2016).

This project will expand this framework by integrating prior belief of habitat suitability with observation data to model distribution of a broader set of taxonomic groups, including birds and reptiles. These ecological models will be applied to future socio-economic scenarios to answer key ecological and conservation questions about taxonomic, functional and geographic patterns of impacts of projected land-use and climate change (Barbet-Massin et al. 2015).

The main outcomes of this project will be the development of new statistical methods for predicting the combined impacts of climate and land-use change on bird, mammal, amphibian and reptile species. These could help inform future IUCN Red List assessments of species’ extinction risk.

Changes in extinction risk (d-RLI) and spatial pattern of richness of carnivore and ungulate species under Business as Usual changes in climate and land-use change by 2050 (Visconti et al. 2016).

Related references:

  • Visconti, P., Bakkenes, M, Baisero, D, Brooks, T, Butchart, SH., Joppa, L., Alkemade R, Di Marco M, Santini L, Hoffmann M, Maiorano L, Pressey RL, Arponen A, Boitani L, Reside, AE, Rondinini, C. (2016). Projecting global biodiversity indicators under future development scenarios. Conservation Letters 9: 5-13.
  • Barbet‐Massin, M. and Jetz, W., 2015. The effect of range changes on the functional turnover, structure and diversity of bird assemblages under future climate scenarios. Global Change Biology, 21: 2917-2928.

Institutional context and supervision

The PhD student will be hired by the University College London (UCL), one of the world’s top Universities. S/he will be based at the Centre for Biodiversity and Environment Research (CBER), undertaking research at the interface between biodiversity and environmental change, and actively engaged in communicating new research and relating findings to policy. The academic supervisor of this project is Piero Visconti, Research Fellow at UCL-CBER and at ZSL-IoZ.

This project is in close collaboration with the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), where the student spend 10.8 months in secondments. ZSL runs conservation programmes worldwide to conserve wild animals and their natural habitats, working with local communities to conserve their environment and promote sustainability. The student will work closely with the ZSL’s Institute of Zoology, where s/he will be supervised by Robin Freeman (Head of Indicators and Assessments Unit), in collaboration with Monika Bohm (post-doctoral researcher), and also in collaboration with ZSL’s Conservation Programmes, in particular with Mike Hoffmann (Head of Global Conservation Programmes).

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 the United Kingdom 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:

  • Strong analytical background in statistics applied to Ecology
  • A minimum of an upper second-class UK Bachelor’s degree in an appropriate subject or an overseas qualification of an equivalent standard, or a recognised Master’s degree. See here for a database of equivalent degrees.
  • Good English knowledge. Candidates being offered a scholarship whose first language is not English will have to provide written evidence of good English knowledge prior to enrolling to UCL. Further information can be found on UCL English language requirements.

Desirable for this position:

  • Expertise in species distribution modelling
  • Expertise in Bayesian hierarchical modelling
  • Familiarity with land-use maps and land-use scenarios
  • Ability to work collaboratively with a network of partners

Shortlisted candidates will be invited for an interview planned for the 29-30 May - please keep these dates open.


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. Piero Visconti.

Ready to apply?

For the instructions on how to prepare and submit your application, go to this page.

Only applications that are complete, in English, that respect the instructions in this page and that have been submitted before the deadline (16 April 2018) will be considered eligible.

 We are no longer accepting applications to this project.

 Academic Host

University College London
London, UK
Tim Newbold
Piero Visconti


Zoological Society of London
London, UK
Robin Freeman
Monika Bohm
Mike Hoffmann