The role of trees in maintaining biodiversity resilience and habitat connectivity in agricultural landscapes


The role of trees in maintaining biodiversity resilience and habitat connectivity in agricultural landscapes


Project Description


Dr Richard Davies, University of East Anglia – Contact me

Dr Martin Taylor, School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia

Scientific background

Recent studies have reported steep long-term declines in insect populations, implicating both anthropogenic land-use and climate change, and raising concerns of an ‘insect apocalypse’. Being exceptionally diverse both taxonomically and functionally, insects are critically important in provisioning of essential ecosystem services (ES) such as pollination, pest control, and nutrient cycling in terrestrial ecosystems.

Agriculture is a key driver of declines in biodiversity. Efforts to mitigate impacts of agriculture have focused largely on restoring semi-natural habitat patches. However, the resilience of biodiversity and ES on farmland is also dependent on wider landscape structure and connectivity. Relatively little attention has been paid to trees in the landscape, their role in resource provisioning to wider biodiversity, micro-climate (including temperature), and connectivity to woodland patches.

Trees provide key resources for the life cycles of many farmland insects including floral resources, fruits and seeds, nesting and larval micro-sites (including dead wood), and associated insect diversity maintaining food webs. Yet uncertainty remains over how the immediate environment surrounding a tree (in woodland, hedge or field) modifies resource provisioning and usage, and how this interacts with the micro-climatic and other physical (e.g. shade and temperature) influences of the tree itself.


This exciting project will combine community and molecular ecology approaches to investigate the role of trees in agricultural landscape in influencing the diversity and abundance of insect communities present along linear habitat features (hedgerows), and the implications for landscape connectivity with respect to woodlands.

Research methodology (role of the student) and training

The student will carry out and receive training in: design and implementation of field-sampling of insects and environmental data; morphological and DNA metabarcoding approaches to insect ID; computational and statistical methods in community and landscape ecology using R statistics and GIS software; preparation of outputs for publication.

Person specification

We seek an enthusiastic and versatile scientist with a strong interest in community and landscape ecology and/or field entomology and botany. Experience of molecular ecology methods is highly desirable, although training will be given. Excellent people skills are needed for this position as the student will be liaising with farmers.


  • 1 Goulson, D. (2019) The insect apocalypse, and why it matters. Current Biology, 29, R967-R971
  • 2 Norris, K. (2008) Agriculture and biodiversity conservation: opportunity knocks. Conservation Letters 1, 2–11.Norris, K. (2008) Agriculture and biodiversity conservation: opportunity knocks. Conservation Letters 1, 2–11.
  • 3 Peel, N., Dicks, L. V., Clark, M. D., Heavens, D., Percival-Alwyn, L., Cooper, C., Davies, R. G., Leggett, R. M. & Yu, D. (2019). Semi-quantitative characterisation of mixed pollen samples using MinION sequencing and Reverse Metagenomics (RevMet). Methods in Ecology and Evolution 10: 1690–1701
  • 4 Henry, R. C., Palmer, S. C. F., Watts, K., Mitchell, R. J., Atkinson, N. & Travis, J. M. J. (2017). Tree loss impacts on ecological connectivity: Developing models for assessment. Ecological Informatics 42: 90–99.
  • 5 Allen, G. & Davies, R. G. (2023). Canopy sampling reveals hidden potential value of woodland trees for wild bee assemblages. Insect Conservation and Diversity 16: 33–46.

Key Information

  • This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP and will start on 1st October 2024. The closing date for applications is 23:59 on 10th January 2024.
  • Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship, which covers fees, stipend (£18,622 p.a. for 2023/24) and research funding. International applicants are eligible for fully-funded ARIES studentships including fees. Please note however that ARIES funding does not cover additional costs associated with relocation to, and living in, the UK. We expect to award between 4 and 6 studentships to international candidates in 2024.
  • ARIES students benefit from bespoke graduate training and ARIES provides £2,500 to every student for access to external training, travel and conferences, on top of all Research Costs associated with the project. Excellent applicants from quantitative disciplines with limited experience in environmental sciences may be considered for an additional 3-month stipend to take advanced-level courses.
  • ARIES is committed to equality, diversity, widening participation and inclusion in all areas of its operation. We encourage enquiries and applications from all sections of the community regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation and transgender status. Academic qualifications are considered alongside non-academic experience, and our recruitment process considers potential with the same weighting as past experience.
  • All ARIES studentships may be undertaken on a part-time or full-time basis, visa requirements notwithstanding.
  • For further information, please contact the supervisor. To apply for this Studentship follow the instructions at the bottom of the page or click the 'apply now' link.
  • ARIES is required by our funders to collect Equality and Diversity Information from all of our applicants. The information you provide will be used solely for monitoring and statistical purposes; it will remain confidential, and will be stored on the UEA sharepoint server. Data will not be shared with those involved in making decisions on the award of Studentships, and will have no influence on the success of your application. It will only be shared outside of this group in an anonymised and aggregated form. You will be ask to complete the form by the University to which you apply.
  • ARIES funding is subject to UKRI terms and conditions. Postgraduate Researchers are expected to live within reasonable distance of their host organisation for the duration of their studentship. See for more information

Applications open

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