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lab values

Our research group champions inclusivity and diversity, and we welcome applicants from diverse backgrounds. We believe enjoyable and high-quality research can only be done in a safe and supportive environment. We do not tolerate discrimination, harassment, or bullying of any form in our group.

While striving to conduct cutting-edge research, we believe that work-life balance is essential and we prioritise mental health. A happier scientist is a better scientist! 

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Thank you for your interest in joining our research group. This page is regularly updated with opportunities for prospective PhD students and postdocs. Feel free to contact me at np84@st-andrews.ac.uk if you are interested in any of these positions or if you want to discuss other possibilities.

PhD opportunities

The role of behaviour in facilitating or hindering adaptation to climate change


Climate change is arguably the greatest threat to biodiversity in the 21st century. Because behaviour is very labile, behavioural responses are typically the first line of defense to rapid environmental change and may initially allow animal populations to cope with rising temperatures in light of climate change. On the other hand, behavioural responses may lead to relaxed selection on other traits, such as physiology and morphology, that are important for a population’s long-term survival under climate change. The student will conduct multigenerational lab experiments to investigate how social and parental behaviours may evolve under climate change, and in turn, how they might influence the evolution of other traits that affect the capacity of organisms to cope with high temperatures. There is a lot of flexibility within the scope of the project, so the PhD student will have the opportunity to develop their own specific research questions, depending on their interests and the skills they would like to gain.

 

For more information and instructions for how to apply, please see this link.

Uncovering the effects of climate change on forest ecosystems through the lens of animal behaviour
 

Ecosystem services have an estimated economic value of more than £25 trillion per year. Insects are particularly important ecosystem-service providers in terrestrial ecosystems, but they are also especially vulnerable to climate change, which might affect their capacity to provide ecosystem services, such as nutrient cycling and decomposition. Understanding how the effects of climate change on ecosystem processes are mediated by these organisms presents a key challenge for biologists.

 

To address this timely issue, this PhD project will integrate animal behaviour and ecosystem ecology, combining laboratory work and field experiments. It will focus on Nicrophorus burying beetles, which are obligate scavengers and are known as nature’s undertakers. They are valuable ecosystem-service providers in woodlands and forests, because they breed on animal carrion, which is the most nutrient-rich form of organic matter. As a part of their elaborate parental care, burying beetles deposit antimicrobial substances on the carcass to prevent bacterial and fungal growth, which influences the rate of decomposition. Previous work has shown that the presence of burying beetles in terrestrial ecosystems plays an important role in promoting nutrient cycling and improving soil fertility. In the absence of scavengers such as burying beetles, decomposition is mainly driven by fungi and bacteria, causing the release of large amounts of gases and the leaching of exudates into the soil. This can have long-lasting effects on soil biochemistry as well as the functionality of the microbial community. Prior work has also shown that at higher temperatures burying beetle parents provide less care (including the deposition of antimicrobial secretions on the carcass), potentially due to increased energetic costs. This reduction in parental care under warmer conditions could thus have consequences for the rate of carcass decomposition and nutrient cycling in the soil.

 

This PhD project will link temperature-induced behavioural changes at the individual level to ecosystem-level processes in a global change context. We will use a combination of lab and field experiments to examine how climate change may affect nutrient cycling and other ecosystem processes through its effects on the parental behaviour of burying beetles. For example, we will examine the effects of temperature on the carcass maintenance behaviour (i.e. antimicrobial secretions) of burying beetles and, in turn, whether this leads to changes in the soil biota or physical and chemical changes in the soil.

For more information and instructions for how to apply, please see this link.

postdoctoral opportunities

I am not currently advertisting any postdoctoral positions, but I am always happy to support exceptional postdocs who are interested in applying for external fellowships to join the lab. Prospective postdocs are welcome to contact me directly to discuss project ideas and funding options.

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