Evolutionary ecology of wood-boring and bark-feeding insects and their impact on coniferous tree forestry. (PhD Scholarship)

Evolutionary ecology of wood-boring and bark-feeding insects and their impact on coniferous tree forestry.

Aberystwyth University, IBERS

Project ID: AU30032
Annual Stipend: £14,340
Application Deadline: 24th August 2018

Are you interested in evolutionary biology, woodland ecology, combining field studies with Next Generation DNA forensics, and exploring complex concepts of invasion biology and the impacts of climate change?

Non-native pests and diseases have caused significant damage to trees across Europe, and have the potential to cause much greater damage in the future. Our ability to understand the invasion and evolutionary ecology of these species, including their present distribution and future spread, is hampered by a lack of knowledge of the larval stages (the stages often responsible for tree damage and infection) of both non-native and native species already present in forests.

The project will combine extensive field ecology with new molecular genetic (DNA) techniques of species identification and population genotyping, including Next Generation Sequencing and bioinformatic approaches, in order to better understand the distribution and spread of invasive tree-damaging insects, to feed in to improved plans for the management and control of invasive species to reduce damage to the forestry sector. The project will combine the genetics expertise of IBERS with the long-term datasets and facilities/field sites of Forest Research to produce information on the ecological networks of tree-damaging insects, and will have substantial impact and relevance to both the conservation of woodland biodiversity and integrated management of forests. Training will be provided in state of the art molecular genetic techniques, insect / woodland biology and field ecology, and lead to job opportunities in academic, government and industrial sectors.

For the initial objective, the PhD student will develop and apply cutting edge molecular technology to DNA barcode (and so identify to species) wood-boring and bark-feeding insect larvae (or the feeding traces left behind by larvae) from a network of field sites including stressed and dying trees, fallen dead wood and test logs placed in the forest. Associated data on tree species, age, condition, site-specific factors, and other pests and diseases will be used to construct ecological networks, and to develop an understanding of species interactions. For the secondary objective, high-resolution DNA fingerprinting will be employed to analyse how key species disperse within and between forests, the level of population connectivity within each species at different spatial scales across wooded landscapes, and variation in genetic diversity between native and non-native species, to understand local and broad-scale invasion biology. Results on dispersal and distribution of the most important wood- and bark-feeding species will be input to Ecological Niche Models to predict future abundance, distribution and impact under climate change scenarios.

The prospective applicant should have a minimum of a 1st or good 2:1 in a relevant degree, and be available to take up the studentship by September 2018. The project is part-funded by the European Social Fund (ESF) through the European Union’s Convergence programme administered by the Welsh Government. KESS II PhD scholarships are collaborative awards with external partners. (Applicants need to only apply, they do not need to search for partners.)


If interested please contact Prof Paul Shaw at pws3@aber.ac.uk (01970 622328) or Dr Max Blake at max.blake@forestry.gsi.gov.uk to discuss the PhD and project further.

To apply, please submit the following to the Postgraduate Admissions Office (address below) by 24th August 2018:

  1. A completed Research Programme Application Form, plus two references. Application and reference forms may be downloaded from http://www.aber.ac.uk/en/postgrad/howtoapply/
  2. A completed KESS II Participant proposal form (put the reference number AU30032 in the top right hand box of the application form) and an up-to-date CV. KESS II application forms are available to download at the link below.


  1. A PhD proposal / personal statement of up to 1,000 words where you expand on your experience and interests and describe why you are a good candidate for this research studentship. Please refer to the Project Description.


Value of Award: A stipend of £14,340 (rising in accordance with inflation for the remaining two years). Each scholarship has an additional budget for travel, equipment/consumables and training to support your research. KESS II PhD Scholarship holders do not pay fees.

Length: Full-time for 3 years. (Theses must be submitted 6 months after the funded three year study period.)

Training: The achievement of a Postgraduate Skills Development Award (PSDA) is offered for each KESS II scholar (The PSDA is based on a 60 credit award, which is an additional award to the PhD).

Eligibility: To be eligible to apply for a KESS II award, you must be resident, upon starting the scholarship, in the Convergence Area of Wales and you must be eligible to take paid employment in the Convergence area on completion of the scholarship. Any UK or EU citizen who is able to move to and live in Aberystwyth from September 2018 is therefore eligible.

The Convergence Area means the following counties of Wales:

Isle of Anglesey
Neath Port Talbot
Rhondda Cynon Taff

For further student eligibility criteria related to the individual projects, please view the details of the individual project above.


Address for applications:

Postgraduate Admissions Office
Recruitment & Admissions
Student Welcome Centre
Aberystwyth University
SY23 3FB

Quote Reference AU30032

Closing date for applications 24th August 2018