PHD Project

October 10, 2023

Enhancing the contribution of beneficial beetles to biodiverse and net-zero livestock systems

Cows and beetles

Grazing systems are a key target for reducing the greenhouse gas emissions of agriculture, towards sustainable livestock production. Regenerative farming practices such as herb rich pastures (herbal leys), and controlled areas of grazing (cell grazing), show promise as pathways towards net zero agriculture – yet little is known of the impacts of these practices on the functional biodiversity that determines the productivity of these systems.

Dung beetles are key components of farm biodiversity that deliver ecosystem services for human wellbeing, whist contributing to natural ecosystem health. They have been shown to support productive agriculture in reducing pest breeding grounds in pastures, improving soil structure and nutrients, and therefore playing an important role in maintaining healthy pastures. Dung beetle activity has been proven to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 7% in dung pats and 12% in the pasture ecosystem. They are also a key food resource to farmland birds and mammals.

The successful applicant will build on data collected from large scale grazing experiments on Rothamsted’s beautiful Devon campus, a network of living farm labs across the UK, and citizen science under the AgZero+ project, to understand the management and environmental factors that contribute to improved ecosystem service provision by dung beetles. New field and laboratory experiments will uncover the dynamics behind field scale dung beetle resource selection and community composition, and the resulting effects on dung decomposition, greenhouse gas emissions, and pasture quality. The research will be undertaken in real farm systems, with opportunity to be involved in citizen science data collection and outreach, towards truly applicable science.


Applicants should hold a minimum of a UK Honours Degree at 2:1 level or equivalent in subjects such as Environmental Science, Geography, Forestry, Biology, Botany, Natural Sciences, Economics or Statistics. A Masters degree (or equivalent) in any of these areas would be preferable. Experience of agricultural research, entomological survey techniques, entomological taxonomy, spatial modelling (e.g. GIS) and writing computer code (e.g. R statistics) would be advantageous.

Email address for enquiries.