Beyond landcover maps, modelling the patches that matter to species


To address the crises of biodiversity loss and climate change, we need to protect and restore habitats on an ambitious scale. Governments are currently debating the ’30 by 30’ protection goal and adopting a new set of global biodiversity targets, but previous actions have not stemmed biodiversity loss. National and global maps of landcover are heavily relied upon to predict the consequences of global change for species, and to suggest areas as priorities for conservation. However, each species has complex and idiosyncratic niche requirements, where habitat hardly ever corresponds to one landcover category. If we could better understand the read-across between habitat and landcover, without having to model every species individually, we could set more realistic and evidence-based conservation targets.

The Hodgson group is developing new methods to model multiple, poorly known species, based on patterns observed across large numbers of previous studies. For example, we have built a database of metapopulation models, which involve mapping species-specific habitat patches and estimating extinction risk across fragmented landscapes. Co-supervisor Dr Simon Smart from UKCEH has built detailed niche models for UK plants based on a wealth of community surveys.

This PhD opportunity will exploit our knowledge of well-studied plant and animal species to address the following objectives:

  1. Use population modelling to elucidate the problems with assuming that landcover patches equate to habitat patches for species: how could model predictions go wrong under different levels of habitat loss?
  2. Test the forecasts of some major policy-relevant models that rely on landcover information; models used at a local scale (for UK biodiversity offsetting) and those used at a global scale (to assess biodiversity trends)
  3. Trial a novel method of forecasting based on a representative suite of species and the way their habitat is distributed within and among landcovers

We are looking for a candidate with knowledge of ecology and an aptitude for modelling. Skills and experience in GIS and in running simulations would be desirable, but advanced training will be available from the supervisory team and supplementary courses.


Notes and details of how to apply are available here:

All applicants to ACCE must complete the ACCE personal statement proforma. This is instead of a normal personal/supporting statement/cover letter. The proforma is designed to standardise this part of the application to minimise the difference between those who are given support and those who are not.

The ACCE DTP is committed to recruiting extraordinary future scientists regardless of age, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, disability, sexual orientation or career pathway to date. We understand that commitment and excellence can be shown in many ways and have built our recruitment process to reflect this. We welcome applicants from all backgrounds, particularly those underrepresented in science, who have curiosity, creativity and a drive to learn new skills.

Informal enquiries may be made to 


Open to students worldwide

Funding information

Funded studentship

NERC ACCE DTP in Ecology and Evolution, programme starts October 2023.

UKRI provide the following funding for 3.5 years:
• Stipend (2022/23 UKRI rate £17,668)
• Tuition Fees at UK fee rate (2022/23 rate £4,596)
• Research support and training grant (RTSG)
Note - UKRI funding only covers UK (Home) fees (£4,596 at 2022/23 rate). A limited number of international fee bursaries will be awarded on a competitive basis. However, if selected International and EU fee rate candidates may need to cover the remaining amount of tuition fees by securing additional funding. International fees for 2022/23 entry were £25,950 (full time) per annum.



Travers, T.J.P., Alison, J., Taylor, S.D., Crick, H.Q.P. & Hodgson, J.A. (2021) Habitat patches providing South-North connectivity are under-protected in a fragmented landscape. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 288, 20211010.
Williams, S.H., Scriven, S.A., Burslem, D.F.R.P., Hill, J.K., Reynolds, G., Agama, A.L., Kugan, F., Maycock, C.R., Khoo, E., Hastie, A.Y.L., Sugau, J.B., Nilus, R., Pereira, J.T., Tsen, S.L.T., Lee, L.Y., Juiling, S., Hodgson, J.A., Cole, L.E.S., Asner, G.P., Evans, L.J. and Brodie, J.F. (2020), Incorporating connectivity into conservation planning for the optimal representation of multiple species and ecosystem services. Conservation Biology, 34: 934-942.
Threadgill, K.R.D., McClean, C.J., Hodgson, J.A., Jones, N. and Hill, J.K. (2020), Agri-environment conservation set-asides have co-benefits for connectivity. Ecography, 43: 1435-1447.
Smart, SM, Jarvis, SG, Mizunuma, T, et al. Assessment of a large number of empirical plant species niche models by elicitation of knowledge from two national experts. Ecol Evol. 2019; 9: 12858– 12868.