Biological Sciences (Evolution, Ecology and Behaviour) PhD / MPhil

We study patterns in the natural environment, from the behaviour of individual organisms to dynamics of populations and the diversity of communities. Our aim is to go beyond description of these patterns - we wish to understand the ecological and evolutionary factors that drive them.

Why study with us?

  • 83%

    research outputs rated 3* and 4* REF (2014).

  • £17.5m

    research grant funding awarded in a two year period.

  • 160

    PhD and masters students.


We work with viruses, bacteria, fungi, animals, insects, plants and humans using state-of-the-art technologies and mathematical models to understand the principles that underlie biological diversity.

As an institute devoted to integrative biology, we span the range of biosciences from the fine-scale resolution of biomolecular structure through the genome-wide analysis of cells and organisms, to the evolution and ecology of organisms in their natural environment.

Underpinning this diversity, we offer world-class facilities and infrastructure for research, and superb links to internationally excellent partners in both the academic and industrial sectors.

Our research seeks to answer fundamental questions, and to address key issues of contemporary concern. We were awarded a prize in the UK-wide BBSRC 2011 ‘Excellence with Impact’ competition, which commended the work of our graduate students in impact activities.

Our PhD completion rates are ranked amongst the highest in the UK by the Times Higher Education Supplement, one of only two universities to have repeatedly ranked in the top four institutions. Furthermore, our complementary training programme was awarded the highest grade in the QAA review of all higher education institution postgraduate research training. In addition, the institute is one of only 10 organisations in UK universities in 2017 to hold a gold AthenaSWAN award for gender equality in science education and research.

Our PhD programme is financed by substantial training grants from the main UK government research councils, including the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the Natural Environment Research Council and The Medical Research Council, as well as charitable trusts, overseas governments and industrial collaborators.

Research themes

Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Disease

We seek to understand the ecological and evolutionary dynamics of disease in wildlife populations. Our study systems are diverse, from microbes and their phage, through interactions in insects, wild rodent communities in the UK and abroad, to the microbes in the cystic fibrosis lung.

To better understand the ecological and evolutionary behaviour of these systems, we employ field, genetic, genomic and mathematical approaches.

Evolution: Phenotype to Genome

Evolution has traditionally been studied at the level of the phenotype. With the emergence of new genomic technologies, we have an increasing ability to also examine how evolution is reflected in the genome, and to use techniques of molecular ecology to give insights into evolutionary processes.

Current research is trying to understand the molecular basis of adaptation in the peppered moth, and in host-parasite interactions, and what these details tell us about the process of evolution. We are also employing molecular ecology tools to understand how geography and history have combined to structure current species.

Mammalian Behaviour and Evolution

We investigate mammalian behaviour, commonly working from molecules through to behaviour. We are particularly interested in:

  • Chemical communication
  • Reproductive strategies (with particular focus on mechanisms and evolutionary consequences of pre and post-copulatory sexual selection)
  • Reproductive cooperation and conflict
  • The drivers of social structure and dispersion
  • Interactions between behaviour and disease.

We have an applied interest in the epidemiology of infections in domestic animals and in using ideas from evolution and behaviour to improve animal welfare.

Ecology: Phenotype to Ecosystem

We are interested in how individuals, species and communities respond to change, and how to mitigate risk.

We have particular interest in conservation biology, especially with regard to:

  • The metapopulation dynamics of threatened odonates
  • Thermal ecology, particularly effects of warming on organism size and ecological rates
  • Using protists as model organisms to study population dynamics, ecophysiology, distributional patterns, food web structure and the flow of energy and biomass through aquatic food webs
  • Phenotypic plasticity, especially maternal effects and developmental thresholds and their effects on population dynamics.


  • The Henry Wellcome Laboratory of Mammalian Behaviour and Evolution
  • The Centre for Genomic Research
  • The Computational Biology Facility
  • The Centre for Cell Imaging
  • The Centre for Proteome Research

Study options and fees

MPhil / PhD Duration Home/EU Students International Students
Full time 2-4 years £4,407* (2020) £23,650* ^ (lab based programmes)
£18,000* (non Lab based programmes) (2020).
Part time 4-6 years £2,204* (2020) £11,825* (lab based programmes) £9,000* (non Lab based programmes) (2020)

*This fees excludes potential research support fees also known as ‘bench fees. You will be notified of any fee which may apply in your offer letter.

^Self funded full time international students studying a lab based programme will receive a £2,000 reduction in their fees for the first year only.

Entry requirements

Applications are welcomed from well qualified graduates who would typically hold a UK first degree or equivalent in the first or 2:1 class, or a 2:2 class degree plus a Masters degree, in a relevant subject.

We welcome applications from within the EU and around the world. You should ensure that your qualifications are equivalent to those required to study for this research degree. See our guidance on international qualifications.

You must also have reached a minimum standard of English and be able to provide evidence of this. See our English language requirements for international students.

How to apply

Research degree applications can be made online.  Before you apply, we recommend that you identify a supervisor and develop a research proposal.  You'll also need to ensure that you have funding to cover all fees.

Applications are open all year round.

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