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Cambridge NERC Doctoral Training Partnerships

Graduate Research Opportunities

Lead Supervisor: Lynn Dicks, Zoology

Co-Supervisor: Andrew Tanentzap, Plant Sciences

Brief summary: 
This project will test the hypothesis that nature-based climate solutions can increase the robustness of ecological network structure, and thus the resilience of ecosystem services delivered by arthropods.
Importance of the area of research concerned: 
The potential for carbon sequestration in soils and through habitat restoration is an important element of climate mitigation strategies globally, and considered a critical lever for reducing net greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. Farm practices to enhance soil health and increase soil carbon include reduced tillage, grass leys, cover crops, soil amendments, and returning crop residues to the soil - together referred to as 'regenerative agriculture'. Evidence from farmer surveys shows promising uptake of these practices among English arable farmers, and clear potential for them to become conventional farming practice within the next 10 years. While there is ample evidence of benefits to soils, and in some cases, crop yields, little is known about how these benefits interact with other environmental outcomes. Regenerative agriculture and habitat restoration are expected to influence the overall structure, functioning and resilience of agricultural ecosystems, including potential impacts on pollination, pest regulation, and declining farmland biodiversity, which could be important co-benefits or trade-offs.
Project summary : 
This project will build empirical species interaction networks of predatory arthropods (such as Coleoptera or Odonata) and their prey, and flower-visiting insects at farm and field scale, to test the hypothesis that nature-based climate solutions can increase the robustness of ecological network structure, and thus the resilience of ecosystem services delivered by arthropods. Sampling will be based around replicated experimental trials of nature-based climate solutions being codesigned with stakeholders in a major new interdisciplinary project led by the University of Cambridge and funded from 2022.
What will the student do?: 
Fieldwork will quantify predator-prey networks, using metabarcoding of gut contents for sampled predators, with a focus on predators of economically important pests in the focal landscapes. Plant-flower visitor networks will be constructed based on observed foraging interactions and pollen collected by social and solitary bees. Quantitative networks of species interactions will be constructed at site level, and linked together in multi-layered networks representing larger temporal or spatial scales, more appropriate to the movement and life cycles of key species or functional groups. Ecological network metrics such as robustness (network level) and vulnerability (species level) will be used to measure resilience, along with other proxies of resilience such as the correlation between functional importance and response to environmental change. The student will impose non-random species declines, climate change impacts and simulated land use change scenarios on landscape-scale networks of functionally important organisms. The student will also have the opportunity to explore new approaches applying graph theory to landscape ecology.
References - references should provide further reading about the project: 
Simmons Benno, I., Sutherland William, J., Dicks Lynn, V., Albrecht, J., Farwig, N., García, D., . . . González‐Varo Juan, P. (2018). Moving from frugivory to seed dispersal: Incorporating the functional outcomes of interactions in plant–frugivore networks. Journal of Animal Ecology, 87(4), 995-1007. doi:10.1111/1365-2656.12831
Pocock, M. J. O., Evans, D. M., & Memmott, J. 2012. The Robustness and Restoration of a Network of Ecological Networks. Science, 335(6071), 973-977. doi:DOI 10.1126/science.1214915
Marini, L., Bartomeus, I., Rader, R., & Lami, F. 2019. Species-habitat networks: A tool to improve landscape management for conservation. Journal of Applied Ecology, 56, 923-928. doi:10.1111/1365-2664.13337
You can find out about applying for this project on the Department of Zoology page.
Dr Lynn Dicks
Dr Andrew Tanentzap