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Cambridge NERC Doctoral Training Partnerships

Graduate Research Opportunities

Supervisors: Andrew D. Friend (Geography) and Andrew Manica (Zoology

Importance of the area of research:

Climate is often invoked as a major factor governing past human expansions, but little has been done to quantitatively test its real role. Such a quantitative link would greatly help understanding past human history, from the number of waves that left Africa to colonise rest of the world, to the role of humans in the late Quaternary megafauna extinction, to possible interactions with other hominins such as Neanderthal.

Project summary:

We published the first attempt to integrate climate and vegetation reconstructions with population genetics and archaeological evidence, providing clear evidence that climate was important in governing the human expansion (Eriksson et al., 2012). But this exercise highlighted a number of limitations with the current climate and vegetation reconstructions. In this project, you will focus on key geographic areas and periods for human evolution, and improve aspects of the models that have hindered previous work (e.g. the ability to predict vegetation in arid areas that act as gateways for movement between continents).

What the student will do:

The student will work with models of land surface processes (especially of vegetation production), marine production, and climate to improve simulation of the environmental conditions experienced by hominins in the past. Models will be improved, and simulation results compared with proxy data. Outputs will be formulated for use by demographic models of human expansion. The student will work closely with scientists from a variety of disciplines.

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.


Eriksson, A., Betti, L., Friend, A.D., Lycett, S.J., Singarayer, J.S., von Cramon-Taubadel, N., Valdes, P.J., Balloux, F. and Manica, A., 2012. Late Pleistocene climate change and the global expansion of anatomically modern humans. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, vol. 109, pp. 16,089-16,094, doi:10.1073/pnas.1209494109

Friend, A.D. 2010. Terrestrial plant production and climate change. Journal of Experimental Botany, vol. 61, pp. 1293-1309, doi:10.1093/jxb/erq019

Friend, A.D. and Kiang, N.Y. 2005. Land-surface model development for the GISS GCM: Effects of improved canopy physiology on simulated climate. Journal of Climate vol. 18, pp. 2,883-2,902, doi:10.1175/JCLI3425.1.

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

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