PHD Project

October 10, 2023

A scent of biodiversity – environmental volatile organic compounds to monitor biotic interactions


Monitoring biodiversity is a major research focus, with the current upsurge in initiatives to finance biodiversity conservation (e.g. Target 19, Kunming–Montreal CBD). Measurements must be transparent, repeatable, efficient and auditable. Accordingly, researchers have developed visual (imagery), auditory (sound recording), genetic (eDNA) and structural (LiDAR) sensing technologies for biodiversity assessments. These focus on species diversity or habitat structure, but are poor at capturing ecological interactions and interaction diversity, which are strongly linked to ecosystem services. Thus there is currently no accurate, scalable method for capturing biotic interactions.

Chemical technologies offer a potential solution. Organisms routinely emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) under stress, during decomposition, to attract pollinators or seed dispersers or deter herbivores. The cocktail of airborne VOCs contains much information about real-time ecological interactions. However, relationships between airborne VOCs and conventional biodiversity measures are unknown; the potential of VOC technology for rapid, massive-scale biodiversity assessment remains underexplored.

The PhD project brings together existing projects led by the supervisors. Our external supervisors/partners (in Germany and Switzerland) provide specially designed VOC sampling technology, analysis experience and interpretive context that allows field testing of the novel method. The project will perform the first in-depth field study of use of VOCs to measure biotic interactions and interaction diversity, building on recent pilot work. The main field sites will be Attenborough Nature Reserve (Nottingham) and the Knepp Castle Estate (Sussex), benefitting from existing biodiversity data collection for the supervisors’ current NERC grant on the biodiversity assessments for biodiversity credits. Depending on progress, we may extend fieldwork to other sites.

With infrastructure, external funding, project partners and data in place, fieldwork, analysis and manuscript preparation will proceed quickly. The successful applicant will have excellent training and placement opportunities, and networking with our impressive set of collaborators. Additional co-authored publications are likely, given the team involved.


General to Envision: Candidates shall be good honours graduates in appropriate subject areas, of a recognised university or comparable university, or persons holding equivalent qualifications who show evidence of exceptional ability, or who have demonstrated their ability in graduate studies.

Specific to this project: Applicants should have aptitude for fieldwork (though we can accommodate candidates with mobility restrictions if they excel in other areas) and data analysis, good writing skills and, importantly, willingness to make the most of the remarkable opportunities offered. The project may be undertaken on either a full- or part-time basis.

Email address for enquiries.

For further details (recommended), please contact Dr Franziska Schrodt ( and Dr Richard Field ( – we would prefer it if you send your email to both of us, please (not separate emails).