Dr Emily Dennis (Butterfly Conservation)
Professor Byron Morgan (University of Kent, SMSAS)
Dr Diana Cole (University of Kent, SMSAS)
At a time of biodiversity loss, including widely reported insect declines, citizen science data play a vital role in measuring changes in species’ populations and distributions and in seeking to understand the pressures influencing such changes.
Lepidoptera respond quickly to habitat and climatic change, and hence are valuable biodiversity indicators. In the UK, millions of species occurrence records for Lepidoptera have been gathered by two large citizen science recording schemes, of which the full potential has not been fully realized.
Analysing recording data of this nature presents unique challenges relating to their vast quantity but also associated sampling biases. Using cutting edge modelling, this project will maximise these valuable datasets to enhance our understanding of species’ phenology (flight periods), distribution and range dynamics to help inform future conservation delivery and policy for UK butterflies and moths.
The student will undertake new statistical model developments applied to citizen science data. The research will involve:
- Critically assessing sampling design to determine how much data are needed to reliably estimate species’ occurrence trends – can occupancy models be used for rare species with small ranges?
- Modelling species’ phenology from citizen science data to provide new insights on variation over space and time.
- Applying state-of-the-art variable selection techniques to better describe drivers of species’ range and distribution change through suitable spatial and environmental covariates.
The student will develop a strong, highly transferable skillset in statistical modelling and analysis using modern statistical and computational techniques applied to large, unstructured data sets spanning multiple species, locations and years. The student will benefit from interactions with conservation professionals at Butterfly Conservation, including opportunities to undertake fieldwork, to better understand the data collection processes and focal taxa of the project, as well as data use for conservation delivery and policy.
We seek a candidate with a strong quantitative background, for example a degree in Statistics or a degree with high statistics content, or a background in demographic modelling. Experience coding in R, or similar, is essential. An interest in conservation and ecology is advantageous. Quantitative ecologists are encouraged to apply.
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