PHD Project

August 17, 2022

The impact of climate change on the thermal ecology of cold-adapted butterflies

The project will investigate how increasing temperatures are affecting northern butterflies in the UK, and test the potential for managing habitats to promote climate change adaptation.  It provides an exciting opportunity for an ecologist, with an interest in conservation and a desire to undertake crucial research using state of the art techniques in remote sensing and microclimate modelling, to affect conservation practices.

Cold-adapted species, particularly butterflies, are highly vulnerable to climate change and are becoming a top conservation priority both in the UK and globally. The project will explore how adult and larval butterflies thermoregulate in a range of habitats, how thermoregulation behaviour differs among species, and among populations at different altitudes and/or latitudes (NW England and Scotland).

A key element of the project will be to combine evidence gathered from field data, including experimental vegetation manipulations, with microclimate modelling and remote sensing data at landscape scales, to understand how fine-scale variation in topography and habitat structure influence the local distribution, abundance and population trends of cold-adapted and generalist butterfly species. The final aim is to test mitigation measures for managing habitats to increase the availability of cooler spots in the landscape and enhance species persistence – in particular for cold-adapted species.

The student will use a combination of field and modelling techniques, gaining skills in behavioural observation, microclimate modelling and Lidar/GIS techniques. The project will involve substantial fieldwork in NW England and Scotland, working with a collaborative team of researchers from Lancaster, Cambridge and Exeter University, as well as CEH and RSPB.

The successful student will benefit from spending significant time with RSPB, undertaking fieldwork at RSPB’s Haweswater reserve and a one-month placement in RSPB’s Centre for Conservation Science in Edinburgh to work with Steven Ewing. The project will help inform conservation practice in RSPB, and other conservation organisations.