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Biodiversity conservation in alpine environments: Genetic-based approaches link individual behaviour to population dynamics

  • School: School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences
  • Starting: 2024 / 2025
  • Funding: UK student / EU student (non-UK) / International student (non-EU) / Fully-funded


Project ID: ARES6

Mountain regions are particularly threatened by global warming. The magnitude of the effects of climate change on mountain biodiversity will depend on the species’ ability to cope with their unique and shared challenges resulting from change. Mountain species often have high genetic diversity and are well adapted to the high seasonality and heterogeneity of the environment. Thus, they could have a higher capacity for morphological, physiological or behavioural responses to local changes. However, these responses might represent transient responses of populations with already reduced fitness and fail to counter the speed and magnitude of current climate change. Due to the complexity of species and population dynamics, the actual effects of climate change on mountain biodiversity are extremely difficult to predict.

Moreover, the harshness of mountains as open-air laboratories makes research difficult. Thus, there is a general lack of understanding and monitoring of mountain ecosystems. More research focused on mountain systems is therefore imperative to provide the basis for developing biodiversity forecasts under different policy and management scenarios.

Considered as a “flagship” species, the White-winged snowfinch Montifringilla nivalis is one of the most emblematic high-alpine passerine species. Given its extensive range (from Europe to Asia), the species is currently classified as ‘Least Concern’ in the last Red List of European birds. However, accurate monitoring of the breeding population is hampered by the harsh environment the species lives in, and occurrence data are still scarce in several areas. Indeed, some recent studies give a worrying picture of the situation caused by mountain ecosystem changes.

This project will study how the adaptations of different populations of snowfinches, which have evolved under different ecological conditions and are widely distributed, can be the immediate cause of its geographical distribution, genetic divergence, connectivity between populations, movement strategies and differences in functional traits. We hypothesise that these adaptations are intimately related to climate change.

The PhD candidate will benefit from data already collected in four different populations: two located in the Cantabrian Mountains, one in the Italian Alps, and another in Abruzzo National Park (Italy). However, this extensive dataset will be complemented by fieldwork during the project.

Outcomes from this collaborative project between NTU, the University of Oviedo and the Spanish Research Council will have profound implications beyond theoretical ecology, as it will provide the necessary knowledge for evidence-based management and conservation of alpine biodiversity, including mitigation of the effects of climate change.

Supervisory Team:

  • Dr Antonio Uzal (DoS). Senior Lecturer in Wildlife Conservation. School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences. Nottingham Trent University.
  • Dr Louise Gentle. Principal Lecturer. School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences. Nottingham Trent University.
  • Dr Maria Mar Delgado, Research Fellow. Biodiversity Research Institute (IMIB, Spain).
  • Dr Juan Carlos Illera, Associate Professor. University of Oviedo (Spain)

Entry qualifications

For the eligibility criteria, visit our studentship application page.

How to apply

To make an application, please visit our studentship application page.

Application deadline: Friday 12 January 2024, closing at 12 pm.

Fees and funding

This is part of NTU's 2024 fully-funded PhD Studentship Scheme.

Guidance and support

Application guidance can be found on our studentship application page.

Still need help?

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