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Cambridge NERC Doctoral Training Partnerships

Graduate Research Opportunities

Supervisors: Samuel Brockington (Plant Sciences) and Andrew Tanenetzap (Plant Sciences

Importance of the area of research:

Plants are essential for life, and underpin ecological processes such as climate regulation, carbon dioxide absorption, soil fertility and the purification of water and air, and provide the food, medicines, building materials and fuel that sustain human life. Yet an estimated 20% of plant diversity is threatened with extinction. The main threats to plants today are habitat destruction, invasive species, and over-collection. The loss of plant species can have devastating effects on ecosystems as a whole, and on the people who depend on them for their livelihoods. The tulips of Central Asia demonstrate this with exceptional levels of diversity for example Kyrgyzstan has 25 wild tulip species (roughly 20% of global diversity), including 6 endemics. However, expert opinion indicates significant levels of declines across the region. Conserving them is not easy, and needs many techniques including species and population-level research, understanding of species distribution and abundance, management of protected areas, habitat restoration, and working with communities to promote sustainable plant use and land management.

Project summary:

The project involves the University of Cambridge, Flora and Fauna International, the National Academy of Sciences in Central Asia, and Botanic Garden Conservation International. Our overall goal is to achieve scientifically informed conservation action with respect to threatened tulip species. We will conduct a comprehensive taxonomic, phylogenetic and biogeographic analysis of the genus Tulipa to better understand relationships within the genus and to refine species concepts. These analyses will depend on extensive field-work to evaluate and sample the distribution and abundance of different tulip species. Utilising this framework, we will conduct and coordinate global scale red-listing of tulip species across Central Asia, quantify threats to wild tulips, conduct social surveys to understand declines, and implement a multi-species action plan for tulip conservation in Central Asia

What the student will do:

The student will generate a species level phylogeny of the Tulipa genus. In collaboration with FFI , they will conduct field surveys, especially within the Tian Shan mountains, to better understand the species distribution of Tulipa. They will use genetic techniques, mapping and niche modelling to understand inter-populational variation and distribution, and sample variation for conservation. In collaboration with BGCI, they will produce a trans-national red-list for selected species within the genus Tulipa, thought to be at risk of extinction. The student will conduct social surveys in collaboration with FFI to better understand patterns of human behaviour and societal motivations associated with identified threats. The student will help to devise a conservation strategy together with the NGO partners.

Please contact the lead supervisor directly for further information relating to what the successful applicant will be expected to do, training to be provided, and any specific educational background requirements.


Christenhusz, M. J. M., Govaerts, R., David, J. C., Hall, T., Borland, K., Roberts, P. S., Tuomisto, A., Buerki, S., Chase, M. W. and Fay, M. F. (2013), Tiptoe through the tulips – cultural history, molecular phylogenetics and classification of Tulipa (Liliaceae). Bot J Linn Soc, 172: 280–328. doi:10.1111/boj.12061

Tojibaev, K. and Beshko, N. (2015), Reassessment of diversity and analysis of distribution in Tulipa (Liliaceae) in Uzbekistan. Nordic Journal of Botany, 33: 324-334. doi:10.1111/njb.00616

Mounce R, Smith P, Brockington SF (2017) Ex situ conservation of plant diversity in the world's botanic gardens. Nature Plants doi:10.1038/s41477-017-0019-3

Follow this link to find out about applying for this project.

Other projects available from the Lead Supervisor can be viewed here.

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